Figure 5-18: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss Best Practices Guide to Installing Interior Casework, Cabinets, Shelving

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Cabinets & Shelving Best Practices:

This article discusses choices of materials to use for building interior cabinets and shelving: casework, and describes best practices for building these components. This article series discusses and provides a best construction practices guide to the selection and installation of building interior surface materials, carpeting, doors, drywall, trim, flooring, lighting, plaster, materials, finishes, and sound control materials.

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Casework: Guide to Selecting Materials for Built-In Cabinets & Shelving

As described in the book, Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction Chapter 5, Interior Finish:

For shelving, built-ins, and other casework, contractors can choose from a wide array of panel products. The most widely used are veneer-core plywood, MDF, and particleboard. MDF and particleboard are available either unfinished or with a wood veneer or melamine facing. Medium density overlay (MDO) is a good option for cabinets exposed to very high humidity or exterior uses.

Using Veneer-Core Plywood For Built-In Casework: Cabinets & Shelving

Cabinet-grade plywood typically has five inner plies (more for better grades), plus the face veneers, and in most cases uses phenol-formaldehyde adhesive, which has negligible off-gassing. Plywood is strong and dimensionally stable. For paint-grade cabinets, birch plywood remains an excellent choice.

Baltic birch plywood uses all birch for the inner plies, is free of voids, and can be edge sanded, making it ideal for drawer sides and similar applications. For stain-grade work, hardwood plywood can be special ordered with matched veneers. Where screwing into edges is required, 7-ply material is less likely to split.

Using MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) For Built-In Casework: Cabinets & Shelving

Medium-density fiberboard is a fine composite material made from fine wood fibers and resin, usually urea-formaldehyde (see description on page 184). MDF is available as both a paint-grade panel or faced with wood veneer or melamine.

Because of its competitive pricing and good workability, MDF is now the dominant panel product in many markets. In paint-grade work, the edges need to be sealed or banded due to high absorption of paint. Concerns about off-gassing of formaldehyde could be a concern to customers with allergies or chemical sensitivities.

However, if laminated on all faces with an impervious facing, such as melamine, or finished with two or more coats of varnish or an oil-based paint (or paint rated as a vapor barrier) on all faces, the off-gassing will be minimized.

Guide to using Particleboard For Built-In Casework: Cabinets & Shelving

Particleboard is similar to MDF, but with larger fibers, so it doesn’t machine to a crisp edge and leaves a noticeable texture when painted. Also, edges and corners are more prone to chipping than with MDF. Like MDF, it off-gasses urea-formaldehyde. Sealing all surfaces will minimize the problem.

Guide to using MDO (Medium Density Overlay) For Built-In Casework: Cabinets & Shelving

Medium-density overlay is an exterior grade plywood with a durable resin-treated paper facing that takes paint exceptionally well. It is widely used for sign making as well as concrete forms. Though not typically used in casework, it is an ideal material for cabinets that will be exposed to extreme moisture or exposed to weather on porches, patios, or other outdoor locations.

Recommendations for Constructing Built-in Shelving

Table 5-11: (C) J Wiley, S BlissTypical shelf spans for simple shelves sitting on cleats at both ends are shown in Table 5-11.

[Click to enlarge any image]

These assume a load of heavy books and minimal deflection, although long-term deflection under a constant load may be greater.

To stiffen shelving, it can be supported along the back edge or reinforced in front with solid-wood facing, glued and nailed in place.

For example, a 1 1/4-inch solid-wood apron along the front edge will increase the span for plywood shelving to about 36 inches.

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

Resources: Manufacturers, Industry Associations, & Sources of Indoor Wall Materials, Flooring, Carpeting, Lighting, Sound Control Materials

Drywall Trims and Accessories

Polymer (Urethane), MDF, and Vinyl Trim Producers & Sources

Flexible Trim Manufacturers & Sources

Industry & Trade Associations for Carpeting, Lighting, Finishes, Wood Products, Flooring, Painting & Decorating

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

This article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons. Our page top photo shows site-built casework in a Poughkeepsie, NY home constructed in 1900 (DJF).

Also see INTERIORS of buildings, our home page for information about all topics relating to building interiors.


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