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I am building a console as shown below (not to scale). The boards are 5 cm (2 inches) thick pine. The sides are joined to the top using dovetails.

I have not assembled this yet but I am concerned about racking. What would be a traditional / time-tested way to reinforce something like this?

I have thought of three options:

  1. A shelf attached with dadoes & tenons. This seems right, but I am not sure it will be useful as a shelf, and if not, it will take up more space than other options.
  2. A reinforcement bar with a vertical cross-section. Is a mortise & tenon joint appropriate here provided the bar is small?
  3. A dovetailed reinforcement bar on the back. Would this work w.r.t. wood movement? One advantage is that I can add it after the initial glue-up.

console plan

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  • per bowlturners answer, option 1 is not so good for racking, especially if the load is large. You need more vertical distribution to prevent legs from racking. Option 3 will work for wood movement. Wood expands and contracts in width and height, but not in length so if the top and the brace grains are in the same direction, then no differential movement will affect the assembly.
    – Ashlar
    Feb 20 at 14:22
  • Thanks @Ashlar! My concern with option 3 was the cross-grain situation between the brace and the side (where the grain runs from top to bottom). I suppose it’s not an issue if things are narrow enough, but still was wondering if that can weaken the joint.
    – stanch
    Feb 20 at 17:04
  • I think the two things to focus on here are 1, this is just a console and 2, the stock you're using is thick. Once you build this and the glue fully cured I think you'll be seriously impressed by how little racking you see. Even without glue something like this can be surprisingly rack-resistant! Now if you have ANY concerns about racking in service by all means add some reinforcement — as has been said here many many times one rarely regrets making something stronger! Even if it's not strictly needed you could add something just for peace of mind. Or simply because you like the looks!
    – Graphus
    Feb 21 at 9:28
  • Re. no.3 and the cross-grain situation, yes the stretcher is narrow enough that it is a non-issue — think about the apron pieces in every conventional table and their join with the legs. Also many workbenches have stretchers that attach to the legs either with the stretcher fully enclosed or in a halving joint (lap joint). Even if just overlaid, if they're glued on and pegged, nailed or screwed it's basically the same. If you do add something I'd go with 1 or 3 simply because each represents an opportunity for useful practice; I wouldn't consider either inherently superior (for this).
    – Graphus
    Feb 21 at 9:37
  • Thanks @Graphus! You are right about practice… I admit one of the reasons for these options was that I wanted to practice using my new router plane :)
    – stanch
    Feb 21 at 13:47

1 Answer 1

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Always need triangles to prevent racking. Your options 2 and 3 are the most viable to do that. Though the 3rd option I might try 2 of them across, though the wider it is the better it would be at preventing racking. This is why so many pieces of furniture have the entire back covered with thin sheet material.

If the back side is going to be against a wall, the easiest would be to literally screw triangles into the back top corners, they will prevent all racking. You can also hide them a little more and make them smaller by putting in 4 just a few inches back from the edge on each corner, making it a nice 'feature', that is partially hidden.

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  • Absolutely, 100% what I would have suggested!
    – FreeMan
    Feb 20 at 14:13
  • Oh, haven’t thought of that! So a couple of plywood triangles (or just cross members, like on chair frame corners) screwed/nailed and potentially sunk into stopped rabbets to not protrude? Not sure I follow “make them smaller by putting in 4”, but that’s what I understood.
    – stanch
    Feb 20 at 17:08
  • I think I get it, you mean 4 triangles, 2 on the corners facing the wall and 2 on the front, but away from the edge to not be seen?
    – stanch
    Feb 20 at 17:11
  • @stanch yes, that is what I mean. If you are ok with plywood you can just put the triangles on the back so they overlap the entire corner as well
    – bowlturner
    Feb 20 at 17:18
  • I could also use some chunky triangles from offcuts of the same 2" pine. Will need to see how visible that is from the front. Although with a plywood “back” I could have quite a wide rabbet and just glue them in and not worry about screws getting loose. Thanks for the suggestions!
    – stanch
    Feb 20 at 17:29

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