For people that are thinking about getting into the woodworking hobby, or thinking about taking woodworking classes, learning traditional woodworking joinery is a critical first step. It seems a lot of people want to skip over this step, or don’t understand it enough to make sure they become good at building solid, long-lasting furniture. Butt (pun intended), these are the exact skills that will make you a better furniture builder faster than trying to take shortcuts. Your projects will stand the test of time and provide the users with years of problem free service. There is lots of trial-and-error when starting out with wood joinery, and that is OK. Repetition and failure are the best teachers.
This picture is a pile of failed joints when I started to learn dovetails is a testament to that. I am nowhere near as skilled as I need to be but I am getting better and better the more I practice and use them in projects. I use some type of traditional joinery in every project I do and consider myself a beginner.
I notice a lot of online woodworking content are promoting the use of pocket hole joints, biscuit joints, and different dial joinery has become very common. But in this article, I found on the woodworkers Guild of America website proved that traditional wood joinery, is more resilient and will last much much longer than those type of joints secured with screws or dials. In the end, a pocket hole joint is nothing more than using screws to secure a butt joint where you are not leveraging the material to build a stronger joint. I have also noticed that inexpensive furniture coming out of China are all made with butt joints and pocket holes. So that tells me it is a quick and inexpensive way of pushing out a piece of furniture fast.
If you are considering woodworking classes, or woodworking classes online, they should be teaching you the different types of wood joinery early on. That is exactly how we start you off in the HobbyHack app, with the additional advantage of learning the basics at your own pace. So being in a formal woodworking class might have some advantages, but you have to find a way to show up at that class at a specific time every week. So instead of searching for woodworking classes near me or woodworking classes in (pick your city), download the HobbyHack app and give that a try.
If you are new to woodworking, then you are likely feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of terminology that you are having to pick up. One of the hardest parts is coming across terms that you are already familiar with, only with a different meaning, for example, edge, lap, butt, finger joints, and so on. In any case, you shouldn’t feel too intimidated. With a little time, research, and practice, you’ll soon find yourself picking everything up and feeling your confidence grow as you get more practical experience. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the basic types of wood joints, so that you can start building a better understanding of what’s in store for you as you progress in the world of woodworking:
1 – Butt Joint
A butt joint is when you connected two squared-off pieces of wood, whether that be face to face, edge to edge, or at a corner. We have kicked this list off with the butt joint as it is arguably the simplest joint to make, requiring little in the way of shaping beyond the initial shaping cuts. The important thing with a joint like this is to ensure that they fit together tightly. In this case, a block plane can be used to smooth the end of the grain. Additionally, you can use either glue, nails, screws, or dowels to secure your butt joint. This is the weakest joint in woodworking.
2 – Rabbet Joint
Next up is the rabbet joint (or rebate, as it is often referred to). This is a type of joint that comes in the form of a lip or channel cut from the edge of your workpiece. A standard rabbet joint is made when a second piece is joined to your primary piece, set against the rabbet. A rabbet joint is most commonly used when recessing cabinet backs into the sides, or when wanting to reduce the amount of ‘end grain’ that is visible on a corner. The rabbet joint is significantly stronger than an average butt joint and can easily be made using two radial-arm saw cuts (one into the face, and the other into the end grain or edge). You can also use a plow plane or a router to cut a rabbet joint. And of course, you can use glues, nails, or screws to fasten the rabbet joint properly.
3 – Miter Joint
As you may recognise from your mitre box or mitre gauge found on a table saw, mitre cuts are quite simply an angle cut. Another way of looking at it is that a mitre joint is a type of butt joint that connects the angled ends of two pieces. A classic example of this would be a picture frame, each with four butt joints in the corners which are cut to a 45° angle. There are two distinct advantages to using a mitre joint as opposed to a butt-corner joint:
- No end grain shows (for aesthetic benefits)
- Bigger surface area for glueing (for additional stability)
- With regards to fastening a mitre joint, you can use glue as mentioned above, nails, screws, dowels, and many other mechanical fasteners.
