Joinery Tips - Your Furniture Buying Guide

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Joinery Tips - Furniture Buying Tips

My "Funk & Wagnall" describes "Joinery" as...

       "1. the art or skill of a joiner.  2. The articles
       constructed by a joiner."

That doesn't help much.

Joinery is the method by which  pieces of wood are attached to each other.

The Joinery just in the construction of a piece of furniture can be an indication of its' quality.

The manner in which components of a piece are attached to each other reflects the strength of the piece as well as its' appearance.

A piece assembled with simple butt joints is less likely to hold up under years of use than one that uses mitered, dowel or tongue and groove joints.

While most methods of joinery present an almost seamless method of construction, some joints, such as dovetails are used as a decorative feature of the piece.

Common types of furniture  joinery:

Butt Joint: (Ok, I can hear you snickering...let's just keep the cracks to ourselves)

A butt joint is a simple method of connecting two pieces of wood with the square end of one piece being placed against the side of another. The two pieces form a right angle and are joined by  nails, screws, glue or a dowel, etc.

Cross Lapped Joint: A  rectangular section is cut out of each of the two pieces that are to be joined.

The recess is cut from each piece at the point where they intersect. The recessed surfaces interlock and must be equal in depth so that when the two pieces are joined they are flush. (easier said than done)

Dado Joint: Connects two pieces of wood by cutting a groove in one piece of wood which is equal to the width of the second piece. The second piece is then inserted into the groove.

Dovetail Joint: Connect two pieces of wood by flaring the end of one piece to conform to the shape which is cut out of the second piece.

If the end of the flared piece does not extend all the way through the second piece it is an invisible joint and called a stopped or lapped dovetail joint. This method is commonly used on drawers and cabinets. A dovetail joint can also be used to join several pieces together, with each piece having a flared end and a cut end.

You cannot just push one piece into the must be placed above the other and then slid into place, forming a type of locking joint.

Doweled Joint: Matching small holes are cut into two pieces of wood. The two pieces are then joined by inserting small, round pegs into the holes of one piece so that they line up with the holes in the piece to be joined. The pieces are then usually glued.

Miter Joint: Two pieces of wood are cut at a forty-five degree angle and the two beveled edges are placed end to end. They are usually connected by glue, nails or screws.  Take a look at your door and window frames...they are mitered in the corners.

Mortise and Tenon: One piece is called the mortise and the other is the tenon (that sounds logical).

The mortise is a shaped recess, and the tenon is a carved projection, usually rectangular. The tenon is inserted into the mortise in the same way a peg is inserted into a hole. The two pieces are generally secured by drilling a hole through the two pieces and inserting a dowel.

Rabbeted (rebated) Joint:  A groove is cut into one piece and a shaped protrusion (tongue) is cut on the second piece. The protrusion of one fits into the groove of the other. The groove and tongue must be cut to match.  Very similar to tongue and groove.

The rabbet joint is frequently used in cabinetwork, although higher quality pieces may feature a mitered rabbet joint, which produces a neater appearance.

Scarf Joint:  Two pieces of wood are joined by two metal plates with holes.

The two pieces of wood are butted, end to end, and the plates are placed over the joint on each side of the piece.  The metal plates sandwich the two pieces of wood, in effect, splicing them together. The plates are  attached to the wood by nails or screws.

The plates could also be pieces of wood.

Splined Joint: Grooves are cut in the ends of each piece of wood so that they line up. A small strip of wood called a spline is inserted into each groove to join the two pieces of wood.

Tongue and Groove: Two pieces are joined by cutting an edge or shape on one piece of wood which fits into a groove cut in the other. The tongue and the groove must be equally cut.

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Foundation and Box Spring
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Measuring Tips
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Style Guide
Wood Finishes
Wood Types

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