What Is Joinery And Why Is It Important?

Wikipedia defines Joinery as the following:

Joinery is a part of woodworking that involves joining together pieces of timber or lumber, to produce more complex items. Some wood joints employ fasteners, bindings, or adhesives, while others use only wood elements. The characteristics of wooden joints - strength, flexibility, toughness, appearance, etc. - derive from the properties of the materials involved and the purpose of the joint. Therefore, different joinery techniques are used to meet differing requirements. For example, the joinery used to construct a house can be different from that used to make puzzle toys, although some concepts overlap.

I’ve previously written about different joinery methods used in woodworking but why this important?  Grab a cup of coffee, and let’s talk about it.

Wood moves.  It will always move. Wood is a natural material and it will expand and contract depending on the moisture within its environment.  Every piece will move differently from the next.  

Depending on where your furniture lives and what type of wood it is made from it may move more or it may move less.  I live in the north east where we have cold, dry winters and hot, humid summers.  Here we must worry about wood movement.  Areas with a more consistent climate or furniture in spaces that are constantly climate controlled will have to worry less.

As a furniture maker I must be conscious of this all the time and consider it whenever designing and making a piece.  Good joinery will keep a large tabletop from bowing, cupping or twisting.  Good joinery will keep the sides of a case piece flat and keep it from cracking.  Good joinery will keep drawers sliding in and out nicely and keep the structural integrity of a piece solid for years.

Wood movement should always be considered to some degree or the natural movement of the material will always win.  

Durablity. Proper joinery methods need to be considered when building a piece intended to last a lifetime.  I’m from the school that when I buy a piece of furniture, I buy it for life and possibly beyond.  Traditional joinery makes this a possible.  

Ever move from one apartment to the next to find out that your favorite Ikea nightstand is now wobbling, and the veneers are starting to peel?  Dowels and cam lock bolts are not made to take the stress of sliding across the floor or loading and unloading from a moving truck.  Woodworking has evolved throughout history to solve these problems; the flat pack furniture of today was not made to address any of them.

Utility. Not every joinery method is practical in every situation.  We all know dovetails are great for drawers, right? Right.  But they are not always necessary, on a kitchen or dresser drawer that will be constantly being opened and closed here dovetails are great but on some more less used drawers a rabbet with dowels will work great as well.  Dovetails are perfectly suited to withstand the constant use of drawers but not always necessary, so the intended use is also important to consider when choosing the correct construction method.  

Design. Whether it’s through dovetails, mitered corners or an exposed tenon on the side of a case, joinery can impact a piece in a very negative or positive way.  Of course, you want to choose the most useful method of construction available, but you also want it to compliment the design as well.  

Joinery or construction methods can make or break a would-be great piece of furniture, each choice made needs to be deliberate and carefully considered in order to create the most aesthetically pleasing result that is made to last a lifetime.

Whether its dovetails, splined miters or just good ol’ glue and screw, they all have a place and as a furniture maker its important to pick the right joint for the job. 

Dovetail Drawers
Dovetail Carcass