Whether you want to learn carpentry to work on your home, or you’re interested in pursuing a new hobby, learning which types of wood joints are needed for your project is crucial to your success. Not every type of wood joint is equal in terms of strength or application, which means that learning a variety of different methods can give you the most options to proceed with.
What Is a Wood Joint?
Every place that two separate pieces of wood meet each other is considered to be a joint. Joints may be as simple as one end of a piece of wood placed on another, or they may be as elaborate as several interlocking slots. Most joints are held together with some sort of outside force, such as glue, nails, staples, or screws. If you’ve taken a woodworking course before, then you’ve probably created a joint to put together your project.
Joints are crucial to any type of wood construction. This includes furniture building, house framing, or picture framing; anywhere that two pieces of wood need to touch one another to create stability can be considered a type of wood joint.
Eight Types of Wood Joints
There are many different ways that you can joint up two pieces of wood. Some are more applicable to various scenarios than others; many joints have minimal amounts of stability on their own and need to be combined with other construction methods to take their strength, while some can stand on their own. If you’ve ever done a course in rope splicing, you’ll already be familiar with the way that different methods of joining two materials need to be used in different circumstances. Whether you intend to learn how to shabby chic furniture, or you want to build an addition on your home, you’ll need to learn these basic joints.
The simplest and most easy joint to learn or create is the butt joint. This is the first joint you’ll probably learn how to make, and it can be used in a variety of different ways. Butt joints are often used during the framing of a house, for example.
To create a butt joint, simply place the end of a piece of wood against another piece and fasten either using a metal clip, a nail or a screw. Butt joints may not be the fanciest or nicest looking joints, but they are extremely stable and can hold up fairly heavy loads.
Mitered Butt Joint
The mitered butt joint is very similar to the standard butt joint, in that it typically joints two boards at their ends, or one board at an end meeting the side of another board. The difference is in how those ends meet. In a standard butt joint, the end or ends are left square so they meet at a 90 degree angle. In a mitered butt joint, the end or ends are mitered to a 45 degree angle. This allows two boards to turn a corner neatly, or for an angled board to die into a straight board. The mitered boards are fastened together either with nails or screws, and are often easier to fasten to one another than a standard butt joint. Because the boards themselves are angled, the nail or screw can be put in straight, rather than the other way around. This makes for a cleaner looking joint, as well as giving more possibilities in how the two boards can be angled or placed themselves. For example, a board angled for the pitch of the roof can die into a vertical board at the side of the house with a mitered joint.
Half Lap Joint
The half lap joint is ideal for some types of furniture making where two pieces of wood need to be joined in the middle, rather than on the ends. To create this type of joint, a small portion of the wood is removed in a notch from each of the two boards. The notches then fit together like a puzzle piece to join the boards. Depending on how tightly the notches are cut, you may not need more than a small amount of wood glue to hold them together. Obviously, because some of the wood is being removed from each of the boards, this does result in a slightly weaker join than some other types. However, because they allow you to join the boards in the centers, rather than on the ends, this can be an ideal way of creating some types of frames.
The tongue and groove joint should be familiar to anyone that has ever laid a laminate or floating wood floor. This type of wood joint holds two boards together along their edges, rather than their ends or in the center. In a tongue and groove joint, the edge of one board is notched out into a groove. The edge of the joining board is extended into a thin tongue that fits the groove. Often both tongue and groove are curved slightly so that the tongue needs to enter the groove at an angle. When the boards are laid side by side, they “lock” together and cannot be separated unless one is lifted up at an angle first.
The mortise and tenon joint is one of the oldest forms of wood joints used. Like the tongue and groove joint, it involves one board being fitted inside of a second board. The mortise is a square hole carved into the side of a board. The tenon is a protruding piece coming off the end of a second board. The tenon fits very tightly inside the mortise, extending through to the other side of the mortised board. This type of join is very useful for creating trestle tables and exposed beams where nails would detract from the beauty of the workmanship.
The dovetail joint is one of the most beautiful and frequently sought after joints in furniture and cabinet making. This joint is very strong and relies on only the workmanship and a little glue to hold it in place; no nails or metal fasteners are required. To make a dovetail joint, notches are cut into the ends of two boards. The notches are precisely detailed so that they will fit together very tightly like puzzle pieces. If you are creating a box or a drawer, the dovetail joint is a beautiful and very strong method of connecting your ends together. Because the notches are so tightly fitted, this type of joint rarely comes loose, so your finished piece can often sustain a lot of very heavy use.
The dado is a simple joint often used in carpentry. Like the tongue and groove joint, it involves a notch cut into one board where the other board will fit. Unlike the tongue and groove, however, this type of joint joins the edge or end of one board to the center of another. It’s often used in joining two pieces of plywood together, or for putting together the backs and sides of cabinets and dressers with the top.
The rabbet joint is a dado cut along the edge of a board, rather than into the center of it. It’s also used for joining cabinets or for making boxes where two edges need to fit together tightly.
Learning how to put together different types of wood joints is essential to any type of wood work. Whether you want to build a deck on your home, or you’re hoping to build some wooden toys for your kids, knowing a variety of joints will ensure you always get the job done properly.
Once you’ve mastered your techniques, you may want to learn how to sell your work online, or you may want to take on some new projects around the house. Start perfecting your wood joints and see what you can create.