In the midst of your furniture assembly, you come across what appears to be a lovely piece of packing material, except the instructions call it a back panel and direct you to nail it on to the back of your unit. You feel your confidence in this project waver. Why on earth would we include a piece of cardboard in the list of parts? There are several surprising facts about this piece, beginning with its name: this is not true cardboard but a high-density cardboard, also called paperboard. In the world of RTA (Ready to Assemble) furniture, an HDC back panel is a common component, and is used by IKEA, South Shore, Sauder and all other RTA manufacturers. The designers and engineers who incorporated HDC did so with many good reasons.
- Not your typical cardboard. Typically, cardboard is just three layers and corrugated. HDC is much stronger than standard cardboard.
- Industry Standard. Even high end, solid wood furniture uses a lightweight material for the back panel. For those, it’s a material known as lauan plywood, and can range in thickness from 1/8th to 1/4th inch. HDC thickness will vary slightly by model and supplier but will either be 1.5mm (0.60pt), 1.8mm (0.70pt), or 2.3mm (0.90pt). Comparatively, there is little difference between the thickness of these materials.
- Flexibility is a double-edged sword. When you pick up the back panel, you may notice some play to it. That pliability may make it seem flimsy, but it also does not break when pressure is applied; the same cannot be said of 1/8th inch lauan plywood. We do our best to ensure each panel arrives damage free, but shipping can be a rough ride for something as heavy as furniture. HDC is historically the least damaged of any shipped part.
- It is the most suitable option. In terms of RTA furniture, this is the option that best fits, just as lauan plywood is more suitable for solid wood furniture. In a side-by-side comparison, lauan wins for strength, partially because it is structurally integrated. Because we are sending a kit to be assembled, this is a less viable option; it would also greatly increase the difficulty of the assembly process.
- HDC keeps furniture from being excessively heavy. If a basic six-drawer dresser weighs 117 pounds with a HDC backing, consider moving one with a thicker back panel!
- Heavier panels are used when necessary. We carefully test our furniture to ensure that it meets specific safety and structural standards, including ASTM F2057-19, UL 1678 and other applicable industry standards. If a sturdier backing is needed for structural integrity, heavier panels are used.
- Cost is an added rationale for the use of HDC. It is much less expensive than lauan, particleboard or MDF. This price not only affects what we sell to retailers at, but also at what price they sell to the customer. Additionally, since the back panel often has the largest square footage of all furniture pieces, this cost also affects packaging and shipping.
- HDC pack panels get the job done. When properly installed, they can provide ample resistance against racking, or the force we impose on furniture when shifting it into position. It keeps the unit from leaning, which is its primary function.
The simple truth about HDC back panels is that the advantages far outweigh any disadvantages. At any rate, it’s certainly worth more than its weight!