Joinery: Assembling Your Project's Wooden Parts & Subassemblies

man with clamp and glue

The process of assembling a project's wooden parts and subassemblies is called joinery. It's among the most complex aspects of woodworking and demands a thorough understanding of the properties of wood and precision craftsmanship. It is also among the most rewarding processes, turning a collection of what looks like miscellaneous pieces of wood into a sturdy and attractive piece of furniture. The stronger and more durable the joint, the more demanding the work will be. That's why woodworkers decide early on what joints they'll use. In this chapter, you'll learn how to make many traditional joints, as well as some new, faster, easier ways woodworkers have come up with to make strong joints. You'll find that even the more complex joints can be mastered if you work carefully and methodically and understand wood movement and grain direction.

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Wood movement
Wood is a hygroscopic material: it can absorb moisture and swell, as well as lose moisture and shrink, even when covered with finish. That's why a drawer that slides easily in winter at low humidity may stick in summer when humidity is high. This tendency for wood to change dimension -- even if just slightly -- is called wood movement.

Joinery Wood movement
Wood is a hygroscopic material: it can absorb moisture and swell, as well as lose moisture and shrink, even when covered with finish. That's why a drawer that slides easily in winter at low humidity may stick in summer when humidity is high. This tendency for wood to change dimension -- even if just slightly -- is called wood movement.

Joinery techniques take wood movement into consideration by withstanding it, allowing it, or arranging pieces so movement has little effect on the joint.

Grain direction
When you look at the end of a board, you see a pattern in the wood that's quite different from what's on its edge, face, or back. Softwoods have a series of rings representing the tree's growth layers. Hardwoods, depending on their density, may have a similar pattern, a series of minuscule pores, or a combination of both. It's all end grain, and it all wicks up moisture -- as you'll notice when applying finish.

That's why it's best to avoid end-grain-to-end-grain joints. The glue disappears into the wood, leaving little or nothing to permanently bond the pieces together. Without additional strengthening, such as dowels, an end-grain-to-end-grain joint eventually comes apart.


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