Closet panels are an essential component of any custom closet. Think of them as the spine that holds everything together. Their importance can’t be emphasized enough. You need to get them right. After all, your entire closet system depends on them.

There are several things to consider when ordering your closet panels. The type and grade of material are important. But so is the installation technique. Then there are options to consider like drill patterns and rounded corners. It all makes a difference in how well your new closet will perform over the years.

You want something that will last. That means some building in some flexibility. It must also be safe around the entire family. You need to think about any sharp corners. But most of all, it must never collapse! All of this depends on the simple closet panel.

Materials Used in Closet Panels

Custom closets can be made of wood, laminate, or even metal/wire. However, most high-end closet organizer systems are built from some type of laminate with a particleboard core. This is due to cost. Even wood closet systems are likely to be a veneer over a particleboard core. Solid wood is simply too expensive to use inside a closet where no one sees it. But this doesn’t mean the closet organizers aren’t of good quality.

The quality of the closet components is, in part, determined by the grade of laminate and particleboard used in their construction. Standards for particleboard are developed by the American National Standards Institute, ANSI A208.1 The grade specification indicates density classes by the letters H (high), M (medium), and L (low). In addition to the letter designation, panels are assigned a number 1 or 2 by the ANSI standard. Type 1 panels are manufactured with an adhesive that has some water resistance but is not waterproof. Type 2 panels are manufactured with a waterproof binder resin. This means different grades of particleboard have different densities, with higher density connoting greater strength and greater resistance to failure of screw fasteners.

The particleboard core is hidden by laminate or veneer. Therefore, it is an area where corners are often cut. M2 industrial, also called furniture grade, is most often recommended for good closet organizers. But some companies use M1, a thinner economy panel for non-structural applications that is likely to sag over time when used in a closet. Others use hollow core particleboard so that it looks thick and heavy-duty on the surface, but there’s not much to it if you drill in. So how do you know what you’re getting? You need to do your homework and ask.

Comparison of closet panels thicknesses used in custom closet construction.
Compare material thicknesses used in closet panel construction.

Panel Drilling

Closet panels have two tracks of little holes running up their face. These holes are used for inserting shelf pins that hold up the adjustable shelves as well as clothes rods and a variety of closet accessories. The places the holes are bored is called the drill pattern. Your closet panels can be either fully-bored or selectively drilled.

Drill pattern is a matter of preference rather than quality or price. Some prefer selective drilling because it makes the closet organizer look more like an expensive piece of furniture. But the downside is that it offers less flexibility if you change your mind about where you’d like your shelves, rods, etc. in the future.

Fully-bored panels, by contrast, show two sets of small holes running down the entire side of the panel. Use fully-bored panels when your needs are likely to change over the lifespan of the closet. The extra holes allow for a quick change in shelf location or other closet components. A child’s closet should always use full-bore.

Closet panels with full bore drilling and selective drilling.
The closet panel on the left displays traditional full-bore drilling. This makes it simple to relocate the height of the clothes rod, replace it with a shelf, belt rack, pull-out basket, etc. at a later date. The closet panel on the right shows selective drilling. This means holes are only made where currently needed to install the rod.

Closet Panels Installation

Closet organizer systems use either a suspension rail with a bracket or a cleat for installation. Both are strong. Use them to secure the closet panels to the studs of the home. Suspension rail with brackets is a little easier for the DIY homeowner to handle and is therefore recommended by CLOSETS.COM.

Hang Your Rail

To install your closet panels, first, hang your rail on the closet wall. Place it 84″ from the floor. Make sure it is level as this is critical to your later happiness with the closet. Secure the rail through the drywall about every 16-inches. This way you’ll have a screw in every stud. If you don’t have a stud every 16-inches or you have metal studs, use toggles. Snug up the screws/toggles but don’t overtighten. If you tighten them too much, you might break the paper on the drywall, reducing its strength.

Once the rail is attached to the wall, cover it with the rail cover. If you’re planning to paint the rail cover to match the wall, do it now. It’s much harder to mask and paint after the closet is installed.

Hang Your Closet Panels

Next, install the rail brackets on the closet panels. These brackets, along with the closet panels themselves, support your entire closet. The bracket simply hooks onto the rail. It remains secure because you snugged that to the studs.

First, prep your panels. Select which side of the closet panel you want the bracket on. Since the bracket will be visible, most select the inside of the closet panel so that it is less noticeable. Screw the bracket to the top of the closet panel using the pre-drilled holes. Then, before you hang the panel, install the corner bracket on the bottom of the closet panel so that it is ready to attach to the wall. Also, take the time to push the double dowels through the top hole in the panel so that you will be ready to install the top shelves after the vertical panels are in place. After this prep, you’re ready to go ahead and hang the closet panels on the rail.

Hang your prepped closet panels on the suspension rail
Hang your prepped closet panels on the suspension rail.

If you are using cleats instead of rail, you will secure your panels to a top and bottom cleat. The cleats replace the need for a rail bracket or corner bracket.

Now you’re ready to assemble the rest of the closet. Just attach the shelves, clothes rods, drawers, etc. to the closet panels. These vertical panels you just installed hold all the other pieces of the closet. If you feel unsure about any part of the installation process, please watch our installation video. This 18-1/2 minute tutorial will take you step-by-step through all the details, ensuring successful closet installation!

Completed closet installation before clothes are added.
Completed closet installation before clothes are added.

The closet panels are vitally important.

Now that you know a little more about closet panels, you probably understand their importance to the structural integrity of your closet design. It doesn’t matter how pretty the closet is. Weak panels equal closet failure. Always use a vendor, such as CLOSETS.COM, who can supply the recommended M2 furniture grade or higher quality for your closet system. Choose your drilling pattern according to your anticipated needs. If in doubt, you can never go wrong with full-bore. Better safe than sorry, even if that means seeing all the holes. Lastly, pay attention to your installation. After all, a closet is only as good as the way it is installed.

If you’ve tried designing and building your own closet, we’d love to hear about how it went. Did you choose full-bore or selective drilling? How is the closet holding up over time? Use the comment form below and let us know.

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