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HomeTips & TechniquesWhat Woodworking Joinery Should You Use?

What Woodworking Joinery Should You Use?

In this post I’ll show you the basics of woodworking joinery. What tools and skill levels are needed and what joinery is right for each type of woodworking task.

There’s no such thing as one best joinery method

There’s a LOT of ways to join two boards together and deciding which method to use can be confusing.

The problem is most people actually make it worse. They try to prove which joint is the absolute strongest or gives you the best value.

In my opinion those videos are misleading you because they’re trying to make you think THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.

But there’s a load of great methods to use once you understand when and where to use them.

Afterall not every joint is the same so the method you choose doesn’t have to be either.

Tools and Supplies to Consider

Wood Glue – https://amzn.to/3TVrDwV

F-Style Clamps 12 in – https://amzn.to/48RysUj

F-Style Clamps 30 in – https://amzn.to/3TWLziQ

Parallel Clamps starter set- https://amzn.to/48ONKcv

Pipe Clamps – https://amzn.to/4aZ9wfF

Hammer – https://amzn.to/48REXX9

Impact Driver – https://amzn.to/3RZbcNd

Cordless Nail Gun –  https://amzn.to/4aX4qAw

Amana Countersink Drill Bit – https://amzn.to/3RPDmdu

Pocket Hole Jig (my favorite model)- https://amzn.to/47FubSN

Pocket Hole Jig (new Kreg model) – https://amzn.to/41ZytDw

Castle TSM-12 Pocket Cutting Machine – https://bit.ly/castle-tsm-12-pocket-cutter

Pocket Hole Screw Variety Set – https://amzn.to/3TXUMHA

Threaded Inserts – https://amzn.to/48vX717

Threaded Star Knobs – https://amzn.to/3TZJx1r

Biscuit Joiner – https://amzn.to/3SrJWJ3

Self Centering Dowel Jig – https://amzn.to/3RPNZ04

Face and Edge Dowelling Jig – https://amzn.to/3RWgNUE

Festool Domino – https://amzn.to/47PrT3X

The Basic Woodworking Joinery

Let’s start with the most basic joint in woodworking which is just wood and glue.

I ordered this list by starting with the cheapest joinery that requires the least amount of skill and tools. We go up from there.

This joint is used all the time in things like edge banding around a cabinet or in cutting boards. Check out how to make a cutting board.

The only tool required here is some kind of clamps to hold things together while the glue dries.

Some good options for clamps would be these three here.

This is an “F” style clamp.

They are pretty cheap but top out at 30 inches and so are really only good for smaller projects.

Then we have the parallel clamps. These are great for cabinetry because they help to hold everything square in these big jaws.

But these can get pretty expensive especially when you get up to the bigger 50 inch.

These are pipe clamps. They’re cheaper because all you buy are the two clamp ends as a set. Then you can buy iron pipe in any length and you can make a clamp that’s as big as you need it to be.

This is the best clamp for beginners wanting to make large projects.

One Big Problem

This kind of joint is super strong. When done correctly this glue joint can be stronger than the wood itself without anything else to strengthen it.

There’s really only one limiting factor to this kind of joint, and it’s a big one.

This only works well when gluing long grain to long grain joints.

If you need to glue your work together like this you’ll quickly find out that this ain’t gonna work.

You’re going to need help to make that stronger.

Screws and Nails as Woodworking Joinery

The most straightforward cheapest way to do that is to use nails or screws right into the side. This method works really well for basic construction projects when you’re looking for something that is quick and effective.

Or even more complex projects like this chicken coop which was done with nothing but nails and screws. Check out How to Build Floating Shelves.

For the tools you can use something as simple as a hammer and nails. Or if you want to make the work faster and easier try an impact driver with screws. Check out How I Built This Chicken Coop.

Or even a nail gun for the ultimate in speed.

And for things like cabinetry, you may also want to countersink and predrill those hole. My favorite way to do that is with the Amana countersink drill bit. Check out my favorite tools for the shop.

That way you can keep the wood from splitting and put that screw below the surface of the wood.

But like with everything on this list there’s a downside to this method too. That’s because it doesn’t look very presentable.

I mean, It’s just fine for some garage storage or walls that will be covered with drywall. It would be unsightly on a custom cabinet or piece of furniture. 

Lucky for us, someone invented a really cool tool to solve that problem.

Woodworking Joinery – Pocket Holes

Do you want to build things with screws but don’t want people to know you build things with screws?

Then you need a pocket hole jig.

In fact, many custom cabinet companies use pocket holes to build kitchen cabinets every day.

Pocket holes are really the perfect solution for cabinetry, drawers, face frames, casings and moldings, you get the idea.

And pocket holes are great for shop projects. I recently built a portable work bench using pocket screws.

To make pocket holes you’ll need to up your investment in tools though.

There are two different types of jigs.

The pocket jig like the one from Kreg and a lot of other companies making the same jig out of metal like this one.

They both work the same by using a drill bit to create the pockets.

They even come in mini sizes so you can put pockets in larger work pieces.

Then there’s this machine made by Castle. It makes pocket holes too but in a completely different way.

It uses a pair of routers to cut a shallow angle pocket and pilot hole at the same time.

