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Thread: What wood for drawer bottoms, cabinet backs?

  1. #1

    Question What wood for drawer bottoms, cabinet backs?

    Hello All,

    I'm just getting started down the road to totally hand-powered-woodworking, and wish to approach it in a no-compromise fashion.
    However, in thinking through one of my first projects, it occurred to me to question just what material would be appropriate for the bottoms of drawers and the backs of cabinets.
    I'm assuming most would use plywood or hardboard (masonite) - but I don't want any engineered stuff in mine.
    Does that leave hand-planing stock to thickness (1/4") as my only option, or am I overlooking something?

    Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on this topic.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Amherst, NH
    HI Joe,
    I use power and hand tools, but I don't think you have to plane your stuff down to 1/4". For drawer bottoms and case backs, you treat your panels like flat or raised panels in a door, and either bevel or rabbet the edge so it can sit in a groove in a frame (drawer or case back) so it can move with the seasons and not blow out the frame of the drawer or of the case. Planing will still be involved after panel glue up. Your drawer bottoms will probably run a bit thicker than 1/4" and your case backs as well. If you want to stay away from engineered wood, you need to allow for seasonal movement. Garret Hack wrote a nice article about solid wood drawer bottoms in Fine Woodworking a few months ago.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Midlothian, TX
    Poplar. Cheapish (nothing is these days), traditional.
    Originality is the art of concealing your source.
    Franklin P. Jones
    Comments & criticism on postings welcomed.

  4. #4
    The same wood as the front for backs. Or poplar. For bottoms I generally use pine or fir on occasion.
    3/8" is a nice thickness.
    For me the uncompromising bottom is made from re-sawn 4/4 stuff. the worst resawing case is two 8" boards, re-sawn to a fat 3/8 then jointed edge-wise to make an 16" width. For greater width, 3 slats will give me 24" width. Its not hard to resaw pine or poplar. If you put a kerf along the equator with a table saw or a 1/8" plow plane for the rip saw to follow, it's a simple and quick task.

  5. #5
    Thank you all for your input - I guess I was stuck thinking it had to be thinner, when it doesn't need to be.
    Also, I guess that I had mentally crossed Poplar off my list as wood I have no use for.

  6. #6
    Poplar has its qualities. I switched from bass to poplar for harpsichord keyboards long ago. It's one of the best-working good painting woods as well.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    One of the cedars would be a good choice in drawers meant to hold clothing; Cedar of Lebanon (hard to find in the U.S. in solid, but veneer is available), or Spanish Cedar would be two I'd look to first.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Annapolis, MD
    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Bailey View Post
    Also, I guess that I had mentally crossed Poplar off my list as wood I have no use for.
    Poplar is wonderful stuff. Inexpensive, reasonably stable, easy to work. The color and figure may be a bit bland when clear-finished, but there's a lot of work that looks really nice painted. Or stained/dyed. I'm in grad school, so pretty much everything I can afford to make is pine or poplar -- it's given me a lot of opportunity to work around their limitations and explore their advantages.
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers --
    joined in the serious business of keeping our food,
    shelter, clothing and loved ones from combining
    with oxygen.
    -- Kurt Vonnegut

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    I'll add that while masonite might have some uses in the shop, IMO it's probably the worst possible choice, aesthetically, for drawer bottoms or case backs in any kind of quality work.
    Last edited by Frank Drew; 03-08-2011 at 10:31 AM.

  10. #10
    I have used just about every kind of solid wood that fits the budget. I sometimes use sapwood boards just to put them to good use, nothing wrong with a cherry sapwood back! Guys with lots of local soft maple might use that because it can be cheaper than poplar in some regions. I have lots of red oak in my shop but it doesn't work up quite as easily as some softer woods, otherwise I would use it for more backs and bottoms.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    southeast U.S.
    The local hardwood dealer carries 1/2" poplar @ $2.30/bdft and I expect a few phone calls in your area will find either 1/2" poplar, pine or soft maple.
    I have a stash of QS 5/8" Heart Pine (sawn 130-150 yrs ago) in 16-22" width I use where appropiate- fits the region of the piece I'm copying.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Charlotte, MI
    I'm a big fan of Eastern White Cedar for drawer bottoms. Ridiculously easy to work and it holds up just fine.
    Your endgrain is like your bellybutton. Yes, I know you have it. No, I don't want to see it.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    South Coastal Massachusetts
    Second the EWC for drawer bottoms. Poplar can be friable, with "whiskers" lifted during planing.

    I like a planed drawer bottom to face up, as these resist dirt and should be smooth enough not to catch clothing (socks and knitwear in particular). Easter White cedar planes smooth to a glassy surface. It smells nice while working, too.

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