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Woodworking Joint Types

By Leon Colwell

In Wood News Issue #2 Feb - Mar 1978 we discussed different kinds of woods and some of the characteristics of each. One does not need an expert's knowledge of wood, but does need to experiment and read about woods as he continues to build projects. To build furniture and other objects with wood, it is necessary to acquire some knowledge of the types of joints used. Many beginners have little knowledge of the various types of joints used in furniture construction.

Joints are used primarily to give strength and stability to the project and secondarily to hide end grain as so as to enhance the beauty of the project. Glues are generally used with joints to add further strength and stability.

Among the most commonly used joints are butt, mitered, dowelled, mortise and tenon, dovetail, tongue and groove and plain edge. There variations of each of these joints. Listed below are illustrations of some of the joints and a brief explanation of their uses:

A. Butt Joint-end To End
Butt Joint
Should have mechanical support unless otherwise held. Joint is extremely weak without additional support. End grain does not glue very well. Dowelling would strengthen this joint considerably.

B. Scarf Joint
Scarf Joint
A simple method of mending or joining boards stronger than a butt joint as it reduces the amount of end grain to be glued. It can be strengthened by inserting screws in the flat sides of the boards through the two pieces.

C. Serrate or Finger Joint
Serrate Joint
A complicated method of joining two boards. Use mostly in mills where mechanical equipment is available to cut precise fingers.

D. Butt-End To Side Joint
Butt-End To Side
Better than the end to end butt joints but a poor method of in furniture construction. Also needs additional mechanical support as screws or dowels.

E. Miter Joint
Miter Joint
A good method to hide in grain. Not in itself a strong joint, but can be mechanically supported in various ways.

F. Dowel Joint
Dowel Joint
A good reinforcement of joints, it is difficult to align holes for dowel pins without a Dowelling jig or a drill press, such as is demonstrated with Kreg Jig equipment.

G. Splined Joint
Splined Joint
Similar to tongue and groove. Kerfs are sawed into the edges of boards and a suitable dimensioned spline is inserted into the kerfs or grooves.

H. Mortise and Tenon
Mortise and Tenon
An excellent way to join wood. It is strong and durable if properly done. Mortises can be cut by hand with a chisel, or faster and better with a mortising attachment to a drill press. Tenons can be cut by hand or more accurately cut using a table saw or radial arm saw. Glue and/or wood screws, as well as dowels, are often use with this joint.

I. Tongue and Groove
Tongue and Groove Joint
Used most on wall paneling. The operation is usually performed by special machinery or tongue and groovy router bit pairs.

J. Dovetail
There are several variations of dovetail joints, as illustrated here. The most common use of dovetail joints is to join drawer sides two fronts. Some extremely attractive item such as tool boxes, jewelry boxes and chest are constructed with exposed dovetails. The wooden tool box featured in the 2nd issue of Wood News and built by Bob Kelly was done with hand cut dovetails.

K. Plain Edge Joint
Plain Edge Joint
A commonly used method to join the edge of boards. The edges of the board must be perfectly straight to eliminate tension when the boards are glued and joined. Used for table and desktops or any place where it is necessary to attain a dimension not available in one piece of wood.

Originally published in Wood News Issue #3 April - May 1978, written by Leon Colwell.

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