Dadoed-In Back Panel Case Construction Methods

A back panel glued into a dado on cabinet sides contributes to a rugged case, and one that can be quick to build. Here are some thoughts on the details. December 27, 2007

I'm going to start using 1/2" backs (formerly using 1/4" captured backs). I need to have them inset into the gables because these get finished without an applied panel sometimes. Would it be better to dado the recess on the tablesaw before assembly, or to put the deck, gable and top (if applicable) on the face frame, and then use a router with a rabbeting bit to cut the recess?

The tablesaw sounds like the better option because it should be a bit faster for the actual cutting of the groove, but I only have one table saw, so I would have to change the setup to the dado blade for the operation.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor C:
Table saw, no question.

From contributor M:
Table saw for sure. The router can tear up the work, and it will dull out the bit quick compared to the dado. Think about a second, less expensive saw to leave set up for dadoing. I have mine on the outfeed of my main saw, and it works out pretty good like this, without taking up too much room.

From contributor J:
I use the TS and bought a 1/4" grooving blade to do the job. The advantage is that it's cheaper to re-sharpen a single blade than two dado blades.

From contributor F:
Contributor J, wish I had seen your post before I bought a Freud super dado set recently!

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. How do you attach the 1/2" back? I will be using pre-finished, so glue won't work on the face of the plywood. I was thinking of putting glue on the sides of the rabbet, though, and then brad nailing the back on. Will this be strong enough to hold up, or will it need some screws?

From contributor A:
We run our 1/2" backs flush except for an exposed end where we would do a 3/8" rabbet. Our backs are typically pre-finished attached with 1 1/2" staples, no glue. A staple every 4" is pretty bombproof.

From contributor J:
I cut a 1/4" groove about 1/4"+ from the back of the cabinet parts (top, bottom, sides), then the back gets a 1/4" rabbet. When I assemble the cabinet, the back gets inserted into the groove with yellow glue and I'm done. Once you're set up for this method, it is very quick to machine the parts. The final product is very sturdy as well.

From the original questioner:
That's a good idea about the 1/4" groove. I didn't even think about that. I already use a tongue and groove for alignment to the face frame, so I should be able to negotiate that pretty easily.

From contributor R:
I pre-finish my ply. I tape the edge first, then I can glue and staple the back on. To me the back is more structural this way.

From contributor K:
I cut a 3/4" dado into my case sides to receive the 1/2" back before I put the box together. The back goes all the way into the dado and I use a strip of 1/4" at the top and bottom (if necessary) to fill the extra 1/4" space and keep the box tight to the wall. I like having that extra 1/4" void to allow for irregularities in the wall. We have a router table set up specifically for the dados.

From contributor H:
I use applied end panels all the time, but pocketholes are fast and strong. If you have a pneumatic pockethole machine, this goes fast. Use a few 23 gauge headless brads to hold in place first. My drawer bottoms are done this way and I can stand inside my drawers.