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Forum topic by richgreer posted 01-30-2011 05:27 AM 2140 views 0 times favorited 29 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4541 posts in 2498 days

01-30-2011 05:27 AM

As many of you know, you can see an older episode of the New Yankee Workshop each week at

I’d be curious about what other LJs think about the episode up on the internet currently. To me, it looks like Norm is over-promoting biscuit joinery. He is using biscuits in ways that I would not consider using them.

First, he uses them to glue up the boards of a table top. I’ve read that in this application, biscuits add no additional strength to the bond. Then, he uses biscuits where I would consider a mortise and tenon more appropriate.

There was an era when Norm was “Mr. Biscuit Joinery”. (I’m sure he is responsible for the sale of many biscuit joiners.) However, in his later years he used biscuits much less. It makes me wonder why he was so pro-biscuit at one time.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

29 replies so far

View lew's profile


11266 posts in 3179 days

#1 posted 01-30-2011 05:32 AM

I would imagine Norm, like most of us, was enamored by the technology at the time. Probably similar things happened when doweling jigs were first marketed. Everything new and shiny tends to find all sorts of wonderful uses but then experiences and time whittle away at the list.
Just my opinion.


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View surfin2's profile


51276 posts in 2560 days

#2 posted 01-30-2011 05:43 AM

The New Yankee Brad Nailer…

I was wondering if he took it to bed with him….

-- Rick

View Don's profile


514 posts in 2497 days

#3 posted 01-30-2011 05:56 AM

I totally agree with Rich, I hardley ever use a biscuit cutter anymore.

I used to use biscuits a lot for table tops just because I thought it made it easier to keep the boards lined up flush but I eventually realized that I was still using cauls to keep them flat in the clamps and that the biscuits really weren’t adding much of anything. There will always be some places where they are a really wonderfull and easy way to join something but they have definately taken a back seat in my shop over the years.

And as far as Norm goes, I’ve never been very impressed with him. He’s a carpenter trying to teach fine woodworking. I don’t mean to knock carpenters, I’ve done enough carpentry to know that a good carpenter is just as skilled as a good wood worker but they are a very different set of skills and Norm is a much better carpenter than he is a wood worker. And I’m sure that a lot of his biscuit promotion was due to his sponsers.

-- Don - I wood work if I could. Redmond WA.

View superstretch's profile


1530 posts in 2117 days

#4 posted 01-30-2011 06:21 AM

I first got a biscuit joiner when I first started working with wood because my brother told me that was how you joined table tops and any other surface faces—it provided alignment and a tiny amount of extra strength. While those points are debatable, biscuit joining gave me a lot more confidence starting out. Biscuits make you trust the joint more and align things darn near perfectly until you get some table top clamps.

At the very least, they provide alignment and a little more surface area for glue to hold. I wouldn’t call biscuit joining necessary, but its not like you’ll be penalized for using them.

-- Dan, Rochester, NY

View davidroberts's profile


1025 posts in 2910 days

#5 posted 01-30-2011 06:44 AM

Let just say when Norm found biscuit joinery, you would think he discovered a lost and ancient technology. I mean are we really sure biscuits were not used to build the pyramids. I’d say this particular episode is biscuit overload. I guess Norm would have embraced loose tendon joinery, although I don’t remember seeing a festool, of any sort, in his shop.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View a1Jim's profile


115177 posts in 3001 days

#6 posted 01-30-2011 06:47 AM

Like all of us even Norms work evolved . At one point he really was into Biscuits and later on he only used them on rare occasions.

-- Custom furniture

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2312 days

#7 posted 01-30-2011 10:38 AM

Like any TV personality, Norm was aslave to whoever was underwriting the costs of producing his show. If they said “make a project that uses a lot of biscuits and praise them”, that’s what he had to do.

In all fairness, they do provide good alignment for an edge glue up.

