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Expert advice from Bob Vila, the most trusted name in home improvement, home remodeling, home repair, and DIY. The language of the joiner is filled with words that we know well from ordinary usage but here have new and distinct meanings: Lap, edge, butt, and finger joints are technical terms to woodworkers. If you are just making your first foray into the land of the join­ers, you’d probably do best to start with a simple joint like a dado or a rabbet.
So here they are, the basic kinds of wood joints, in some­thing approaching simplest-to-hardest order. To put it another way, a miter joint is a butt joint that con­nects the angled ends of two pieces of stock. The rabbet joint is much stronger than a simple butt joint, and is easily made either with two table or radial-arm saw cuts (one into the face, the second into the edge or end grain) or with one pass through a saw equipped with a dado head.
The dado joint is perfect for setting bookshelves into uprights, and can be fastened with glue and other fasteners. Lap joints can be cut with dado heads, as well as with standard circular sawblades on radial- arm or table saws.
Though precise cutting of the fingers is essential, finger joints require only relatively simple ninety-degree cuts that can be made by hand or using a router, radial-arm, or table saw. Finger joints, like dovetail joints, are sometimes used as a decoration, adding a contrast­ing touch as well as strength to the joined pieces. The good news is that there are some jigs on the market (though they’re hardly inex­pensive) that make layout and cutting dovetails a snap. When nailing or srewing but joints use corner or mitre clamps to hold the two pieces in place. Halved joints or lap joints are mostly used to assemble light frames which are going to be covered with hardboard or plywood.
Mitre joints are always cut to 45° in a mitre box so that they will form a 90° corner when joined. When nailing a mitre joint always start the nail with one part of the mitre above the other. Loose tongued joints are used to join planks edge to edge to form a larger board like a table top in which case they are always glued only.
Bare faced tongue and groove or Loose tongue and groove joints can be used to join chair rails to chair legs. Tenon and mortise joints are very strong joints mostly used in furniture making and for heavy doors and gates. Set the pins of the mortise gauge to the width of the tenon and set the block to the width of one shoulder. Using the same settings of the mortise gauge mark the mortise on one side of the other piece of wood.
When making a blind tenon drill holes (with a diameter slightly smaller than the width of the tenon) closely together along the centre line at a depth slightly more than the length of the tenon to create an escape route for excess air and glue.
Remove excess wood with a sharp chisel, always working from the centre to the edges of the mortise. Place the wood from which the tenon has to be cut at a 45° angle in a vice and with a tenon saw start cutting the tenon cheeks at the highest point on the waste side of the marking.
A through mortise can be strengthened by inserting small wedges in the opposite end of the wood to hold the tenon in place. Bridle joints or open mortise and tenon joints are used in furniture making especially to join the legs to the cross pieces. Set the sliding bevel to a suitable pitch of between 1 in 6 for heavy work and 1 in 8 for smaller and more detailed work.
Lay the two pieces over each other and transfer the markings through the cuts with a tenon saw. Lapped dovetails are mostly used for drawer fronts as they give a very neat, strong joint with only one side showing end wood.
A very nice joint to use for fixing drawer sides to fronts but don't attempt it without a router.
Dowels are mostly used to strengthen butt, mitre and rebated joints but are also used to join wood when making or repairing small tables, chairs and doors.


