Insanity 2: Figuring Out The Back

Before gluing up the cabinet, I must first decide how I will add the back. Some methods require the back to be inserted at the same time the cabinet is assembled while others can be added afterwards.

To assist my decision, I study traditional techniques, think about why they are used, and make a list of the pros and cons of each method. Here are some ways to attach a back to a cabinet.

  1. Fasten the back panel directly to the back of the cabinet. Screws, nails, staples and/or glue can be used. This is quick and easy, but the edges of the panel are visible from the sides which can be undesirable. Glue isn’t an wise option if the back panel is solid wood because seasonal movement will likely cause something to fail. Screws, nails or staples allow a little movement and can be used successfully to attach a back made of solid wood or sheet stock to the cabinet. However, the heads of the fasteners are usually exposed; plugging isn’t usually an option due to the thinness of stock used for the back.
  2. Set the back panel in rabbets. The top, bottom and sides of the cabinet are rabbeted to receive the back panel which hides the edges and makes the back panel invisible from the sides. This method provides some registration for the panel which can help keep the cabinet from racking. The cabinet looks tidy from the front and sides, but the panel must fit perfectly to avoid showing any gaps around the perimeter if viewed from the rear.
  3. Set the back panel in grooves. This results in a tidy-looking cabinet from all angles with the edges of the back panel hidden. A built-in tolerance allows the panel to be somewhat undersized without revealing a gap and this will also allow expansion and contraction. However, the appearance from the back looks like a compromise, in my opinion.

I realize that these techniques are designed for cabinets where the back is meant to be hidden. Cabinets are often placed against walls and their backs hidden from sight. Now that I think of it, almost every cabinet I see, whether a utilitarian kitchen cabinet or a finely-crafted one at a furniture/art show is positioned either against a wall or within a few inches so that the back is effectively hidden.  Cabinets are almost never photographed from the back.

Since Insanity 2 has ignored every convention about what a cabinet is, I do not intend to make it with a boring back that would be an embarrassment to the otherwise adventurous piece and therefore should be hidden against a wall.


6 thoughts on “Insanity 2: Figuring Out The Back

  1. Many cabinets of the beyond utility level, may not be viewed from the back, but the back is visible from front side if an open cabinet, or when the doors are opened. So I say backs are worthy of being attractive. Also, the smaller the cabinet, the closer the (inside face) back is to the front and visibility. A small display cabinet has some possibility to being positioned away from a wall.

    Frame and panel set into rabbets offers many possibilities for creativity as well as offering movement control. Being a Chris creation, it does not have to be standard rectilinear assembly.

    This is an interesting design and process to follow. Thanks.

    1. Tom,

      When I wrote about the aesthetics of the cabinet back, I was speaking more about the form than the grain pattern or colouring.

      You make a good point about the scale of cabinets and the likelihood of the back side of the back panel being visible. The frame-and-panel option is another interesting method.

      Thanks for your contribution.


  2. If you mount this on some twisted legs.. and it becomes a Krenov style those could be visible from all sides. I agree the back should be interesting as well. I do think the back should be parallel to the front doors though. The back panel should/could have curved grain patterns, and emphasize the front curves. Or they could be an opposite curve to play against the front. Look forward to your pics!

    1. Morgan,

      One of my early ideas was to mount the cabinet on a light stand with quadrouple tenons. I could easily (uh… with some difficulty) twist the legs as well. Today, I installed the back. It’s generally parallel to the doors.

      Thanks for your comment.


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