What wood to use for French Cleat System?

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Forum topic by mlindegarde posted 03-21-2012 03:20 AM 59878 views 1 time favorited 49 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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49 posts in 4124 days

03-21-2012 03:20 AM

Topic tags/keywords: french cleat maple pine

I’m planning to more or less cover one wall of my shop with french cleat strips. I like the flexibility that the system offers. Is there a type of wood I should or should not use?

I’ve seen some people using 3/4 plywood, some using 3/4 pine, and some using maple. Pine strikes me as a softer wood, so I’m not sure it’s the best choice. On the other hand, 3/4’’ x 3’’ x 8’ is readily available. 3/4’’ Birch plywood is stable; however, I don’t like that 3/4’’ plywood is 23/32’’ and usually has voids in it. I think Maple is harder than Pine; however, it isn’t something readily available to me in a usable form (I don’t have a thickness planer or jointer).

I’m beginning to think that in reality just about any wood could work. While I’m not planning on hanging dumbbells from the wall, I’d don’t want to have to worry about my cabinets falling off of the wall.

Thanks in advance for any input.

49 replies so far

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

7156 posts in 4247 days

#1 posted 03-21-2012 03:46 AM

Use any wood you want to…..the choice is yours….it all will work…..Sounds like you’ve pretty well convinced yourself…...

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5152 days

#2 posted 03-21-2012 03:56 AM

Don’t over analyze the situation. It all works.

I have used several different types of wood and plywood materials over the years as a contractor and it all works just the same.

I don’t particularly like the whole concept of the “modular french cleat system.” I just screw cabinets and holders straight to the wall. I can fill the holes & touch up paint as necessary if I choose to move anything, but the reality is, there is usually a limitation on what can go where.

Cabinets logically fit in a specific area, clamps hang in a certain area, and so on…

I will admit that I have made changes to the layout in my shop, but the french cleat system would not have done me any good or have had any added benefit.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View a1Jim's profile


118161 posts in 4630 days

#3 posted 03-21-2012 03:58 AM

I think poplar would be a good choice.


View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 4154 days

#4 posted 03-21-2012 04:29 AM

You don’t want to use 3/4 inch plywood because it has voids in it or Pine because it is soft?? If you screwed either to the wall sufficiently, you could probably hang your work bench from it. I suggest that you do not really know what a french cleat is….................

-- mike...............

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Craftsman on the lake

3813 posts in 4490 days

#5 posted 03-21-2012 04:45 AM

My cleat system is only for a wall that has hanging tools, not cabinets. I find that 1/2” plywood works quite well. No need to spend any more. A sheet of ply can make your cleat strips for the wall and have plenty left for the hangers.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View NiteWalker's profile


2742 posts in 3630 days

#6 posted 03-21-2012 04:51 AM

Plywood would be my choice.

It would hold just fine.

I like the french cleat system for hanging cabinets, but not a whole wall system. Just MHO.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View mlindegarde's profile


49 posts in 4124 days

#7 posted 03-21-2012 04:51 AM

@Todd A. Clippinger
Given that I’m new to wood working, I don’t really know what tools I’ll use most frequently, what layout I’ll like for the shop, etc… For these reasons I’m going with the easy to modify approach. I can see why you may not care for the french cleat approach.

I do indeed know what a french cleat is: it is not the world’s most complicated concept. The void issue is strictly an aesthetic concern. In regards to the softness of Pine: I don’t know if it matters or not, thus the question.

As someone completely new to wood working, the problem I have is that wood choices usually are not explained. I have a copy of Wood Magazine where Maple is the wood of choice but no reason is given for the choice. Why was Maple chosen over Pine? Personal preference? Is there an advantage to the harder wood? Does Maple move less with humidity?

What I didn’t want to do is pick a wood, cover my wall with it (no, I don’t mean cover every inch, likely a total of four rows) and discover that there is a reason I shouldn’t have chosen Birch plywood, pine, etc…

Thanks for the constructive (and not-so-constructive) feedback. I see that material choice doesn’t really matter that much in this case.

View mlindegarde's profile


49 posts in 4124 days

#8 posted 03-21-2012 05:00 AM

It’s pretty likely that by the time I’m done with my shop cabinets will span the width of the wall. In reality, the french cleat will pretty much just end up being used to hold up cabinets. In the mean time, I intend to use some of the smaller scraps to make holders for various tools / clamps.

Perhaps I should have asked the question this way, “What wood do you use for your french cleats and why?”

