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How to Join Wood With Or Without Expensive Tools

Updated: October 8, 2022
There are dozens of ways to join two pieces of wood together. In this guide learn how to accomplish this essential woodworking task with hand or power tools.
How To Join Wood
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How to Join Wood With Or Without Expensive Tools

At its most basic form, woodworking is all about learning how to join wood. From simple projects like breadboards to complex furniture the various methods of joining wood take time to master.

Fortunately, for beginners and professionals alike there are a variety of ways to join anything from softwoods to hardwoods. 

The trick to joining wood? 

Taking the time to learn that there are dozens of ways to accomplish this seemingly simple feat. And then taking the time to test out your skills, acquire some tools and start assembling.

Popular Tools

Pocket hole jig:

Doweling jig:

Mitered 90-degree clamps:

Dovetail jig:

Finger joint router bit:

Loose tenon machine:

Festool DOMINO 500 at Amazon  ($1,199.00)

Last updated on 2023-04-01 at 12:53 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

Types of Wood Joints

Most new-to-woodworking enthusiasts are surprised at the wide variety of wood joinery methods. And, for many, not know where to start as the tools and techniques are either too expensive or overly complex.

But there are a number of simple solutions that allow even novices to quickly learn basic woodworking joints to make quality projects. And while there are dozens of wood joints, the following are the most popular:

  • 90-degree angle joints
  • Mitered butt joint
  • Half lap joints
  • Rabbet joint
  • Biscuit joint
  • Loose tenons
  • Mortise and tenon
  • Tongue and groove
  • Dado
  • Hidden dado
  • Dovetail
  • Pocket hole
  • Nail plates
  • Finger joint

Picking a Wood Joinery Method

With so many options to choose from most new woodworkers are frustrated and end up using whatever comes to mind. Or, whatever tool is in their shop.

However, the key to picking the joinery method is understanding three important factors:

  1. Strength. Choosing the right way to connect your two pieces of wood will result in a joint that withstands the weight or tension.
  2. Visual appeal. When a joint will be visible woodworkers will either conceal the joint or use a method like thru mortise and tenons to highlight the connection.
  3. Wood characteristics. As you can guess, not every wood can be made into a mortise and tenon nor can some softwoods provide grain strength to keep screws in place.

In this guide we’ll use these three factors to help you pick how to join wood for your project.

How to Join Wood: Common Problems

Joining Thin Pieces of Wood

One common joinery issue is creating a joint for two thin pieces of wood. And while common solutions like woodworking clamps work, they can damage the wood. Which, depending on your project, makes the following your primary solutions:

  • Good: Pipe clamps or parallel clamps with very light pressure. Since thin wood can “tent” when clamped a common solution is to use clamps on both the top and bottom of the wood.
  • Better: Bench wedges using “dog holes” in a bench that provide just enough pressure, but not enough that the wood lifts.
  • Best: Surprising to many, for thin wood the goal is a tight joint without the pressure. So, woodworkers prefer a tape hinge that is made by laying tape over the edges of both wood, turning the project over, applying glue and then turning the project back over.

Joining Wood at Right Angles

Joining Wood at Right Angles

Leading off with arguably the most common woodworking joint is the methods to join two pieces of wood at a right angle.

And there are a lot of options:

  • Basic. Using a nail gun or driving screws through the face of the boards is the most common method for softwoods and rough construction. However, for furniture-grade projects a dado or rabbet is commonly used.
  • Better. For cabinets and furniture the most popular option is pocket hole screw jigs that use hidden screws to provide a joint in softwoods or hardwoods.
  • Best. When quality is important a dovetail, dowel, mortise and tenon or loose tenon joint is the best option for high quality projects.

Our pick for joining wood at angles? Use a dowel drilling jig to create an inexpensive, fast and sturdy joint. 

How to Join Wood Without Screws Showing

Best Pocket Hole Jig System

When you’ve settled on a type of woodworking joint and are ready to start drilling a common problem is how to hide the screws. 

Well, fortunately, there is a style of woodworking joint that has thought that through: pocket hole joinery. And, offers two solutions:

  • First, pocket hole screws are invisible if only the front side of the board will be visible (like a table frame).
  • However, if both sides of the board will be seen then there are ready-made pocket hole screw plugs that can be glued in place after the screw is installed.

