# Where does the strength of a French cleat lie?

I'm making a French cleat wall for a home office. I'm wondering how to make the strongest French cleat. Is it the length/angle of the bevel that matters most, like in B vs A in the diagram? Or is it the overall width of the cleat that is attached to the wall, like in X vs Y? Or does overall thickness of material (as in across A-side/B-side) make the real difference?

• It depends on use case. There's no one correct answer. As stated below, the angle determines whether force is applied more vertically or horizontally. What's your priority? – isherwood Feb 24 at 17:52
• The answers here should be enlightening. – FreeMan Feb 24 at 18:46
• Anecdotally I have a cleat wall in my shop which hold up crates of fasteners. The crates are maybe 30 lb when full loaded and the weight doesn't sit particularly close to the wall (maybe 6-8 inches away). It's just a 2.5" tall piece of 3/4" plywood cut at 45 degrees. Been holding for years now. took a few minutes to make with a table saw. Anything other than 45 would have been difficult to cut. – Brad Feb 25 at 18:12

If you consider the physics of this, the B wedge is going to apply more outward force on the cleat attached to the wall then the A wedge for a given amount of weight supported. So you might cause the attachment to the wall to fail long before you would be reaching the capacity of the bolt's shear limit.

Generally a relatively shallow angle will give you all the support you need as you really just want it deep enough to keep the supported item from popping off the cleat.

If you are concerned about the amount of weight supported, use a wider cleat not a steeper angle on the cut.

Bottom line: Between your two diagrams, the LEFT one is the better choice.

• Just to be clear, the left side drawing is preferred. – Mattman944 Feb 24 at 17:52
• @Mattman944 - what makes it 'clear'… that should be an answer not a comment, if you have justification & reasoning. – Tetsujin Feb 24 at 18:46
• @Tetsujin - The answer was correct, but somewhat ambiguous IMO. jwh20 has clarified the answer based on my comment. – Mattman944 Feb 24 at 19:37
• Nit pick: french cleats, and most things held on a wall are held up by friction, held in place by the compression of the fasteners. With a properly loaded fastener, the fastener carriers virtually no shear load at all. – whatsisname Feb 25 at 5:51
• YB looks much more likely to take chip-damage to the sharp corners, and be hard to cut. XA looks like something that can be achieved with a tilted table saw and is more robust to slight impacts on the sharper edge. – Criggie Feb 25 at 10:37

My imperfect grasp of physics would tell me that the strength would be equal in both cases, however, B is more likely to jam & be hard to remove later.

The downward force is equal in both cases, the adhesion/grip force will be greater in B.
There's potentially a leverage force also in B, but my high-school physics says that will be too small to come into play. I'd guess it would jam solid long before leverage would pry it off the wall.
The other reasoning against any leverage factor is that the vertical outside faces will come up against your opposing cabinet/wall & prevent further slippage.

If "everybody" says french cleats go at 45° there has to be some empirical if anecdotal evidence gathered over the centuries to support that as a sound theory.
Balance between 'easy to knock off' vs 'will become irremovable' probably lands half way - 45°

The 'strength' of a french cleat is likely limited by the wall & cabinet fastenings, not the joint profile. All the force is really in compression between the two cleat faces.

• 45° could also be arrived at simply because it is the easiest angle to accurately cut. – whatsisname Feb 25 at 5:52
• @whatsisname - definitely, with a soupçon of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" ;) – Tetsujin Feb 25 at 12:53
• @whatsisname I think I've seen some designs close to 60° - easier to knock off, but easier to remove - with thicker wood. – Chris H Feb 26 at 11:46

I don't know that the strength really lies in the angle. If I were picking, I'd go with X over Y, but because you don't want to create too much of a wedge between the cleat and the wall (Y will put more stress on the cleat fasteners). The bevel helps it not slide off the cleat.

The main advantage of the cleat is you can mount a board to the wall in a secure fashion before you hang your heavy item on it.

You only need enough angle that whatever is being held won't get inadvertently bumped off the wall. For heavy things, that's not much at all. For lighter ones, a bit more angle may be needed, but A is already excessive, IME. 15 degrees (or 75, if you prefer to think that way) is plenty.

Strength comes from length first, thickness second, and width (height, as mounted) last. No point in making the cleat shorter than the object to be held is wide.

• Additional fasteners to prevent lifting of the mounted item are a common safety solution. – JimmyJames Feb 25 at 18:25

It's a balance between additional stress on the fasteners and the outward force from the torque applied by the weight of the object and its leverage, or distance out from the wall.

Imagine a 12" wide shelf attached to a 6" vertical, forming a 2:1 lever arm. Place a 10 pound object at the outside edge of the shelf: this applies 10 pounds downward force, resulting in:

• a 10 pound downward force, plus:
• an out-from-the-wall force at the top of the vertical piece.
• an in-towards-the-wall force at the bottom of the vertical piece.

A flat angle on the French cleat wouldn't work; the torque from the leverage of the weight would cause the top to pull right off of the French cleat.

A large angle (B) on the cleat would mean large forces applied sideways to thin wedges of wood.

45 degrees seems a good compromise.

Also ensure that whatever is being placed on the French cleats has a tall enough back-plate that the leverage is not extreme. One rule of thumb would be to make the back-plate height at least 2/3 of the distance the item extends out from the wall, and it should end on a cleat.