Making Your Final Choice

Even after carefully reviewing the requirements, you'll likely find that there are two or more good candidates for each joinery job. How do you choose between them? There is a brilliantly simple rule of thumb that many experienced woodworkers use to cut through this Gordian knot of joinery But before 1 let you in on this secret, let me tell you a brief story.

Several years ago, 1 wrote a piece on reproducing a Chippendale block-front desk. The original was built in 1765 in Newport, Rhode Island — possibly by the master colonial cabinetmaker/woodcarver, Edmund Townsend. The desk had just sold at auction for over half a million dollars. (See Figure 1-24.)

As 1 researched the desk, I ran across an old magazine article by an accomplished woodworker who had built a similar piece. His account of the project was daunting. "Complex" was too mild a word to describe the joinery. The bracket feet, for example, were assembled with double-blind mitered dovetails! I've never met a woodworker who managed to complete a double-blind mitered dovetail in his lifetime, but I understand the effort required is in the same order of magnitude as the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Next, 1 visited the head craftsman of the restoration shop at Sotheby's — the outfit that had sold the desk. In interviewing him, I found he had replaced one of the bracket feet. I was awed. I was in the presence of a woodworking deity! What advice did this Olympian have for mere mortals faced with the task of making double-blind mitered dovetails?

"Oh, you read that articlehe said with a laugh. Then he went on to explain, "Townsend was in the cabinetmaking business, and like most businessmen, he was concerned with production. He didn't have time to spend on over-engineered joinery."

So how did the great Edmund Townsend join the bracket feet on his half-million-dollar desk?

"A simple miter and a glue block."

So here's the secret: When choosing among the myriad woodworking joints, remember that plain often does just as well as fancy. In many cases, it will do better.

1-24 Chippendale blockfront desks made by the Townsend family of Newport, Rhode Island, are among the finest and most valuable pieces of eighteenth-century American furniture. Although these desks are elegantly crafted, the joinery is surprisingly simple.

Five Cuts

If you have any remaining doubts about how simple and straightforward wood joinery really is, consider this: There are only five joinery cuts! Every fitted joint is made with these:

■ A butt cut involves a sawed end, edge, or face that is square to the adjoining surfaces.

■ A miter cut leaves a sawed surface at an angle other than 90 degrees to one or more of the adjoining surfaces.

■ A rabbet cut makes an L-shaped notch in an arris, or edge, of the board. The bottom and side of the rabbet are usually square to one another.

■ A dado cut creates a U-shaped channel in one surface. Like a rabbet, the bottom and the sides of a dado are usually square.

■ A hole or "round mortise " is a cylindrical cavity bored into the wood. Holes can be drilled at any angle.

When making these five cuts, you can saw or drill

Basic Woodworking Cuts

Compound Mitek

Mitek Angle Joint Wood





Compound Mitek miter


Angled through blind completely through the board, or you can halt partway through the cut, making it blind or stopped. When a cut is blind, its length is limited (like a blind alley). A blind rabbet is closed at one end; a double-blind dado is closed at both ends. "Stopped" refers to the depth of the cut and usually applies to holes. A stopped hole has a bottom; it doesn't run through the board.

Every woodworking joint, no matter how complex it might appear, is composed of these simple cuts. For example, a lap joint is made by fitting two dadoes to one another. The mortise in a mortise-and-tenon joint is a double-blind, stopped dado; the tenon is formed from a butt cut (to cut the end of the tenon square) and two or more rabbet cuts. A dowel joint is made of several butt cuts and stopped holes. The trick to making a well-fitted joint is not in making difficult cuts, but in making very simple cuts precisely and in the proper sequence.

Toggle Clamps Plan


Wood Notching Tool

Edge Notch rabbet



Bund Corner Notch through blind rabbet

Edge Notch dado


Mortiôe Blind

Corner Notch


Boes Rabbet dado

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

THIS book is one of the series of Handbooks on industrial subjects being published by the Popular Mechanics Company. Like Popular Mechanics Magazine, and like the other books in this series, it is written so you can understand it. The purpose of Popular Mechanics Handbooks is to supply a growing demand for high-class, up-to-date and accurate text-books, suitable for home study as well as for class use, on all mechanical subjects. The textand illustrations, in each instance, have been prepared expressly for this series by well known experts, and revised by the editor of Popular Mechanics.

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