This post explains the French cleat. French cleats are the strongest, most adaptable mounting system in all of carpentry. As a bonus, they’re exceedingly simple to build. That’s why they get used in shops and houses around the world.
Here’s a Youtube video of Ethan’s that explains and demonstrates the French cleat:
Tools for Your Cleat Rips
For rough French cleats, like in a shop or garage, you can use a circular saw.
For nicer work, you need a table saw. Here’s a “jobsite” saw:
What Is a French Cleat?
The French cleat is simply a system for mounting or hanging things from a wall. Basically, it consists of two essential elements. First, a beveled, horizontal rail, what I call the “wall cleat”. As an example, take a look at the photo below:
Second, a similarly beveled component, the “object cleat”. Below is a photo of an object cleat sliding down to engage its corresponding wall cleat:
Notice, the cleat elements of the system both have beveled rails. What makes the system work is that the bevels are opposites. That allows them to mate securely when the are engaged. The bevel angle can be as low as 30 degrees. Generally, however, the bevels are cut at 45 degrees, as seen in our photos.
Also notice that the wall cleat is made up of a mounting plate and a beveled piece. Mounting plates are explained in this previous post. Click the link to check it out.
Why Are the French Cleat Elements Beveled?
The bevel cuts are the key to the whole system. What if you made square rips instead of bevels? Here, take a look:
Forces in Two Directions
As you can seen the example above, the wall cleat will keep the object cleat from moving downward. The problem is, we have another force involved to keep our object from falling. We can’t allow the object to move outward, either. If the object cleat pulls outward and off of the wall cleat, your object crashes to the floor.
The bevel stops that from happening.
Why Would I Need a French Cleat?
There are easy ways to hang objects on a wall.
Do you have a small, light picture to hang? If so, just drive a small trim nail into the drywall at a downward angle. For a somewhat heavier object, like a larger picture, drive a screw into a stud. But what if there’s no stud where you need one? Or what if you’re hanging something that’s really heavy?
Three Benefits of a French Cleat
In shops and garages, long French cleats offer a huge choice of locations for hanging items. For example, you’ve all probably seen Ethan’s new shop in his recent videos. Take a look at this photo:
Here, Ethan has built a long set of wall cleats. Then, he built a bunch of shorter object cleat shelves, like this one:
You can see the versatility of a system like this. The object cleat shelves can be built to any width and can slide anywhere along any of the wall cleats. You may not have noticed them, but many stores use this kind of system for their display racks.
When properly constructed, French cleat systems are outrageously strong.
For best results, make your components from 3/4″ (19mm) plywood. If you do, your system will be really strong. Be sure to use screws that are long enough to go a ways into your studs. Also, use screws that are strong, like deck screws. (Pro tip: don’t use drywall screws for fastening. They are very brittle and will snap under loads.)
If you really need to beef up your system, double your cleats, like in this diagram:
In this case, mount your two wall cleats to a large mounting plate (the black vertical line). Or use two individual plates. The vanity cabinet below is probably hung from a double cleat system.
Hide Your French Cleat
The cleats in the above vanity are hidden. That’s an advantage over almost all other mounting systems. Take a look at the example below:
In this case, the object cleat is mounted securely to the back of a cabinet. The wall cleat is shorter, and is padded outward to mate properly. When mounted, the cabinet sides hide the cleat system.
Your French Cleat Doesn’t Need to be Wood
Conveniently, you can now buy metal hardware, like this:
The system shown is 18″ long. That’s long enough to catch two studs. No carpentry skills needed. Well, not many!
Thanks for reading. I’m Ross James with The Honest Carpenter.
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