Budget Pick: Dowels For Speed, Strength
Milescraft Dowel Set
The best woodworking joints will make the difference between your project lasting for decades or twisting, warping, or even breaking shortly after being put in use.
And while professional woodworkers have the skills and know-how to use complex joints, entry-level woodworkers often need help with trial and error.
In this article, we’ll help you:
- Decide which joint is best for your projects
- Tips on how to create the joints
- Tools you’ll need
- And a few manufacturers of jigs that you’ll want to consider
Types of Woodworking Joints
Very few woodworking projects don’t require designing, setting up, and executing a sturdy wood joint.
There is so much reliance on wood joinery that a whole series of tools and jigs have been made to support them.
Why Wood Joining Techniques Matter
From cabinets to furniture, the durability of your project comes down to a few key factors:
- Strength of the wood joints
- Durability of your cabinet hinges and drawer slides
- Quality of the wood finish
- And, lastly, having suitable wood for the project to avoid warped wood
So what happens if you don’t have the fitting joinery? Well, joints that fail to stay secured initially (or long-term) can cause re-work. Or, worst case, require the project to be re-built. Which is why learning how to join wood is essential.
Wet Wood is No Good
If you participate in any woodworking forums or social groups, you’ll know one of the most popular topics centers around warped wood.
And warped wood typically is due to “green” lumber that was not correctly dried to the correct moisture content. As such, before starting any project, you must ensure your wood project can accommodate wood to shift.
Or, I prefer you’ll want wood that’s been through a kiln drying process.
Popular Types of Wood Joints
- 90-degree angle joints
- Mitered butt joint
- Half lap
- Rabbet joint
- Biscuit joint
- Loose tenons
- Mortise and Tenon
- Tongue and groove
- Hidden dado
- Pocket hole
- Nail plates
- Finger joint
Related Article: Alternatives to Festool Domino Joints
#1. Pocket Hole Wood Joinery
In almost every woodworking shop, you’ll find one of the most popular woodworking joints: the ubiquitous pocket hole jig.
While nothing more than an angled screw, this woodworking joint creation style is fast and accurate. However, since the wood is only butted together, it is not the most durable or robust joint for all applications.
How a Pocket Hole Joint Works
There are many options with many varieties of pocket hole jigs from a handful of manufacturers like Kreg, MASSCA, and General Tools. But the basic premise is the jig:
- Clamps to either one or both pieces of wood
- Uses an angled drill guide with a depth control stop
- Drills a hole entirely through the first piece of wood and stops at a controlled depth in the second
- Creates a recessed hole in the first piece of wood for the screw to countersink.
While the dado joint is an old joinery method, it is often overlooked by woodworkers as a simple yet strong method of locking wood together and helping to transfer weight off screws and nails.
How a Dado Joint Works
First, there is nothing complex about a dado joint. Use a dado blade on your table saw (hence the name) or a plunge router with a guide and create a channel slightly wider than the wood recessed into it.
There are a few tricks, however:
- Be sure to have the wood you’ll insert into the dado at its finished thickness and all sanding done. Making your dado too broad is straightforward, resulting in a loose joint.
- Make sure to add the depth of the dado to the length of the inserted piece when determining the box’s width. Or, you’ll have a narrow box equal to your dadoes’ combined depth.
Blind Dado Joint
Similar to the dado joint, the blind dado is created to be invisible on the face of the boards that will be seen. As you probably guessed, these joints are designed like a dado, but the male side of the joint is trimmed while the female side (plumbing terms!) is stopped and then hand-chiseled to be square.
Dowel joints are one of the oldest and easiest to make. Simply aligning and then drilling a hole into each surface of wood, a solid and easy-to-assemble joint can be made.
However, one downfall to biscuit joinery is appropriately aligning the holes. Fortunately, a wide variety of dowel jigs are on the market that will speed up the setup and drilling process.
Somewhere in every home, a wood project has been built using a simple rabbet joint. While often seen as a second-place construction technique to dovetail joints, this joint, when properly executed, creates a durable connection for 90-degree applications.
How a Rabbet Joint Works
A rabbet joint is similar to the dado but has only two surfaces – which means a rabbet joint is used on the corner of a drawer, shelving unit, or other box-like structure. A dado blade, router, or miter saw setup is most commonly used to create this joint.
Finger Joint To Butt Joint Wood
This wood joint is rare in day-to-day woodworking projects but is a fantastic butt joint for wood pieces.
Chances are, if you have an inexpensive tabletop, night stand or serving tray and look at the solid wood surface, you might pick out a finger joint. By design, these joints create a massive increase in surface area for gluing, and when held side-to-side in a glued panel, they will make a durable joint.
How a Finger Joint Works
Almost all finger joints are created using a large router bit fixed into a router table and fed with a power feeder. Once your router is set up, the first step is to ensure both pieces of wood are the same thickness on the face of the joint. Then, using an alternating feeding pattern, pass the first face over the bit, then use the (reversed) stock that will mate to create the second half of the joint.
#7. Joining Wood With Truss Plates
When it comes to butting together dimensional lumber to form complex shapes, there is yet to be a method that comes close to the popularity of this joint.