View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 4539 days

#9 posted 03-21-2012 05:29 AM

Since you are asking for advice, I’m going to give you the best advice I got when my bench grinder cabinet fell off a cleat to the floor with a mighty crash. The grinder and wheels, and even the cabinet are fine. But my ego was bruised up a bit. A 1×4 fine cleat is fine, no big deal in that regard. Here’s the first part of the advice. Screw a 2×4 to the wall and parallel to the bottom of the cabinet. The weight of the cabinet is supported by the 2×4. The cleat just hold the cabinet firm to the wall. Here’s the rest of this wonderful advice. Put a couple of three good screws through the back of the cabinet and into studs. Yeah, I had the same reaction…

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View mlindegarde's profile


49 posts in 4124 days

#10 posted 03-21-2012 05:42 AM

Thanks for the story. Common sense suggests that at some point you need more than just a cleat to support the weight of whatever it is you’re putting on the wall. I’d like to do what I can to not find that point the hard way.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5152 days

#11 posted 03-21-2012 03:11 PM

I woke up this morning and the first thing that entered my mind was that my response may have come across crass or dismissive to your ideas. So first I offer my sincere apology if I did.

I will expand a little more on the information. In my experience, strength is not so much an issue for the materials, they all work adequately.

If some of the cleat will still be seen, then you may want to choose something that looks good and ages well. If it is exposed to potential impact for some reason (maybe you stack something against it) then you might consider something hard like maple.

I would not use pine simply because I do not care for the way it handles in milling and it is uber-soft. I would choose poplar. It is actually very inexpensive and I prefer the way it handles in milling. It is the go-to wood for inexpensive paint grade/stain grade material.

If you want to use plywood, I would choose baltic birch over other types of plywood because it has more laminations and this makes it a bit more dense. The exposed edges are also more attractive if it will be visible anywhere.

If you are going to be hanging heavy items, then I would plan on using strips wide enough to put a couple of screws and insure that they hit the studs. Technically, I would say hardwood will have the greatest holding strength and use some good screws. It would be a good idea to pre-drill a pilot hole to keep the wood from splitting and add a tidy countersink. NEVER – NEVER EVER use sheetrock screws for your woodworking. As a contractor I see how often the heads break off just screwing sheetrock to soft wood studs so I do not recommend them ever for woodworking.

Stability, as far as expansion and contraction goes, is not really an issue when it comes to french cleat material. Seasonal movement is more of a critical issue for larger panels, the operation of wooden drawer components, and inset solid wood doors, etc but this is not a situation where seasonal movement is a problem.

If you are going to have maple or baltic birch ply cabinets, then maybe contrasting black walnut strips would look cool. You can take the opportunity to display a little aesthetic creativity.

For the most part, any of the materials listed will work. If you have an extra heavy cabinet for some reason, you can hang it on the french cleat and add a few extra screws through the cabinet into the studs. If the screw is not passing through the french cleat material, be sure to add some filler material behind the cabinet. You want solid material between the cabinet and the wall where ever you place the screw.

I hope this answer is a little more fulfilling and helpful by providing more insight to the situation.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View mlindegarde's profile


49 posts in 4124 days

#12 posted 03-21-2012 03:49 PM

@Tood A. Clipinger
Thank you very much for the very helpful response: it is the sort of answer I was hoping to get. What you said both confirms what I had planned to do and filled in some gaps in my knowledge.

My intent is to use 3’’ wide strips with two #10 – 2 1/2’’ (maybe just 2’’?) screws per stud. I do have the necessary tools to properly counter sink the wood screws. I don’t plan on painting or staining the wood (I will seal it, but I intend to leave it natural looking).

I’m considering using red oak. I will have baltic birch cabinets, so the red oak might provide a better contrast than poplar.

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 3422 days

#13 posted 03-21-2012 04:30 PM

I assume you’re doing something like this :

That is the system I built, to those plans, and it worked out great. I put 1/4” red oak ply on the walls, and used 3/4” pirch ply for the rails. Finished with 3 coats of oil-based poly, and the colors contrast nicely. You can seet it in the background of this picture. If you’d like to see a larger picture of the wall, let me know. Strengthwise, I am 235lbs, and I hang all of my weight on a single rail.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Vincent Nocito's profile

Vincent Nocito

485 posts in 4417 days

#14 posted 03-21-2012 06:43 PM

I use either pine or poplar for my french cleats because they are readily available and relatively cheap. Typically I use a 1×4. for the cleat. I looked at the picture of your workshop and it looks like brick and perhaps insulated studs above. What will the finished wall be (as is or drywall or…..)? I think that a 2” or 2.5” screw may be too light. My shop walls are 1/2” wallboard and 3/8” plybead. I used 3.5” #10 screws (2/stud) to hang my cleats. I have several heavy wall cabinets on each cleat and had no issues.

View Grandpa's profile


3264 posts in 3728 days

#15 posted 03-21-2012 07:06 PM

The load is actually carried by the screws. They are placed in shear and the load pulls mostly straight down. I think balsa wood might work if the screws were the right kind and length. If I were using 3/4 inch thick wood over 1/2 inch wall board I might rethink the 2 inch screws but the screws are the most important part of this system. I would go with something inexpensive like poplar and get some good screws that are 2 1/2 inches long or longer. use plenty of screws and anchor to the studs only. Anything less might leave your tools in the floor. Utility or drywall screws are brittle. Regular wood screws are not so hard but they are tougher so to speak. Good luck with the project. We will be expecting some photos.

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