Vertical Versus Horizontal Grain and Material Optimization

Is it okay to run the grain horizontally on some cabinet sides, in order to use up extra material? December 14, 2009

When I cut my base cabinet sides I usually cut with the grain running vertical. Do you think that it is that noticeable if the grain runs horizontal? I use prefinished 1/2" birch plywood.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor Z:
If on the outside of the cabinet, yes, it would be very noticeable. If it can only be seen on the inside, I think it would be fine.

From contributor K:
My first question would be why would you want to do that? That leads to inefficient yield. The second question is, why do you want a different grain direction on the bases as opposed to the top?

Now, if you have leftovers that you are trying to use, using them on a corner Susan or a drawer-bank where you don't see the sides would be fine. Unless you have a request from a client to do that, or specifically you make them aware ahead of time that you are doing it and have them sign off on it, you open yourself up to possibly having to replace them due to the fact that they would be beyond industry standard, and all their friends and family have something different. They would be potentially fielding questions as to why this was done from these people, which could lead to problems and misperceptions. Remember, your final product is your business card for referrals. I would be interested in hearing your reasoning for this.

From contributor U:
This is a pretty important question that was raised. Material conservation is important for the environment, and the bottom line is that it makes things go smoother. I can't count how many times over the years that someone has come to me and asked "can I use this board"? What they are really asking is for is an interpretation of the customer's expectations.

The drawer box people already have a program for this in place. They call it natural grade vs. select grade. Both of these options are represented as good choices. There are no negative semantics associated with natural. In our case this is an opportunity to help save the customer a little money or save some space in the landfill. If you put a positive spin on it the customer will support any decision.

You could even merchandize the concept as well. If you have a showroom include a drawer bank with the drawer bottoms going opposite directions, or maybe some wall cabinets with horizontal and vertical grain direction on the backs. Put some plates on the shelf then point the difference out to the customer. Nine times out of ten you will get the answer you want. KAP is right that the final product is your business card but there really are some areas that don't need the most expensive solution.

From contributor U:
I forgot to mention that we sell the majority of our work directly to the homeowner. By the time we get around to discussing material specifications we already have their confidence. We frame most of these choices in the context of tradeoffs. If we can save them some money where it doesn't matter that's budget we can allocate to the areas they can appreciate. My own sink cabinet has a Formica bottom because I can't think of a better material for this district. For this same reason every customer of ours gets a Formica bottom in every sink. This might sound kind of expensive but, because of this "spend the customer's money like you would spend your mom's" approach has allowed us to also lower the costs of our drawer boxes. We used to provide the most expensive drawer box on the planet because we thought that was our calling card. Today we sell pre-finished appleply with pocketscrew construction. When we asked mom if she wanted the fancy undermounts she didn't care. She was, however, a big supporter of that formica sink bottom. It's all about semantics. For the interior designers’ that's not just a pocket screw, it's a threaded steel dowel with US10B finish.

From contributor K:
As long as the customer signs off on it then more power to them. I still don't see how it is better yield-wise. It is more expensive the way the questioner suggests, and if he cuts base cabs as one piece (34.5"), and doesn't use the ladder system, that leave 13.5" cut-offs, using the opposite grain direction which is much harder to utilize. If he does use the ladder system (30.5"), that leaves a cut-off of approximately 18" - so no benefit.

If your concern is for the environment, I would build them the normal way it is done now. There is a reason it is done the way it is now, and it primarily has to do with yield and design. If you are talking natural grade for cabinet interiors, I would respectfully suggest it is more a matter of cabinet cohesiveness in design. If you think of the cabinet components, there is a reason it is done this way. With regards to the merchandizing concept of the drawer bank that adds cost to a project, both in fabricating and material yield.

From contributor U:
If you get a better yield when optimizing for classic grain direction then that's the best way to cut it. The situation being discussed is a fairly common one in small shops. You might order a dozen sheets of walnut plywood and end up with one or two at the end of a job. For grain match projects it is usually difficult to integrate the orphan sheets in subsequent work. In the meanwhile this extra material takes up space in the plywood rack (and bank account) and would be better converted to toekicks or drawer bank backs. We, for example, use 1/2 inch applied cabinet backs and the yield on this material is just plain random. Being able to recycle the scraps is a big advantage. Having the flexibility to re-orient the grain direction as needed makes that easier.

From contributor K:
To contributor U: "you might order a dozen sheets of walnut plywood and end up with one or two at the end of a job. For grain match projects it is usually difficult to integrate the orphan sheets in subsequent work." That is why you create a cutting list. I'm a little surprised to hear you say this. Most kitchens have a drawer bank or a corner cabinet, and that is where the orphans belong, without affecting the rest of the batch. If he was going to misalign the grain orientation, without the cutlist, he would have the same problem with the last two sheets, just in reverse.

The questioner hasn't really discussed his situation other than to say he wanted to do it. That is why I suggested a little clarification on what he is trying to achieve. "We, for example, use 1/2 inch applied cabinet backs and the yield on this material is just plain random.”

Here is an example where you could alternately use the 1/2" backs as drawer bottoms, or stringers, or the tops of uppers, which is hidden by molding or a variety of kitchen upgrades. Don’t realign your production for a method which yields you less material application and more orphan production. Contributor U, are you saying that this is a better way to do it?

From contributor U:
This is not that hard to understand. The original poster wanted to know if there were any reasons he shouldn't re-orient grain for base cabinet sides. My response did not advocate realigning any particular production methods. I only commented that there are a lot of areas that are just not visually important and that it doesn't really matter (to the customer) which direction grain is oriented. In these cases I think it is perfectly acceptable (and probably desirable) to use whatever material you have available.

From contributor K:
Then we have said the same thing - that is, for where the customer sees it, otherwise, those orphan cuts are best used on drawer banks and corner cabs, where you cannot see the grain. Other base cabinets where you can see the grain, I disagree, as you will end up with different visuals and subsequent questioning of your work.

From the original questioner:
I see I am getting some mixed view that is good. I agree that it doesn't look as good to me horizontal vs. vertical but being a cabinet builder you notice these things. I will continue to only use in drawer boxes or in hidden corner cabinets. I sometimes have cut offs that I will use for a side.

From contributor O:
I'm confused, what does having extra sheets of material have to do with optimizing when they started out as full sheets to begin with? Let’s assume that you’re using the same sheet goods on most of your case parts. How is it possible to optimize grain orientation where it matters while still using that same optimizing process where it doesn’t? I can’t begin to wrap my brain around that one.

From contributor S:
The question is "do you think that is that noticeable if the grain runs horizontal?" Compared to vertical the answer is yes, it is very noticeable.

From contributor P:

In order to get the best yield for cabinet sides we cross-cut full sheets to 35 ½ and then cut the remaining 25X48 as an interior side. We’ve been doing this for years and have not had one complaint.

From contributor O:
I agree that horizontal would be very noticeable. We cut our bases separate, that way we get six gables out of a sheet.

From contributor F:
Sometimes we cross cut at 34 1/2 twice and then take the fall off piece, rotate it, rip at 34 1/2 and then cut the 23 1/4 depth. The cross grain piece will be used next to fridge where it never will be seen.