There are many types of woodworking joints. Some are handmade one at a time to last a lifetime, and some are manufactured by machines for mass production. Some types of wood joints work better for drawers and cabinets; some work better for chairs and furniture. Whatever the project, it’s helpful to know the types of woodworking joints and their appropriate applications.
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Mortise and Tenon
The mortise and tenon is one of the most common joints used in the assembly of tables, chairs and furniture. It is applied at a 90-degree angle and consists of the tenon, a peg cut on a router or table saw on one piece of wood, and a mortise, a hole cut into a receiving piece of wood. The tenon is inserted into the mortise, then glued or nailed in place.
The dovetail joint is an old-fashioned joint noted for its resilience, and has been recognised as the mark of fine woodworking for hundreds of years. The dovetail is used to join two panels or flat pieces of wood together such as drawers, small chests and square box-type furniture. Special knives are use to cut triangular sections called “tails,” into one panel. The receiving panel is cut into “pins.” The pins fit inside the tails and are glued into place. Even though the dovetail is one of the strongest joints, its applications in modern woodworking have declined due to its labour-intensive fabrication.
The butt joint is the simplest and most common of all joints. It consists of two pieces of wood butted together at 90 degrees, nailed, dowelled or glued and clamped together. It is fast, and with modern adhesives, strong enough to last a lifetime if done properly. The butt joint is used mostly in the production of cabinets, and mass production furniture. If dowels are used in the assembly of butt joints, the strength can rival that of the mortise and tenon. The disadvantage of the butt joint is that it normally puts end grain against side grain, which leaves side grain showing on the surface of a woodworking project.
A mitre joint is the most popular joint for wood frames. Similar in application to a butt joint, the difference is that the mitre joint puts the end grain of two pieces of wood together. The two pieces of wood are cut at a 45-degree angle, glued, clamped then nailed through the mitred ends. The mitre joint hides the exposure of end-grain.
A spline joint is primarily used in joining large cabinet panels together. An identical slot or “dado,” is cut into two panels that will be joined together. A separate piece of wood, the “spline,” is then cut separately to fit inside the dados. The spline is glued and inserted into both receiving slots, and the panel clamped together. The spline joint works well because it aligns both panels flush with each other, the spline penetrating both pieces of wood at the same level.
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