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I'm in the planning stage of building a bookshelf with cabinet doors. I'd like to use alternating vertical strips of woods of contrasting colors for an art deco look. The obvious way to do that is to use fairly thick strips for more glue area, but that makes a heavy door.

So, I had the idea of using thinner strips, if it will hold together, and building it as frame and panel. (I'd still need the frame so there's a place to mount the hinges.)

My first idea was to glue thin strips to very thin plywood, but that risks the strips making the plywood flex, since the strips would expand and the plywood doesn't.

Another idea is to reinforce the back of the panel with cloth, but that makes the inside of the panel ugly , and may still have warping issues.

A variation on the reinforcing cloth idea is to put strips on both sides of the cloth. I actually tried this out with some scraps, but I don't know whether it would scale well.

Finally, I could edge glue it without any special reinforcement, and count on the frame to provide structural support for the panel, possibly with reinforcing cloth wrapped over the top and bottom edges and hidden in deeper than usual frame grooves.

Which of these options are workable and practical?

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One aesthetic point in favor of the heavy slab is that the frame would kind of detract from the art deco look. If the frame idea doesn't work well, I might just settle for that design.

Afterthought: A variation on the slab door idea would be to make the first few strips thick enough for the hinge hardware, and the rest thin to reduce the weight, and use metal C-channel at the top and bottom (through a groove in the thick section) to keep it from flexing.

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    What exactly do you mean by "thin"? I've had no problems with panel glue-ups down to 1/4". However, I don't think I would trust a panel that thin to be stable enough to use as a door. – SaSSafraS1232 Feb 2 '18 at 18:23
  • Also, how big are the doors you're talking about? Wood movement is always more of an issue on bigger pieces. – SaSSafraS1232 Feb 2 '18 at 18:25
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    Also dados for alternating patterns would be more sturdy – Rick Ratayczak Feb 2 '18 at 19:20
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    Your thought regarding gluing thin strips or sheets of wood to plywood (or MDF) to create in interesting pattern is common practice in veneering. – rob Feb 2 '18 at 22:24
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    There's no way on earth you could make doors of the dimensions you want in 1/4" material that would remain stable in service. Even plywood or MDF would struggle and they're far more stable than any solid wood. Just as important, are you aware of how much expansion/contraction you need to allow for in common hardwood species for a panel 30" wide? Two doors adjacent to each other are virtually guaranteed to expand at some point in the year and bind in the centre (and possible buckle), or if you build it when it's most damp the joint will open up to a really ugly gap during the dry months. – Graphus Feb 3 '18 at 12:09
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I agree with your concern that frame might not give an art deco appearance.

The thinnest panel I would recommend without a frame is 3/4" thick for widths up to about 30". It is important that you keep your individual strips at a max of 3" and orient them so that the grain directions alternate between pieces so that if one wants to warp to the inside, the adjacent pieces want to warp in the opposite direction. In addition, I have some concern about 7' high continuous panels. Each of the wood pieces in the panel will have to have very straight grain from one end to the other if you hope to have the panels flat remain flat.

I would recommend 2 stacked doors if your design can accommodate them. There are plenty of ways you could introduce a horizontal design element in art deco style with panel doors above and below. In fact such an element could be associated with a fixed center shelf which would also add stability to the cabinet carcass.

  • If I do two stacked doors, it might look nice to do the pattern in diagonals. Would that be workable, or asking for trouble with expansion? – Steve Feb 4 '18 at 20:35
  • If the grain runs in the same direction the panel will move as one. Any expansion over the width of the panel is handled by the gaps between doors. If your pattern is more complex, you can always ask another question that includes a sketch of what you want to do. – Ashlar Feb 5 '18 at 4:08
  • The risk I see with expansion of running the grain diagonally is that there would be a component of vertical expansion (sine of the angle, relative to vertical) that would change the distance between the hinges. In the worst case, running the grain horizontally, all of the cross-grain expansion would push and pull the upper and lower hinges, unless the hinges have some vertical play, or if the doors are attached to a case with the same grain direction. – Steve Feb 13 '18 at 21:08

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