Joinery for the Beginner

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Blog entry by Todd A. Clippinger posted 12-02-2007 08:07 AM 6858 reads 2 times favorited 36 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Gwurst Started IT!

Gwurst started a forum about a tv cabinet that he is designing and building. Here is a fine example for all the newbies to see open source woodworking knowledge in action. His ideas of construction have changed dramatically. You can check it out here.

What I really want to feature here is joinery.

One intimidating factor of construction is the joinery. The thought of tackling all that traditional old world joinery can be a bit overwhelming.

It’s Pocket Science

Now I love traditional joinery and apply it as appropriate. But as it turns out, modern joinery such as pocket screws and biscuits are quite sufficient in many applications and very affordable.

Many beginning woodworkers have great ideas or desire to build a piece of furniture but procrastinate due to fear of the joinery aspect.

What I am suggesting here is that you should take a look at these methods as they do have a legitimate place in the furniture world.

Take a basic design like the entry table I built. I had to slam this thing out and I used pocket screws for attaching the apron to the legs. This allowed me to focus on the taper of the legs, top, and doing the finish. It is a light piece of furniture and with the appropriate length screws it will hold up for years. Total construction time for this was 10 hours from beginning to end in one day. It would have gone into a second day with M&T construction.

Entry Table Right View

The set of modern furniture that I made is all biscuit and pocket screw joinery. These are very fast and reliable methods of joinery that I use as a professional, and I have to warranty my work.

Here are a few shots during the construction of the corner table with the insides exposed for you to see the joinery “secrets” that were employed.

Modern Furniture 1

Modern Furniture 2

Modern Furniture 3

The finished set can be seen in the projects gallery here:

Set Yourself Free

There is no shame or embarrassment for using these methods. They are not cheating, they simply have not been around as long as dovetails or mortise and tenons. I think any historical craftsman with business sense would have recognized the benefit of the efficiency and would have used them appropriately, as well as modern glue.

By using pocket screws or biscuits you may focus on getting the project done and start understanding basic construction. With these methods the parts are cut to exact length, butt jointed and attached with the screws or biscuits.

With traditional joinery, extra length is figured for the tenon and much more labor and skill is required to make it all fit properly. Even with nice equipment this takes much longer.

I promise as you build some furniture and see results, you will not lose interest in learning the traditional methods. I still love traditional joinery myself.

Peace, Love, and Woodworking

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

36 comments so far

View Sgt_Lobo's profile


87 posts in 3826 days

#1 posted 12-02-2007 08:20 AM

You know Todd, you are exactly right. I’ve been building projects and they take weeks instead of days, and allot of it is because I stress too much on the joinery. I have a dovetail jig, a dado blade, and all the router bits for cutting rabbits and such, yet I still don’t even have a “simple” kreg pocket hole jig system or a biscuit cutter. I think it is time I started to re-think some of my project ideas and find ways to incorporate some time saving methods such as these. Thanks for the blog!

-- Sgt_Lobo -- Aurora, CO

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4023 posts in 4032 days

#2 posted 12-02-2007 08:21 AM

Happy to see a profession tell it like it is. Fine woodworking does include these two methods of joinery, and as you have stated, the time saved can be used to create sublimely designed cabinet work that is far and away more than clunky and square. Set yourself free – great title for the closing paragraph. Thanks, Todd.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4068 days

#3 posted 12-02-2007 08:27 AM

Thanks for the confirmation.

Sgt Lobo – I had to try and share this because many starting out don’t realize that these are very valid forms of joinery.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2539 posts in 3925 days

#4 posted 12-02-2007 09:15 AM

Thats a nice cabinet Todd, and a perfect example of “production” case work and joinery. Reminds me of the old days back in the cabinet shop! Pocket holes and biscuits aren’t cheating, the are valid and often used joinery methods. Throw some wacky wood into the mix, for another not too well known trade secret for working curves! We used pocket screws so much we had a production pneumatic pocket hole driller. Great post!


View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 3974 days

#5 posted 12-02-2007 02:07 PM

I sometimes repair things like rotted bottom rails on doors and window sash. An older guy i used to work with questioned me whether screws and glue were sufficient for this application instead of using wood dowels.

I told him i was using dowels. They were just of the more durable threaded, galvanised steel variety!

So far no callbacks!

