Woodworking Joinery

When making or designing a box you need to consider the joinery you will use. When doing this you should take into consideration not only the strength of your chosen method, but also how it will look on the finished product. You can also use more than one type of joinery in the same project.

While there are any number working joints, the following are commonly used in box making:

Dovetails, especially hand-cut dovetails are the hallmark of fine woodworking. Dovetails make great joints for boxes of all kinds as they are strong and good looking.

Dovetails can be made in several ways: handcut dovetails and machine cut dovetails both have advantages and disadvantages. Cutting dovetails by hand allows more choice and creativity, however, they also take time and practice (as well as patience). woodworking joineryMachined dovetails are fast and good for production work, especially if you have a nice dovetail jig (I love my Leigh jig. Can't help throwing in a pitch for it here).

Leigh D4R Dovetail Jig
The best multi-faceted joinery system on the market! Produce "no-slop" through, half blind and sliding dovetails with a classic hand cut look.

Leigh D4R Dovetail Jig

Leigh D4R Dovetail Jig

Whatever method you choose you can make one of three types of dovetail for joining box corners. The final style, sliding dovetails are used to join a board perpendicular to another - shelves, for instance. woodworking joinery

* Through dovetails are cut through both boards so the joint is seen from two angles.

* Half-blind dovetails are cut so that the joint is seen on only one side. Many of the commercial dovetail jigs are limited to these types of dovetail. woodworking joinery

* Full-blind dovetails are entirely hidden from view. They aren't used much now, although they used to be common.

* Sliding dovetails are made by cutting a dovetail shaped dado in one piece and a matching dovetail in the end of the other. The two pieces then slide together to make a secure lock. Sliding dovetails are a nice option for internal dividers although they can also be used on corners if you don't mind an overlapping edge. woodworking joinery

woodworking joinery

Mitered corners make the joint disappear. They have a clean look, and can be strengthened with splines. Splines can be either hidden inside the joint or cut on the outside. I often use contrasting wood to emphasize the spline. woodworking joinery

woodworking joineryCompound miters are miters that are cut on more than one angle. If you want to use mitered corners on a box with sides that slant, for instance, you would use compound miters.

woodworking joinery
Other, more simple woodworking joinery includes butt joints. Butt joints are simply two boards attached end to end. These are weak joints, but they are quick and easy. For a small box they can be strong enough if reinforced with brads or screws. Larger boxes could also have dowels or biscuits for reinforcement. Hiding the screw head with a dowel makes the joint more interesting looking. woodworking joinery

woodworking joinery Butt joints can be strengthened by rabbiting one end and butting the other into the rabbit,

woodworking joinery

or you can go one step further and make a locked rabbit. You can also buy special router bits that will make locked joints that are strong and clean looking. In fact, there are router bits for about any type of woodworking joinery you can imagine. woodworking joinery

Biscuit joinery is appropriate for case goods and works well in plywood and other manufactured materials. woodworking joinery
Pocket screws are another form of fast woodworking joinery, often used on face frames in cabinetry. woodworking joinery

These are just a few of the many woodworking joints you can use to build a box. Most of them can be refined, or even combined, to make them fit a specific purpose. Adding a decorative spline, for instance, can change a simple miter into an elegant joint.

Dowels can be added to a butt joint for strength and contrast. I encourage you to play around with different woodworking joinery to see what works and when.

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