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4 Types of Wood Joints Every Woodworker Should Know

Make strong, long-lasting joints without years of woodworking expertise or a big budget.

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Simple Joinery Options FeaturedFamily Handyman

Stronger is Better

Traditional, hand-cut joinery requires skill and a great deal of practice to master. But are those fancy joints necessary? Nah. I still use mortise-and-tenons or dovetails when a project calls for it. But for most projects, I just need joinery that’s strong and simple. My go-to methods include pocket screws, dowels, biscuits and the Beadlock system. There’s no reason to have all of them in your arsenal. Most serious woodworkers choose one or two, become proficient at them and

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1. Pocket Screws


You can get a basic pocket hole kit for about $30. You’ll need a supply of different lengths of special self-drilling washer-head screws (course threads for hardwoods). You likely already have a drill/driver, which is the only necessary tool. That’s a plus, as you don’t need to purchase yet another tool that only has one purpose. Once you’ve become a convert, you can pick up more clamps, accessories and jigs to really step up your production. The only downside to pocket screws is that without special clamps, they don’t provide positive alignment of parts for assembly. Learn more about using pocket screws here.

Pros

  • Fast
  • No clamping required

Cons

  • Visible holes
  • Does’t provide positive alignment

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How It’s Done

To use a pocket hole jig, just clamp your workpiece in the jig and drill the steeply angled holes. The thickness of the stock you’re drilling into determines the jig’s positioning as well as the setting of the drill bit’s stop collar. The included drill bit bores a flat-bottom hole with a short pilot hole at the center to guide the screw into the adjoining part.

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Add Glue and Screw Together

Apply glue, clamp the parts together and drive the screws. Some pocket hole jigs are portable, so you can clamp them onto a workpiece that’s too large to put on your workbench.

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2. Dowels


A solid, easy-to-use doweling jig will set you back about $70. You’ll need a supply of dowels and, like the pocket hole method, the only tool you need is a drill. Dowels for joinery are different from standard dowel rods found at the hardware store. Joinery dowels are grooved to keep glue from getting trapped in the bottom of the hole, preventing the parts from pulling together. The greater gluing surface provides a somewhat mechanical grip.

Unlike pocket screws, dowels provide positive alignment of parts. Also, unlike pocket screws, both sides of the joint look the same, without exposed screws. that’s good when both sides will be visible. Plus: Check out our ultimate guide to using a dowel jig here.

Pros

  • Positive alignment both directions
  • Mating dowel holes can be positioned anywhere using dowel centers.

Cons

  • Requires clamping
  • Slow

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How It’s Done

The doweling jig I use is a self-centering jig with an integrated clamping mechanism. Mark the hole locations on both parts, clamp the jig into place and drill the hole.

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Add Glue and Insert the Dowels

Apply glue to the dowels and mating parts. Press the joint together and clamp. You can use shims with this jig to drill holes for offset parts. When necessary, use dowel centers to mark the starting points for drilling into the adjoining part.

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3. Biscuits

A plate or biscuit joiner runs anywhere from $70 to $700. The $700 variety is really nice, but it’s not necessary for an amateur woodworker. A modestly priced model works just fine. A plate joiner cuts a semicircular slot in adjoining parts to accept a plate/biscuit, which is then glued in place. Biscuits come in different sizes to accommodate various part dimensions. Learn everything you need to know about gluing wood here.

Pros

  • Fast
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to offset parts
  • Effective dust collection
  • Positive alignment in one direction

Cons

  • Requires clamping
  • Parts can slide during clamping

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How It’s Done

Mark joint center lines on adjoining parts. Set the plate joiner to the desired cutting height, and the cutting depth to match the biscuit size you’re using. Line up the guide mark on the joiner’s fence with your mark and plunge the cut.

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Glue Up and Insert the Biscuits

Apply glue to the mating surfaces and in the slots. Insert the biscuit, press the joint together and clamp.

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4. BeadLock

A BeadLock jig facilitates drilling mortises in adjoining parts, again using only a drill. The basic kit is $30. This is one of many “loose tenon” systems. Instead of the tenon being cut from one of the adjoining parts, precut tenon stock is glued into a mortise in both parts. BeadLock mortises are just a series of overlapping holes, and the tenon stock looks like a stack of dowels. You can buy tenon stock, or you can buy router bits to make your own tenon stock as needed. But you’ll need a router table for that, and it’s a bit fussy.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Positive alignment in both directions

Cons

  • Slow
  • Requires clamping
  • Sawdust sticks in the holes
  • Jig is not self clamping

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How It’s Done

Mark the joint center line on both parts, position the jig using its alignment guide and then clamp the jig in place. Drill the first set of holes, slide the drilling block to its second position and drill the second set of holes. Repeat the process on the mating part.

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Add Glue and Insert the Tenon

Apply glue to the mating parts and the BeadLock tenon. Press the joint together and clamp.

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Joint Strength Test

We made 24-in. x 24-in. L-joints using red oak with all four of these joinery methods. Then, we applied increasing pressure with a turnbuckle and measured the failure point with a scale. While admittedly not very scientific, the results were interesting. And it’s always fun to break things!

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Strength Is Not The Main Consideration

All of these methods are plenty strong for typical woodworking uses. There’s no reason to have all of them. One or two will handle almost any joinery situation.