How to Pick the Right Joint for the Right Woodworking Project

If there were no joints, there could be very little woodwork. They come in a great many varieties. This guide helps to remove the confusion from picking the right joint for the right job.

Carpentry without joints is a miserable affair, depending solely on adhesive, nails, screws, bolts and other fittings.

Though all these have their places, and are often needed for reinforcement, proper joints provide a wholly different source of strength and stability. Made by shaping the pieces themselves, they frequently (and traditionally) need no fixing hardware at all. Because of this, they usually contribute neatness too, and sometimes save money. They can even supply ornament.

woodworking joints How to Pick the Right Joint for the Right Woodworking Project

General principles

Accurate cutting is absolutely basic to good jointing. Apart from looks, it’s often vital for strength, since components which meet squarely and snugly help adhesives to do their work (especially PVA, which isn’t much good at filling gaps).

Some joints, especially in building carpentry, need no adhesive, relying instead on weight and/or on being part of a large, solid structure. For the rest, the rule is that larger glued areas mean more strength. A mortise-and-tenon joint, for example, is stronger than a halving joint largely because it has two pairs of main meeting faces instead of one. Shoulders, too, aid location and rigidity.

Remember, however, that cutting any joint exacts its own price in terms of strength. A halving effectively reduces (say) a 50x50mm (2x2in) piece to a 50x25mm (2×1 in) piece. This point is often forgotten. The second piece, tight-fitting and well glued though that may be, won’t lessen the fact. You must be sure your choice of joint justifies any overall reduction in size and therefore strength.

Choosing joints

Framing joints are used with lengths of timber, both softwood and hardwood. Board joints are for flat pieces, often of man-made materials. Broadly speaking, the two groups are separate, though some joints (eg, the finger joint) can be used in either situation Both groups include corner joints, T-joints and a few X-joints. Three-way framing joints are usually combinations of simple corner joints.

Note that there’s another category we don’t show, namely scan” joints. These join timber end-to-end. Though many ingenious patterns have been devised, they take some cutting, and none is as strong as a piece of wood which is long enough to start with In new work that’s not hard to come by, and the scarf joint is usually used only for localised repair work where a complete length of timber cannot be easily replaced.

On the whole, the joints in common use – of which a good selection appears here – are popular for good reasons, and serve most purposes Common sense and growing familiarity with them will reveal these in more detail. Very often, of course, there’s more than one joint for a particular task – and different people have their own favourites.

But, whatever you do, don’t think that these tell the whole story. Probably thousands of other joints have been used at one time and another – and there’s still nothing to stop you from inventing your own variants if you want and need to But it’s wise, first of all, to check that an ordinary joint won’t do. This may save you trouble -and the search for one will concentrate your mind on the exact qualities you’re looking for. Usually strength, appearance and ease of cutting are what it all boils down to.

Consider, too, exactly what you want the joint to do. In which direction, or directions, is each piece likely to sag, twist, be pushed or be pulled? Make sure you combat exactly the stresses you expect – and not others which are unlikely, or you risk making the joint unnecessarily complicated.


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