4 – Lap Joint
- A lap joint is formed by joining two pieces that have had recesses cut into them:
- One recess in the top of the surface of the first piece
- The other recess in the lower surface of the second piece
When removing the waste material from the recess, it is most typically half the thickness of the original stock. This means that when the lap joint is connected, the top and bottom of the joint arc are flush with one another. You can cut lap joints using dado heads on standard circular sawblades or radial arms, and table saws. Again, these joints can be glued or joined using other fasteners such as dowels or wooden pins.
5 – Dado Joint
When you cut a channel or groove into a piece away from the edge, it is called a dado. If you want to make a dado joint, you set a second piece firmly into the groove using nails, glue, or other fasteners. You may hear some cabinetmakers differentiating between ‘groove’ and ‘dado joints’, saying that the grooves are cut with the grain, and dados must be cut across them. In any case, you can make these cuts using a dado head on a radial arm, or a standard table saw. A great example of a dado joint in action is when setting bookshelves into uprights.
6 – Spline Joint
Now we have the spline joint. A spline is a thin strip of wood (most typically) that fits perfectly into grooves on surfaces that are to be joined. For example, mitre and other joints may often incorporate splines in them. When you have cut the surfaces to be joined to fit, you can then use a table saw for cutting matching kerfs. When using a spline, it can add rigidity to the joint, whilst also increasing the glueing area. Most splines are thin, so they are more commonly made out of plywood or hardwood.
7 – Mortise and Tenon Joint
Mortise and tenon joints are the strongest joint. They furnish a strong outcome and connect by either gluing or locking into place. The mortise and tenon joint also gives an attractive look. One drawback to this joint is the difficulty in making it because of the precise measuring and tight cutting required. In its most basic form, a mortise and tenon joint is both simple and strong. There are many variations of this type of joint, and the basic mortise and tenon has two components:
- the mortise hole, and
- the tenon tongue.
The tenon, formed on the end of a member generally referred to as a rail, fits into a square or rectangular hole cut into the other, corresponding member. The tenon is cut to fit the mortise hole exactly. It usually has shoulders that seat when the joint fully enters the mortise hole. The joint may be glued, pinned, or wedged to lock it in place.
8 – Tongue and Groove Joint
Now we have the tongue and groove joint. When you buy off-the-shelf stock such as flooring, they will be solid with ready-made tongue and groove on opposite edges. These can also be shaped using a table or radial-arm saws. A strong joint, the tongue and groove joint is widely used for re-entrant angles. The effect of wood shrinkage is concealed when the joint is beaded or otherwise moulded. In expensive cabinet work, glued dovetail and multiple tongue and groove are used.
Each piece has a slot (the groove or dado) cut all along one edge, and a thin, deep ridge (the tongue) on the opposite edge. The tongue projects a little less than the depth of the groove. Two or more pieces thus fit together closely. The joint is not normally glued, as shrinkage would then pull the tongue off.
9 – Finger joint
The finger joint (aka drawer or box joint) is the most common type of joint found in drawers. The interlocking rectangular ‘fingers’ are cut into the end grain of drawer ends and sides. Of course, while precise cutting is essential, a finger joint only requires simple 90° cuts which can be made either by hand or using a router or table saw / radial arm.
10 – Dovetail Joint
Finally, we have the dovetail joint. Named after its resemblance to avian anatomy, fastening two pieces of timber together. The dovetail joint is very strong because of the way the ‘tails’ and ‘pins’ are shaped. This makes it difficult to pull the joint apart and virtually impossible when glue is added. This type of joint is used in box constructions such as drawers, jewelry boxes, cabinets and other pieces of furniture where strength is required. It is a difficult joint to make manually, requiring skilled workmanship. There are different types of dovetail joints.
The angle of slope varies according to the wood used, purpose of joint and type of work. Typically the slope is 1:6 for softwoods, and a shallower 1:8 slope for hardwoods. Often a slope of 1:7 is used as a compromise. However, a different slope does not affect the strength of the joint in different types of wood.
These descriptions were taken from a variety of reputable sources including but not limited to Wikipedia and articles referenced and not referenced.
So when your beginning your search for woodworking education by searching for woodworking classes near me, spend some time on our website and then download the HobbyHack app. You’ll find a way to learn woodworking at your own pace without the hassle of scheduling and waiting for woodworking classes to begin. You can use the app as a personal guide but if one of your reasons for searching for woodworking classes near me was the social element, we are working to build connections with like-minded and similarly skilled folks just like you!
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