Because it used high speed router bits, the holes are much cleaner and free of debris.

They aren’t as finicky to assemble because your work piece doesn’t creep out of place when you screw it together.

This machine is decidedly NOT a DIY tool. Given the steel construction and routers involved it’s considerably more expensive. Its really used more by small businesses or enthusiastic hobbyists who want to quickly and efficiently create pocket holes.

Regardless of which jig you use, you’ll also need some pocket screws. Which are different from regular constructions screws because they have a flat head that functions like a miniature clamp rather than a conical head that is meant to bore into the wood.

Knock-Down Woodworking Joinery

But sometimes you need a less permanent solution.

You may need to build something that can easily assembled and be just as easily deconstructed.

That’s where things like threaded inserts are handy.

By placing a threaded insert into your work, you can use things like furniture bolts or knobs to fasten together.

I do this with table tops because its much easier to move a table when you can separate it from the base and I love using this method in shop projects when I want to break it down for transport or storage.

The tradeoff for that convenience can sometimes be cost. Even though they require relatively few tools, just a drill and an allen wrench, things like star knobs and furniture bolts aren’t that cheap and can add up quickly depending on the size of your project.

But when the situation calls for easy breakdown, you’ll be glad to have this option.

Woodworking Joinery Systems

OK, now we’ve officially left DIY land and entered Woodworking territory.

These joinery methods will all require a little more investment, either in money for specialized tools or in time and effort to learn new skills.

Earlier we talked about using screws, nails or other fasteners, but what if the best thing to use to connect two pieces of wood, is more wood.

Here I have three different types of loose or floating tenons and they all work on the same basic principle which is to create a hole or slot on both sides of the workpiece and this gets glued into both sides.

There’s a wide range of applications for these including cabinetry, furniture and trim carpentry but there are some pretty big differences between them.

This is a biscuit. It’s a piece of compressed wood in this football shape and you make these slots using a biscuit joiner.

Basically you point and shoot so to speak and a little disc cutter makes this slot for the biscuit to sit in.

Biscuit joints are really simple to make and they offer a decent amount of glue surface, but they are really limited in their use due to how thin they are and how deep into the wood they go.

You can’t really rely on these for cabinetry or furniture to add any strength and they really do a pretty poor job of alignment as well because this biscuit fits pretty sloppy in that slot so its not a great reference surface.

Where I think biscuits really work well is on smaller applications like picture frames where you need to sure up a mitered corner and hold that miter together, but no real stress is put on the joint.

Next we have dowels. Dowels have been used in woodworking for thousands of years.

They work the same way but instead of cutting this slot, you drill a hole and to help place your holes accurately requires the use of a jig like this that clamps onto your work piece and perfectly centers the hole and it doesn’t really work at all for you if your dowel hole needs to be on the flat side rather than the edge.

For that you’d need to move up to a more expensive jig like this one from Jessem.

Using dowels takes longer than using biscuits because you don’t really have that point and shoot tool that makes creating them really easy and dowels also have less surface area for the glue to work on which means you need to use multiple dowels for each joint.

Then there’s what many would call the easy button of woodworking, the Festool Domino.

This gives you the point and shoot action of the biscuit joiner and the strength of a more beefy tenon.

This Domino is like an elongated dowel which means it has more surface area to glue up.

This joint might require four dowels to give it the strength it needs where you could get away with just two dominos making it much more efficient, especially on larger projects with loads of joints.

BUT, as you probably guessed, you do pay for all that efficiency and ease of use.

This is a pretty expensive investment compared to these other options. If you make your living doing woodworking its very hard to justify NOT getting a domino, but even if you’re a hobby woodworker who only gets so much time to spend in the shop and you want to make the most of that time, you can also argue that the efficiency is worth the cost.

Traditional Woodworking Joinery

And last, we arrive at integral joinery. These are your old school joints including grooves like dadoes and rabbets, locking joints like dovetails and box joints and of course traditional mortise and tenons.

All of these can be made with a few hand tools and require no other fasteners besides glue.

But they come at a hefty cost as well. They require a lot more of your time and more practice to develop the skills needed to create them.

These types of joints are beautiful and typically reserved for fine furniture and cabinets where the creation of the piece, the craftsmanship and enjoyment in the process are just as important as the final piece itself.

And while you can create these types of joints with hand tools which tend to be cheaper than power tools, there’s definitely a sliding scale in both quality and cost of those tools.

It’s also worth pointing out that these joints tend to offer the most in the strength category because you’re essentially fusing two pieces of wood together.

However, it can be argued that most of that strength isn’t actually required for your particular project.

Just because a joint can withstand the most force applied to it doesn’t mean your workpiece would ever be subject to that amount of force.

You may want hand cut dovetails on your cabinet drawers as a mark of craftsmanship but realistically those drawers won’t ever put those joints to the test with normal use over time.

Integral joinery is amazing to create and it’s fun to think that you’re able to create a cabinet, or a door or really anything that was rock solid and didn’t require anything but wood and glue.

So, I hope this rundown helps you see that all these types of joinery have their own place to shine in both DIY and professional woodworking applications and that you don’t have to feel like there can be only one best method.

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