When using dowels to join cross pieces to small legs, stagger the dowels for maximum length and strength.
Small pieces of quadrant or a length of quadrant run the entire length of the joint make excellent glue blocks and give a neat finish especially on the inside of drawers and boxes.
Before jointing, the boards must be a perfect edge-to-edge match: cramp both boards together with the edges to be joined uppermost. Give the plane a fine, sharp setting, hold it square, and plane both edges at once until they are dead flat. A jointer plane does this job best, but a jack plane is suitable for short lengths of wood. Mark the dowel locations by clamping both boards together, back to back, and squaring lines across to allow for one dowel every 150 or 200 mm. Glue and insert the dowels in one board; fit the other board over the protruding dowels and cramp both together. This joint is more suitable for longer work and is easier to make accurately than a dowelled joint.
Cut the tongue from cross-grained ply and select a plough plane blade matching it exactly in thickness. Make grooves deeper than the tongue depth Glue and assemble the joint and cramp it together.
Make a final check for flatness, then wipe off the glue which has squeezed out of the joint.
Please consider updating your browser to the latest version of Internet Explorer or Google Chrome. Joinery jargon gets still more compli­cated when you add in some other kinds of joints, like mortise-and-tenon, tongue-and-groove, dovetail, dowel, dado, spline, and rabbet. With the introduction of the biscuit or plate joiner, any number of these joints are strengthened or varied thanks to the presence of the little, football-shaped wafers. When you join two squared-off pieces of wood, you’ve made a butt joint, whether the workpieces are joined edge to edge, face to face, edge to face, or at a cor­ner.
The classic ex­ample is a picture frame, with its four butt joints, one at each corner, with the ends of all the pieces cut at a forty-five-degree angle, typically in a miter box. Mi­ter joints may also be fastened with nails, screws, dowels, or other mechanical fasteners. A rabbet (or re­bate, as it is also known) is a lip or channel cut from the edge of a workpiece.
A router or any one of several tradi­tional hand planes, including a plow plane, will also cut a rab­bet. A lap joint is formed when two pieces have recesses cut into them, one recess in the top surface of one piece, the second in the lower surface of the other. Dovetail shaped laps are sometimes used to join the ends of pieces to the midsection of others (dovetail half-laps). Gluing is usual, though other fasteners, including dowels or wooden pins, are also common with lap joints. A spline is a thin strip, usually of wood, that fits snugly into grooves on surfaces to be joined.
Flooring, bead-board, and a variety of other milled, off-the-shelf stock are sold with ready-made tongues and grooves on opposite edges. For rougher work, as with certain kinds of novelty siding and subroof or sheathing boards, the stock is face-nailed.
The mortise is the hole or slot (or mouth) into which a project­ing tenon (or tongue) is in­serted. It’s also one of the most challeng­ing to make, requiring careful layout and the investment of considerable cutting and fit­ting time. These joints are not recommended for hardwood unless pilot holes and screws or dowels are used to hold them together. Half the thickness of each piece of wood to be joined is cut away with a tenon saw and the joint is glued and screwed or nailed.
A 1 mm (or smaller) hole can be drilled from the side into the base of the mortise for the same purpose.


When the depth line of the tenon is reached, turn the wood around and finish cutting from the other side. Marked in the same way as mortise and tenon joints the only difference is that the mortise is cut into the wood from the end. Marking is the same as for open dovetails but the cutting out between the pins needs a fair amount of chiseling. Use a depth gauge on the bit to give a hole slightly deeper than half the length of the dowels, which should be one-third the thickness of the boards.
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Not to men­tion such combination joints as cross laps, dado rabbets, dove­tail laps, and keyed miters. Pretty soon you will find that it’s fun to figure out which will work best for a given project or a particular application.
A butt joint is the simplest to make, requiring little shap­ing beyond cuts made to trim the workpiece to size. A typical rabbet joint is one in which a second piece is joined to the first by setting its end grain into the rabbet.
Some cabinetmakers differentiate between groove and dado joints, insisting that grooves are cut with the grain, dadoes across.
The waste material removed is usually half the thickness of the stock, so that when the shaped areas lap, the top and bottom of the joint arc flush. The edges can also be shaped with table or ra­dial-arm saws; in the past, matching hand planes did the job. Glue is used only infrequently, as one of the chief advantages of a tongue-and-groove joint is that it al­lows for expansion and contraction caused by changes in temperature and moisture content. Most often, the mortise and tenon are both rectilinear in shape, but round tenons and matching mortises are to be found. As early as the sixteenth century, this joint was identified by its resemblance to bird anatomy. Its shape is a re­versed wedge, cut into the end grain of one piece, that fits into a corresponding mortise on a second workpiece. The diameter of a dowel should not be more than a third of the width of the narrowest wood to be joined. Rabbet joints are frequently used to recess cabinet backs into the sides, or to reduce the amount of end grain visible at a corner. Whatever you want to call them, grooves or dadoes are cut easily with a dado head on a radial arm or table saw.
Once the surfaces to be joined have been cut to fit, a table saw can be used to cut matching kerfs. The mortise-and-tenon joint is harder to shape than other, simpler joints (both pieces require considerable shaping), but the result is also a great deal stronger.
Dove­tails are traditionally used to join drawer sides and ends and, in the past, for many kinds of casework furniture. When used for other purposes they must be strengthened with glue blocks, angle braces or loose tongues.
Reviews of this information can help people build simple shelves for their home without the aid of a Home Advisor or experienced builder. When making a through tenon it is best to mark the tenon on both sides of the wood and to drill from both sides or to watch and “back drill” to avoid splintering the wood. Good dowel sticks have a “V” groove along the length to allow excess glue and air to escape.
If your dowels do not have this groove you can run one in by using a marking or mortise gauge.
Alternatively you can allow a little space at the end of the hole in which the dowel is inserted to allow for the extra glue and air but this will weaken the joint.



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