A Square Deal (31)

A series of posts describing the design and construction of a pair of tables in bubinga.


Demountable Rear Panel.

I chose to make the rear panel on the side table demountable – meaning readily taken on and off – instead of fixed, as in a standard floating panel trapped in the surrounding framing. My reasoning was that service, adjustment and repair of the drawer ‘mechanism’ would be far easier if you could access both ends of the cabinet. Working into a narrow dead end space from the front, as would be the case if the rear cabinet panel was not removable, is more of a hassle, more awkward, and makes a good result less likely. While it adds a certain amount of complexity and fabrication time to have a demountable panel instead of the more usual floating panel trapped in a frame, I think the benefit is worth it, even if the benefit will likely accrue to someone working on the cabinet long after I am gone from the world.

My initial concept for the demountable panel was to build a frame and panel unit which would nest inside the existing framing somewhat discretely. Here’s the look of the panel when installed:

The frame of this demountable unit looks better the smaller it is, it seems to me. If it were much taller in section, the panel within becomes rather obscured. I settled on a section height of 0.5″ (12.7mm), and a frame width of 13/16″ (0.8125″, 20.63mm). The panel was to be around 1/4″ (6.35mm) thick.

A problem with such a thin frame however is that over an extended time, the upper horizontal member could possibly sag a little bit. It couldn’t sag too far as the panel would support it, but it could definitely sag enough to make a gap to the framing above.  A solution to this, I felt, was to make the frame step down, so that the frame section was an inch tall behind the panel, stepping down to 1/2″ for the front reveal.That would add a little challenge to the corner connections, but nothing too onerous.

So I started fabricating the parts yesterday. I got most of the way along, just shy of profiling the lower rail and fitting the parts up:

The corners of the frame, after the dado is cut to accept the panel, doesn’t leave much room for a joint. The only decent solution I felt was a form of staggered finger joint:

A finger joint would have to be glued of course, and that’s where I started having second thoughts.  I’ve done this form of construction many times in the past, and there’s nothing really wrong with it – – but I’d prefer to avoid glued construction if I can do so. Maybe the issue lays in the design of the demountable panel?

So I put that above parts to one side, and started over again. In reconsidering the visual I wanted to achieve, I realized there was another way to make the part, just as a slab table with breadboard ends is an alternative to a frame and panel table top. Why not make the demountable panel in the same manner?

That seemed like a reasonable way to proceed, so I went to the shop today for a spell to see what sort of trouble I could get into. The result of an afternoon’s stumbling around:

Another view:

So, success? Well, not quite. I think this means of building the rear panel will be the ticket, however there are a few details which arose that didn’t quite suit me, so I’ll make it again. Third time’s the charm? I’m getting a damn good amount of practice!

This may seem like a lot of fussing for a panel at the back of the cabinet that no one ever sees or thinks about, but I know it’s there and I know how it is made. And how it is made matters to me greatly. This piece has to meet my own standards for construction and won’t leave the shop until it does. I mean that in every respect, down to the last detail.

Are you ready for the next installment? Post 32.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way.

4 Replies to “A Square Deal (31)”

  1. Hi Chris,
    As the great Hans Wegner once said “A chair is to have no backside. It should be beautiful from all sides and angles.” I believe this goes for any piece of furniture one makes. Keep up those high standards.


  2. Chris,
    If the drawer or runners ever find themselves in need of repair one day in the distant future, it would be nice to have a note enlightening the one charged with the service to the fact that the rear panel is removable. Memory and word of mouth may prove less reliable than the craftsmanship.

  3. Kiku,

    thanks for the comment, and that issue has definitely crossed my mind. It is definitely worth considering. What good is it coming up with a solution to a piece which makes it more readily serviceable or repairable if the person doing that work down the line fails to understand that system?

    It's the same issue with using glue, if you go with hide glue which is reversible – it would be helpful if there was some indication that hide glue had been used so that the repair person would know right away how to break the glue bonds.

    I've thought of putting a small note or card into the cabinet for that very reason, and may just do so.


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