Joining Two Pieces of Wood Lengthwise

Finger Joint Woodworking

While most woodworkers will seek to avoid joining two pieces of wood end-to-end it is sometimes unavoidable.

And, when necessary, requires using a few tricks to keep the wood in-place and stable:

  • Nail plates as seen in rafter construction are a popular way to keep two pieces aligned and firmly butted together
  • Finger joints are often used when connecting two pieces of wood end to end and that will be visible. These joints are typically cut on a woodworking router table or shaper.

90-Degree Wood Joints

Mortise and Tenon Joints

Classic Mortise and Tenon Joint

A lot of woodworkers are intimidated by this method of joinery. 

But as woodworkers advance through the various methods of how to join wood they eventually arrive at mortise and tenon.

And, fittingly, just like woodworkers have been doing for thousands of years using methods ranging from:

  • Hand cut tenons using a simple hand saw and chisel
  • Mortising machines that use advanced square drill bits and jigs to quickly and accurately cut
  • Or, using a variation on a classic mortise and tenon called loose tenon joints (using a machine like the Festool DOMINO).

Simple Lap Joints

Wood Lap Joint

Easily the most popular way to join wood, a lap joint is basic. And strong.

By cutting a groove in one piece of wood that allows the second to firmly be connected a simple and strong joint can be created. 

Tools needed? A table saw with a dado blade is best. But some miter saws have depth stops that allow a series of repeated cuts to be made. Just use a chisel to make a final flat bottom.

Dovetail Joints: Best for Drawers

White Oak Dovetail Joint

It’s assumed by almost any purchaser of high-end cabinetry that a dovetail drawer is the best method of building a drawer box.

And they are right. 

Dovetails are unique among ways to join wood in that they multiple the surface area of the wood joint. While learning to to join wooden dovetails takes some practice, the benefits are huge:

  • High strength. Once properly glued there isn’t a better quality joint.
  • Visually appealing. While some joints attempt to conceal what they are doing, dovetails are built to be highlighted.
  • Jigs available. With a quality dovetail jig, and router you can make drawers and boxes rapidly.

Loose Tenon Joint

Domino Joint End View

One of the favorites of woodworkers, a loose tenon is a popular way to connect two pieces of wood.

While the easiest way to cut this joint is with a Festool DOMINO, there are alternatives to the DOMINO that some consider. Whatever your tool, this method of joinery is both strong and easy to assemble.

Making Miter Joints

From picture frames to crown molding there are dozens of projects that join wood with a simple 45-degree angle miter joint.

But the trick?

Learning to connect the joints and maintaining structural strength:

  • Basic. Use nails or clamps with glue
  • Intermediate. Some woodworkers will use a pocket hole jig
  • Advanced. Using splined miter joints, anchor bolts, biscuits or even loose tenons 

Which Method to Use?

With a variety of joinery methods comes the obvious question: which joint is better?

While there is no simple answer, consider the following?

  • Biscuit vs. loose tenon. If you have the skills and tools to make a loose tenon opt for the tenon. It is a stronger joint.
  • Dowel vs. loose tenon. While close in strength, a loose tenon offers a design that is easier to glue and can be customized for both depth and width.
  • Biscuit vs. pocket hole screw. While debatable, many cabinetmakers will always opt for a biscuit as it helps provide a strong glue joint.

And by now you get the gist: always opt for the strongest joint that hides the method of joinery

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you easily join wood?

The simplest way to join two boards is with a nail or screw that is driven into the adjoining boards.

What is the strongest way to join two pieces of wood?

The strongest method of joining wood is maximizing the connecting surface areas and using the wood grain to create a strong joint. And, the mortise and tenon is the strongest joint as it uses the wood of both pieces to create an interlocking joint that requires extreme force to break in hardwoods.

Do you need to use glue with wood joints?

For the maximum strength wood glue is designed to interlock the fibers of wood. In fact, many woodworkers don’t realize that a properly glued joint is stronger than the wood grain around it.


The simple fact is that almost all woodworkers are learning how to join wood in new and different fashions. And with advances in tools and technology there’s no shame in taking the time to explore what’s new.

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Last update on 2023-03-10 at 09:54 / Images from Amazon

  • About the Author
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( Woodworker )

Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.

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