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Attaching a Panel to a Solid Wood Box

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Forum topic by Curtisimo posted 02-28-2021 06:10 PM 213 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Curtisimo

4 posts in 43 days


02-28-2021 06:10 PM

Hello All,

I am new to the forum and was hoping to get some feedback on the design of a small cabinet I am working on.

The basic design consists of a small wood box made using solid African Mahogany (plain sawn) with dovetail joints. I need this section to be all solid wood with minimum glue because what I will be storing in it. I am using melted hide glue for the adhesive where necessary.

I would like to add a decorative panel to the top consisting of a frame of solid African Mahogany (2.5” wide x 3/4” thick) with a panel of MDF that I will be using as a base to do some Marquetry with 1/16” African Mahogany, Cherry and Basswood.

See below image for a diagram of what I am trying to do (doors and back panels excluded for clarity). My main question regards how best to attach the “Top Panel” to the “Box”. Would it be asking for trouble to just glue it on and maybe use some dowels to fix it in place or should I use another technique? I am mostly concerned with the difference in expansion between the solid wood top of the box and the MDF center of the panel.

Thanks in advance for any help!


10 replies so far

View bilyo's profile

bilyo

1345 posts in 2154 days


#1 posted 02-28-2021 07:23 PM

First, I’m assuming that the grain of the mahogany box top will be running lengthwise. If so, any wood movement will be perpendicular to that; widthwise. There will be little or no movement in the MDF panel top. Therefore, the easiest way is to use screws through the mahogany top into the MDF. Make your screw holes through the mahogany oblong front to back. Because you are screwing into MDF, you may want to use threaded inserts or glue in hardwood dowels to hold the screws. At only 11.25” the mahogany top will not move much. Just an oversized hole might suffice.

You didn’t ask about fastening the bottom, but you should have similar concerns. The end pieces of the base will have grain going perpendicular to the grain of the bottom. So, the same “rules” apply. Allow for some movement.

I haven’t tried this, but gluing the panel down with an elastic adhesive/caulk might also work and will keep you from having to drill holes in the mahogany, if that matters. Maybe someone else here has tried it.

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Curtisimo

4 posts in 43 days


#2 posted 03-01-2021 12:46 AM



First, I m assuming that the grain of the mahogany box top will be running lengthwise. If so, any wood movement will be perpendicular to that; widthwise. There will be little or no movement in the MDF panel top. Therefore, the easiest way is to use screws through the mahogany top into the MDF. Make your screw holes through the mahogany oblong front to back. Because you are screwing into MDF, you may want to use threaded inserts or glue in hardwood dowels to hold the screws. At only 11.25” the mahogany top will not move much. Just an oversized hole might suffice.

You didn t ask about fastening the bottom, but you should have similar concerns. The end pieces of the base will have grain going perpendicular to the grain of the bottom. So, the same “rules” apply. Allow for some movement.

I haven t tried this, but gluing the panel down with an elastic adhesive/caulk might also work and will keep you from having to drill holes in the mahogany, if that matters. Maybe someone else here has tried it.

- bilyo

bilyo,

Thank you very much for your response. You are correct about the orientation of the grain for the box. Also thank you for bringing up the issue with the bottom as well.

I was hoping to avoid screws and bolts in order to stick to more traditional joints but your point is well taken in regards to the movement of the wood. Designing to prevent cracking and other movement issues is the top priority. Threaded inserts in the panel that are screwed in through oblong holes from the inside of the box might be the best option.

I am interested in your suggestion about elastic adhesive as well. Hopefully others with some experience using this method will give some feedback as well.

I greatly appreciate you taking the time to respond to my question.

Cheers,
Curtis

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Phil32

1354 posts in 955 days


#3 posted 03-01-2021 01:02 AM

I’m curious why your box is open on the sides rather than the top & bottom. Normally the dovetail joints would be on the corners horizontally opposite each other. You are covering the mahogany “top” with a separate framed panel. I suggest that you rotate the box 90 degrees, install an mdf panel in the bottom frame to form the bottom of the box, & hinge the framed top to the side panel of the box.

-- Phil Allin - There are woodworkers and people who collect woodworking tools. The woodworkers have a chair to sit on that they made.