And what makes this method so appealing is the pure SPEED that a complex project like rafters can be completed using a simple hammer and (optionally) a few nails.
#8. Dovetail Joints
Along with mortise and tenon joints, few woodworking joints have been thru the test of time and survived with the durability AND variety of styles of the dovetail joint.
Dovetails form a series of interlocking wood posts that create a solid joint for 90-degree wood connections when adequately cut and glued. This joint is so popular most homeowners who have purchased or remodeled a kitchen are “upsold” on this joint versus the lower-quality rabbet or butt joint.
And lastly, dovetail joints have been around for centuries in Eastern styles through tools like a Japanese saw.
How a Dovetail Joint Works
The dovetail joint is readily made with a wide variety of jigs available that range in size from compact drawers up to 24″-deep boxes.
The classic through dovetail joint is created by laying the two wood pieces together at a jig-specified depth and offset. Then, the dovetails are created using a router and a particular bit by making careful passes with the router.
An alternative joint, called the box joint, is very similar to the dovetail but is created most commonly with a dado blade on a table saw.
#9. Mitered Butt Joint
You have almost certainly created this joint, and it is as simple as the name sounds: a mitered (typically) 90-degree joint made by simply butting two pieces of wood together and then gluing or pin-nailing the face.
#10. Butt Jointing Wood With Biscuits
No woodworker should be without a biscuit machine.
After assembling thousands of face frames, counters, and butt-jointed plywood, this simple tool offers an inexpensive way to:
- Make face frames for cabinets
- Glue-up butt joints in plywood
- Make countertops
And, at a fraction of the cost of the more powerful Festool DOMINO joint, the biscuit joiner won’t break your budget.
How a Biscuit Joint Works
When you pick up a biscuit joiner, you’ll notice it contains a miniature saw blade with a relatively thick kerf.
Combined with an adjustable height fence, a sliding plunge with depth stop for various biscuit sizes (o, 10, and 20 are popular), and an easy-to-control shaft design, this machine acts like a miniature saw. It removes a precision oval-shaped section of wood.
While there are debates about a biscuit joiner vs. the Domino joiner (the Domino is better), for the cost and versatility in most projects, you’ll find the biscuit joiner easy to use and affordable.
#11. Loose Tenon Wood Joints
Almost any serious woodworker knows that the Festool DOMINO is one of the premier woodworking joints.
Categorized as a loose tenon joint, the DOMINO creates a fast, portable means of creating a mortise and tenon without taking your workpiece to a fixed machine. Or, drill holes and chisel the mortise (a time-consuming labor).
How it Works
First, DOMINO is the name of the machine from Festool, and is available in two sizes:
- The 500 series for most standard furniture tasks
- And the 700 series for larger, deeper, and thicker tenons
As a loose tenon device, the DOMINO uses a patented bit that plunges into both sides of the joint, creating an oval-shaped hole of a controlled depth. Differing from a classic mortise and tenon, both sides of the wood receive a mortise, and then a loose tenon (made by Festool) is glued and inserted.
#12. Mortise and Tenon Wood Joints
Perhaps one of the oldest high-strength, centuries-durable wood joinery styles is the mortise and tenon joint. With several advantages ranging from hidden holding power to durability, one of the classic joints for woodworkers to master is a mortise and tenon.
And, with popularity comes a variety of ways to make this joint:
- Mortise and tenon drill press machines
- Imitation mortise and tenon joints with the Festool DOMINO
- Table saw jigs
- And, of course, router jigs for mortise and tenon
#13. Corner (Brace) Joints
Technically these are an add-on to a (preferably) mortise and tenon joint, a corner joint is often created to help stabilize the joint used to hold two other 90-degree pieces of wood together.
For example, an average kitchen table is 72″ or more long. And, with four corners (detachable) legs, there is room for wobble. Using a corner table joint creates the triangle theory of stabilization that reduces sway.
How a Corner Table Joint Works
Unlike other woodworking joints that may require a saw, jig, or specialty tool, this add-on joint is created by simply creating a 45-degree back cut angle on an appropriately sized piece of (typically) hardwood.
Pre-drill holes with a pocket hole jig or Brad point drill bit to prevent splitting and install.
#14. Tongue and Groove Wood Joint
A close cousin to the mortise and tenon joint, but with the twist that it is only two-sided, the tongue and groove joint creates a firm hold by locking the wood together. But, as it is only secured on two sides, there is less diagonal holding force than a true mortise and tenon.
While tongue and groove joints are typically most popular in paneling, a similar joint is often used to create door stiles and rails in cabinet door construction.
#15. Half Overlap Joinery
As you may know, a half-lap joint is one of the oldest woodworking joints. But oddly, this woodworking is one that few modern woodworkers know about—or much less use.
However, when it comes to needing to extend the length of two boards, this joint offers a few structural improvements versus a butt-joint:
- More surface area for glue
- Enhanced “lock” of the wood end grain for more strength
- And lastly, this joint resists separation during rotational force
While it’s tempting to go with what’s easiest in woodworking, one of the ways to keep things fresh and quality high is to continue to experience woodworking joints until you master (almost) all of the ones discussed.
Last update on 2023-12-08 at 07:31 / Images from Amazon
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
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.