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View snowdog's profile


1164 posts in 3951 days

#6 posted 12-02-2007 02:42 PM

Well said thanks for the advice and conformation. Now if I can get my customer (wife) to agree <grin> I’ll be all set for buying a pocket screw kit. I already talked her into letting me get a new biscuits jointer. Has anyone ever done a real stress test that was posted on the net? I am sure someone has, does anyone have a link to it?

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4129 days

#7 posted 12-02-2007 03:20 PM

only stress test I’ve seen is the one conducted by DowelMax

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4129 days

#8 posted 12-02-2007 03:21 PM

oh and then there is the stress test on dovetails conducted by Bob#2 at the woodshow he and Mot attended.. (don’t know the link off-hand)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View mrtrim's profile


1696 posts in 3848 days

#9 posted 12-02-2007 04:18 PM

todd thank you ! youve done it again ! this blog is exactly why i consider you one of my favorite lunber jocks.
i bow with humility, great admiration and respect to those who use traditional joinery. however i cannot afford to walk that path with them . my work is my only source of income and im under the gun to keep costs realistic, especially the past year . i take comfort in knowing im not alone on my path. thanks again ! by the way i buy pocket screws in boxes that i dont always feel up to carring to my truck !

View Greg Wurst's profile

Greg Wurst

794 posts in 3800 days

#10 posted 12-02-2007 04:21 PM

Todd, I have to agree on the use of pocket screws and biscuits. In the past I’ve tried to use more traditional joinery and I’ve burned through more good wood due to mistakes than I like to think about. For carcass and faceframe construction where the joint isn’t emphasized I’ll probably just go ahead and go with the pocket screws or biscuits from now on. Even a simple dado to attach a faceframe to a carcass requires much more work and doesn’t look any better or provide much if any more strength. You just here so many traditionalists rail against non-traditional joinery (the anti-Norm movement) you start to think there’s something wrong with it. However, almost all the professional finish carpenters I’ve come across use pocket screws and such whenever possible, and if it’s good enough for professional work it should be good enough for my projects around the house.

-- You're a unique and special person, just like everyone else.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4282 days

#11 posted 12-02-2007 04:36 PM

I’ve got one of those Porta-Cable production pocket screw set ups that I use every day. Traditional joinery is great when I get to do Zen and woodworking…but most days I just get to do sweat, swear, and hope i get the check deposited in time woodworking.

View mrtrim's profile


1696 posts in 3848 days

#12 posted 12-02-2007 04:50 PM

dennis im jealouse !! i been wanting one of the production set ups for a while. business has been very bad this year around where i live or i would have bought one . if you grt time pm me with the pros and cons and what you think of it thx

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4004 days

#13 posted 12-02-2007 07:09 PM

Great blog, Todd. Very good points. I’ve seen some amazing projects that are made with biscuits and pocket screws. Our LJ friend, David, is affectionately nicknamed, Kreg by his loved ones.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2539 posts in 3925 days

#14 posted 12-02-2007 08:03 PM

Gwurst, you said it perfectly..when your doing carcass or face frame joinery where the joint isn’t emphasized, then biscuits or pocket screws are the way to go. My old boss at the cabinet shop turned me onto pocket screws and I am a firm believer! I have the Kreig Master set up, along with an extra deep square driver, a couple extra deep joint clamps and the 90 degree joint clamp. I always do my face frames with pocket screws and have done a few carcasses with pocket screws instead of rabbits/dados. The one complaint I have is if your doing carcass assembly the pieces have a tendency to move as the screw gets driven home. I just align and clamp everything, then drive the screws. Sometimes we would even drill a pilot hole with a long drill bit. The 90 degree clamp helps with that allot but you cant always use it.


View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4068 days

#15 posted 12-02-2007 09:38 PM

Thanks for all the comments guys. I have not been able to get back into the site for several hours. I had the same problem for the last couple of days and I just read Martin’s post about the new server. Of course I couldn’t read it when I could not get on.

Anyway, just like any tool or woodworking method, there is a time an place to use it. On the modern furniture you can see the pocket holes if you take the drawers all the way out and look inside the box. But who does that very often? Will they see something cheap? Nope.

Gwurst is right on the money in understanding that the joinery is not the featured element and that the holding strength will be sufficient for these methods of joinery.

And Brad Nailor brings up some good points because every method has certain characteristics that you need to work with.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

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