Frame and Panel Bookcase Back

A furniture maker gets advice on building solid cherry bookcase backs. August 21, 2006

I have been commissioned to build two 6-1/2 foot tall bookcases and they are to be constructed out of solid cherry. The back will be frame and paneled with six floating panels. In an attempt to keep the weight of the base as light as possible I was going to use 1/4 inch solid cherry panels. The panels will be bookmatched pieces so there will be a glue joint in each panel. With the panels being so thin (1/4 inch) will there be much of a risk of the panels splitting? The panels will be free to float with space balls in the frame to allow for expansion. Thanks for your input in advance.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor A:
Use a 1/8” spline to align and prevent splitting. On rare occasions it is possible for the thin panels to split. To prevent this from happening seal the end/edge grain with lacquer or shellac before assembly. This will help control the moisture that can get in and out of the panels.

From contributor B:
If the MC is right going in and stays right you'll be fine.

From contributor C:
Is there a problem using plain sliced 1/4" cherry plywood? It is already bookmatched and as light as it gets.

From the original questioner:
The plywood for the panels would solve the issue of cracking or splitting. The cases were designed to be solid wood so I am looking for insight on how to accomplish this request. I have also considered going with 1/2 thick panels and use a raised panel bit set to fit the 1/4 inch slots but that doubles my wood cost since I won't be able to resaw the 3/4 inch boards I already have purchased.

From contributor E:
1/2" backs and machining the edges is the way if you’re stuck on using solid wood. But the weight issue? I don't buy it. It’s about the money. If you’re against plywood then give the client the 1/2" backs. Tell them about it. Don't charge them extra.

From contributor F:
When you go to resaw this 3/4" cherry, you are going to release some tension which will warp most of the thinner pieces. The best you could do is to have 2 pieces 5/16" thick with varying degrees of warpage. Gluing these together on the edges, then planing smooth is unlikely to give you a finished 1/4" panel in my opinion. It is best to plane your 3/4 down to 5/8, match it to other 5/8 thick pieces, and plane down to a finished 1/2". Keep the project doable, buy the material and get it done right. Your time is much more valuable than a few extra pieces of cherry.

From the original questioner:
This is all good feedback. It cemented my own thoughts. That's what I like about this forum, honest feedback. I sold these cases as solid cherry so that is what they will be. I took an inventory last night and I've got the lumber to do 1/2" panels.

From the original questioner:
Here’s an update. Here is a shot of the front of the first bookcase. I pre-finished the panels before glue up. It is now in the finishing room (my wife's living room). The panels ended up 5/8" think and are raised on the back.

Click here for full size image