Norm’s strong point was being one of the first “just folks” woodworking showmen rather than the shop teacher types, along with Roy Underhill. Before them, you felt like you had to put your hand up to leave the room during a wood show.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View tdv's profile


1139 posts in 2494 days

#8 posted 01-30-2011 10:58 AM

Don’t want to sound too cynical guys but Norm contributed a lot to amateur woodworking & I learnt a few tricks from him but I had to ignore a lot iof what he did with the latest gadget. I guess if someoene came along & said ” Here’s the top of the range latest tool it makes life easier it costs a $1000 dollars & you can have it FREE if you use it on your show” Who wouldn’t give it a shot? I remember the episode when he first used that huge industrial wide belt sander & hesaid ” This was given to us by a friend of the show” WHAT??
I don’t know what they cost in the States but in the UK you can pay £12000 for one ($19,000) nice

-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

View Greedo's profile


470 posts in 2384 days

#9 posted 01-30-2011 11:11 AM

i don’t use biscuits all the time, but there are things i could not have done without, like assembing solid panel cabinets when you can’t have any visible screws.
like norm at first i used it alot more, like when gluing up thick panels. but i came to the conclusion that it’s a waste of time.
one good thing about biscuits, i made my workshop cabinets with biscuits and screws. when i rebuilt my workshop it wasn’t wide enough anymore to fit the 3 cabinets, so i took the middle cabinet, removed the screws, a few bumps with a mallet here and there and it came apart disturbingly easy. the biscuits had not swollen or anything. i just recut the parts, and reassembled.

View Eagle1's profile


2066 posts in 2488 days

#10 posted 01-30-2011 01:21 PM

I was thinking the same thing Rich. Looked like to me that it would be to much of a setup to use and to readjust them.

-- Tim, Missouri ....Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the heck happened

View DougH's profile


40 posts in 2114 days

#11 posted 01-30-2011 03:42 PM

I like Norm and I learned a few things from him but i have trouble with some of his techniques. He uses the brad gun way too much for me on what is supposed to be fine pieces of craftmanship.

-- Doug, South Carolina

View surfin2's profile


51276 posts in 2560 days

#12 posted 01-30-2011 03:57 PM

Amen to that, Doug…

There was a comment the other day, carpenters use nails WW use glue???

-- Rick

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2498 days

#13 posted 01-30-2011 04:39 PM

Despite some of his shortcomings, the entire woodworking community owes a lot to Norm and the New Yankee Workshop. I’m sure he is responsible for a lot of new people getting into woodworking. Before I personally got into woodworking I thought Norm was infallible. I also noted that every joint fit together perfectly the first time, every time.

As I got more directly involved in woodworking I started to realize that Norm was presenting one way of doing some things and that there are other options and, often, another option could be better, IMO. I still respect Norm and give him a lot of credit for what he has done for the woodworking community and me personally.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View 8iowa's profile


1540 posts in 3185 days

#14 posted 01-30-2011 05:15 PM


As I recall, biscuits were all the “rage” some 20 years ago. That’s about when I purchased a biscuit cutter for my Shopsmith. I’ve never been much into the “New Yankee Workshop” show, so I can’t say that I was influenced by Norm.

that said, even tho I don’t use biscuits very much, I do like them for some type of butt joints as an alternative to wood screws or dowels. Here I do think that they add some additional strength.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View Steelmum's profile


355 posts in 3386 days

#15 posted 01-30-2011 05:25 PM

I think what Norm did was inspire people like me to give it a try. I am not talking biscuits, mortise and tenon or any certain technique. Just try to make something. I never had woodworking training, neither did anyone in my family except my grandfather, who laughed and told me to have grandma teach me to crochet! Norm inspired me. Norm taught me that there are many ways to do things. I owe Norm my willingness to try. I might not be a person using expert joinery, lots of hand tools, etc. But I have fun and I get it done. Thanks Norm, where ever you are.

-- Berta in NC

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