The trick to successful biscuit joinery is cutting the slots in exactly the right spot so that the parts will line up correctly when they’re joined. Biscuit joiners have an adjustable fence that can be used to align the slot, but in this article we’ll show you a different technique. Instead of referencing the slot from the fence, we’ll show you how to reference the slots from the base of the tool. This method has a few advantages. It’s simpler to make an accurate slot because the tool is steadied against the workbench rather than the tool’s fence. Another advantage of this method is that you don’t have to readjust the fence for every cut. In this story we’ll show you how to use the bench reference method to join cabinet parts. We’ll show you how to join cabinet panels, face frames and 1/2-in. drawer material. You can use the same technique for any biscuit joint.
Photos 1 – 5 show the steps for joining 3/4-in. plywood without using the fence. On most biscuit joiners, the slot will be pretty close to centered when you use this method. But even if the slot is a little off-center, it’ll still work fine as long as you orient the biscuit joiner and pencil marks as we show in the photos. Here are a few tips to ensure perfect joints:
- Work on a flat surface. The top of a table saw or a solid-core door is a good choice.
- Clean sawdust off your work surface before each setup.
- Hold the base of the biscuit joiner and the workpiece tight to the work surface as you cut the slots.
Cutting Slots Without the Fence
All biscuit joiners feature a fence that can be adjusted up or down and pivoted at varying degrees for cutting slots in beveled edges. Some woodworkers prefer not to use the fence when cutting slots. Instead, they use various spacers and jigs to cut accurate, consistent slots every time with far less hassle. For most of the tips we show, the adjustable fence is simply locked in the upright position.
It’s tricky to cut slots in the ends of narrow parts using the biscuit joiner fence. The small surface area makes it hard to hold the biscuit joiner stable. But it’s easy to cut accurate slots in narrow parts using the bench reference method. The photos here show how. We also show how to cut the biscuit slots off-center so the biscuit will protrude on one side only. This is handy if you want to join narrow parts and the biscuits are too large.
You can use the same bench reference method to cut slots in material thinner than 3/4 in. by placing spacers underneath. Subtract the thickness of the material from 3/4 in. The difference is the spacer thickness. We show cutting slots in 1/2-in. plywood drawer parts. Without the spacer, the slots would be too close to the edge. But with the spacer, the slots are nearly centered. Photos 1 – 4 show how.
A biscuit joiner will help you make strong, fast and accurate joints. Spike Carlsen, an expert at The Family Handyman, will show you how to use a biscuit joiner to get perfect joints.