It’s easy to fall in love with biscuit joints—they’re so fast
and easy. At least they are when you get the hang of them.
If you’re new to biscuit joinery, you can learn here how to do the
four basic woodworking joints. Even if you already own a
biscuit joiner (or plate joiner—same animal), I’m sure you’ll
pick up a tip or two. Either way, be sure to check out these biscuit joint articles and projects.
If you want to get started using biscuits
(or “plates,” as they’re sometimes called),
you can pick up an entry-level machine
for about $100. Five minutes of fooling
around with the machine or a little time
with our online videos and you’ll have
the basic idea: Use the machine to cut
slots in both parts, and then add glue to
each, insert a biscuit, clamp to hold, and
you’re done. Your tool manual will show
how to adjust the tool.
The cool thing about biscuit joinery is
that the biscuit is made from compressed
wood. The biscuit fits loosely in
its slot, which makes assembly easy, but
it expands after the glue has had a few
minutes to soak in, so it fits extremely
tight. You have a little window of time
when the two pieces you’re joining can
be slid sideways into perfect alignment.
Biscuit joinery may not be for the DIYer
who’s just building one cabinet, but if
you have a lot of cabinets in your future, a biscuit joiner is a great tool to own.
VIDEO: How to make a biscuit joint
The Family Handyman editor, Ken Collier, explains the basics of using a biscuit joiner—a great tool for building cabinets, bookshelves and other woodworking projects.
Making Cabinet Boxes With T-Joints
This is where joinery shines: the T-joint, where a fixed shelf meets the sides of a
cabinet (Photos 1 – 3). The sideways wiggle room that biscuits give you allows you to
get the edges of the shelf and the sides perfectly flush, and the case looks good, with
or without a face frame, both inside and out. And since the glue is all on the biscuits,
there’s rarely any squeeze-out to clean up.
The process for making a T-joint begins with marking on the edge of the sides
where the top of the shelf should be. Stand the shelf in position and mark the biscuit
locations. Then lay the shelf on its side, lined up with its location mark. Clamp the
side and shelf together and to your bench, with the edges flush to each other. Now
cut your biscuit slots, first in one piece, then in the other. Do the other side of the
cabinet the same way, making sure the shelf is oriented the right way: front to front, bottom to the bottom.
VIDEO: How to Make a T-Joint With a Biscuit Joiner
The Family Handyman editor, Ken Collier, shows you how to make a T-joint for shelves in bookcases or cabinets. This basic technique will give you strong, reliable shelves and it's an easy joint to master.
Making Cabinet Boxes: L-Joints
Biscuits are also a great way to make an L-joint, for example, to join a cabinet top to
the sides (Photos 4 – 6). For this kind of joint, you usually want to have the outside
edges flush, without a little step. So use the fence to ensure the pieces are flush on
the outside. When you're using the fence, be certain your workpiece extends completely
off the edge of the workbench. Also, press down firmly on the fence to make
sure the slot is cut properly; it's easy for the fence to be tipped.
VIDEO: How to Make an L-Joint With a Biscuit Joiner
The Family Handyman editor, Ken Collier, shows you a great technique for putting a top on a bookcase. Making an L-joint with biscuits will give you a strong top on many woodworking projects.
Biscuit joiner with the fence down.
Biscuit joiner with the fence up.
Fence or no fence?
The joiner is
designed to be
used two ways:
You can have the
fence down, which
allows you to align
the biscuits to a
surface that faces
up, that the fence
rests on (Photos
5 and 6). You can
also fold the fence
in, which allows
you to align the
biscuits with the
bottom of the tool
(Photos 2 and 3).
The trick is to
figure out which
one to use, then use it consistently.
Imagine you’re joining two pieces of
different thicknesses edge to edge.
Using the fence allows you to get the top
surfaces flush; using the bottom of the
joiner (no fence) allows you to get the
bottom surfaces flush. When you use a
joiner without the fence, the slot is centered
in 3/4-in. material. For any other
spacing, you need to use the fence.
VIDEO: How to Glue Biscuit Joints
The Family Handyman editor, Ken Collier, shows you how to glue and clamp biscuit joints for a strong and nearly invisible joint.
Making Face Frames
Plate joinery is a fast way to make face frames. It's also a convenient way if you’re
already using the joiner for the cabinet boxes. To join face frames with biscuits, you
usually need to let the biscuit extend past the outside of the frame and trim it off.
Just be sure you’ve got your face frame pieces supported, since they're usually narrow
(Photo 8). I like to line up the middle of the biscuit, and the mark on the joiner, with
the edge of the face frame so half the biscuit is being glued. Of course, on wide rails
you can sometimes use the entire biscuit.
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Biscuit Joints for Edging Plywood
If you’re gluing solid wood edging onto plywood, biscuits can
make it a success (Photos 9 – 11). If you try to glue the edging
on perfectly flush, a small section inevitably ends up lower
than the surface of the plywood, which is a disaster. The trick
is to leave the solid wood a fraction above the surface of the plywood, then sand it flush. The plate joiner makes it easy.