New-age joinery is made with machines. Traditional joinery is made with hand tools. There are screws, nail joints and wood joints. They are designed based on cost to make, how the wood is joined together, whether it should come apart, allowing expansion, which tools are available, or for directional strength. In the end, it comes down to an intelligent designer, skilled fabricator and how much you want to spend. And, whether it has cool-looking dovetails, of course.
Two Great Things about Traditional Joinery
- It looks awesome! Traditionally, the joinery was hidden from sight. End-grain wasn’t something people want to see. Today, that mixture of end-grain showing through in a tenon or dovetail joint is called style!
- Traditional joints are incredibly strong, but not just those perfect, beautiful dovetails that resist collapsing the 90 degree angle. Ugly Traditional joinery can still be incredibly strong! Traditionally, the joints were hidden, and didn’t need to be beautiful. They only needed to be strong.
Knotty Woodpecker Joinery
I use traditional joints because they were designed for using traditional hand tools, and I use traditional hand tools. Here are some examples:
- Dovetails – The strongest 90 degree joint to resist movement in any direction.
- Mortise & Tenon – To link furniture carcass with very high strength, used with glue, pins or wedges.
- Tongue & Groove – To lock two sides together with glue making larger boards, or without glue allowing for wood movement.
- Rabbets & dados – Not to be confused with rabbits, they give strong directional strength and don’t waste time.
- Keyed Miter – For beauty and strength in those panel frames. The panels allow for wood movement of large pieces.
- Straight nails – Used where a wear piece might need to be replaced, like a drawer slide.
- Forged nails – Used where the piece should NOT come apart, yet low-cost and giving a rustic look.
- Screws – Only with hardware, installed only by hand.
And many more. Sometimes I need to mix joints together, making something new to fit the application.