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Rich

6774 posts in 1641 days


#4 posted 03-01-2021 01:20 AM

There’s no shame in using screws. What I recommend is drilling normal pilot holes in the front and then make the holes in the back longer to allow movement. The reason for fixing the front is to ensure that the top panel stays where you put it relative to the box (you don’t mention whether it will be flush, or overhang). By limiting movement to the back of the piece, any movement will be hidden from view.

BTW, the movement of the panel is never a consideration in a proper frame and panel construction. Even if the panel is hardwood and moves, it will do so inside the grooves of the frame (assuming you left some room for that movement, otherwise it’ll cause the frame to come apart). Movement of the frame itself is so small as to be inconsequential.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

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Curtisimo

4 posts in 43 days


#5 posted 03-01-2021 03:05 AM



I m curious why your box is open on the sides rather than the top & bottom. Normally the dovetail joints would be on the corners horizontally opposite each other. You are covering the mahogany “top” with a separate framed panel. I suggest that you rotate the box 90 degrees, install an mdf panel in the bottom frame to form the bottom of the box, & hinge the framed top to the side panel of the box.

- Phil32

Thank you for your comment and suggestions Phil. Perhaps I should have referred to the central “box” as a cabinet.

I omitted the internal details of the cabinet (box) for clarity. There will be a series of dado slots that solid wood drawers will slide into. The whole thing will get rather heavy but I still wanted to be able to lift it from the sides and wanted to minimize the glue needed on the interior and so I opted for dovetail joints in the orientation I show in my diagram. I actually built a test piece of the box portion out of pine before I started cutting on my mahogany to test my methods. See below photo.

The frame at the top and bottom will be needed for aesthetic reasons but more importantly I’ll be setting in my ball stops for the doors in them.

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Curtisimo

4 posts in 43 days


#6 posted 03-01-2021 03:19 AM



There s no shame in using screws. What I recommend is drilling normal pilot holes in the front and then make the holes in the back longer to allow movement. The reason for fixing the front is to ensure that the top panel stays where you put it relative to the box (you don t mention whether it will be flush, or overhang). By limiting movement to the back of the piece, any movement will be hidden from view.

BTW, the movement of the panel is never a consideration in a proper frame and panel construction. Even if the panel is hardwood and moves, it will do so inside the grooves of the frame (assuming you left some room for that movement, otherwise it ll cause the frame to come apart). Movement of the frame itself is so small as to be inconsequential.

- Rich

Thank you for the suggestion Rich. What you say about fixing the front end makes a lot of sense.

You’re also right that I didn’t specify that there will be an overhang. The top panel will overhang the fully constructed cabinet (box + doors) by 3/4”. In the front I’ll have to take the thickness of the doors into account (another 3/4”) so the front will actually overhang the box by 1.5”.

Do you think using glue will be necessary? (Such as on the “fixed” end or an elastic glue as mentioned previously?). I would hate for a gap to open up over time between the top panel and the box due to warping or cupping. Not sure if this is a valid concern with the panel and box both being relatively stable once assembled.

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Rich

6774 posts in 1641 days


#7 posted 03-01-2021 04:02 AM


Do you think using glue will be necessary? (Such as on the “fixed” end or an elastic glue as mentioned previously?). I would hate for a gap to open up over time between the top panel and the box due to warping or cupping. Not sure if this is a valid concern with the panel and box both being relatively stable once assembled.

- Curtisimo

Your call. Glue won’t hurt anything. Using three or four screws across the front will work as well.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View SMP's profile

SMP

3782 posts in 957 days


#8 posted 03-01-2021 04:54 AM

May want to consider cutting rabbets in the underside of top and top of bottom frame so that the carcass can recess into the rabbets. This will prevent an unsightly gap later on.

View Phil32's profile

Phil32

1354 posts in 955 days


#9 posted 03-01-2021 10:30 PM

Why would you make dovetail joints in solid mahogany (on the carcass) and then partially conceal them with the top?

-- Phil Allin - There are woodworkers and people who collect woodworking tools. The woodworkers have a chair to sit on that they made.

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Rich

6774 posts in 1641 days


#10 posted 03-01-2021 10:39 PM


Why would you make dovetail joints in solid mahogany (on the carcass) and then partially conceal them with the top?

- Phil32

Same reason someone would use half-blind dovetails. The way he did it was common practice at one time.

Besides, viewed from the top they don’t look like dovetails, they look like a finger joint. The tails are on the side where they will show.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

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