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Three Ways to Strengthen Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

by Greg Keefer

When it comes to cabinets, beauty and strength aren't mutually exclusive. But, if you want your unfinished kitchen cabinets to be work horses over the long haul, you may need to make some aesthetic changes to achieve strong construction.

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Here are three ways to strengthen unfinished stock cabinetry you're finishing yourself or beef up cabinets already in service:

  • Apply a back panel: Insert a plywood panel into grooves, or use a rabbet joint in the back of each cabinet. This will slightly decrease the depth of the unit, but the trade-off is a cabinet that holds more weight and avoids shifting due to changing moisture and temperature conditions.
  • Overcome moisture content: Varying moisture levels cause wood to contract and expand and wreak havoc with your cabinets. The ideal moisture level, as measured by a meter, should be around nine or ten percent. A support system of vertical boards held in place by tongue-and-groove joints, without wood glue, allows some movement within the grooves. The boards are held by a nail in a rabbet top and bottom.
  • Butt joints:Here's where you may have to sacrifice beauty for practicality. Butt joints work wonders when supported by screws. Dowels and biscuits are slightly more attractive, but your best option is to settle for a dovetail connection. This takes extra work to achieve, but can be left visible or hidden by molding.

Establishing the balance between a simple cabinet and one that will hold up under a load or fluctuating home moisture conditions is a delicate matter. But, by following these guidelines, you can get the strong, beautiful cabinets you want.

About the Author

Greg Keefer has been a do-it-yourselfer with lots of experience in how to do things right and how to do them wrong. He enjoys sharing his experience with the hope of helping others to

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