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What’s the point of complex hidden joinery?

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Forum topic by Bobmedic posted 10-29-2017 02:45 PM 2677 views 0 times favorited 45 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Bobmedic

372 posts in 2618 days


10-29-2017 02:45 PM

I just saw a photo of someone making an end table with a drawer and the top divider was being attached to the leg with a double dovetail. When completed, this joint will be covered by the top and never seen again. So, this begs the question; why bother with a complex joint when it will never be seen? The whole point of doing dovetails is to show off the craftsmanship. That’s why you rarely see dovetails at the back of a drawer box. Personally, I’m not a fan of dovetails but to each their own. Some will say it’s for strength. I’ve seen dovetails in jewelry boxes with 4 inch wide drawers. How strong does it have to be? Dovetails, half laps, dados, splined miters, box joints, glued butt joints with brads, dowels, dominos, pocket screws, M&T joints are all usually stronger than the respective woods they are joining. So, if the joint is going to be hidden, how is this not a waste of time?


45 replies so far

View PaulHWood's profile

PaulHWood

407 posts in 2069 days


#1 posted 10-29-2017 02:55 PM

you answered your own question, strength

-- -Paul, South Carolina Structural Engineer by trade, Crappy Woodworker by choice

View Bobmedic's profile

Bobmedic

372 posts in 2618 days


#2 posted 10-29-2017 03:00 PM



you answered your own question, strength

- PaulHWood


Not really, most of the other joints are just as strong or at least strong enough for the application. I think many times people tend to way over engineer their woodworking projects.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

1075 posts in 399 days


#3 posted 10-29-2017 03:05 PM

why bother with a complex joint when it will never be seen?

Why bother making something from wood when you can buy some injection molded plastic version from China that costs a tenth as much as the wood to build the project?

Why bother building a dresser at all, when you could go to ikea and buy one you could knock together in an hour?

Because you can. And it’s fun.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View bandit571's profile

bandit571

18477 posts in 2500 days


#4 posted 10-29-2017 03:12 PM

Something like this?

Because the divider is laying flat. The dovetail on each end keep the sides from pulling apart at the top.

Tends to hold a bit better than a simple tenon…

Whether it shows, or not….not really an issue. As long has it holds the parts together….

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

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a1Jim

116510 posts in 3394 days


#5 posted 10-29-2017 03:15 PM

Dovetails have been used as a higher standard of joinery for years part of using dovetails has to do with strength but I feel some woodworkers want the challenge of making them or they feel all the other choices are sub-standard.
I guess it’s like buying some tires, some folks pay $800 a tire and others say a $100 tire will work fine.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

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Bobmedic

372 posts in 2618 days


#6 posted 10-29-2017 03:15 PM



why bother with a complex joint when it will never be seen?

Why bother making something from wood when you can buy some injection molded plastic version from China that costs a tenth as much as the wood to build the project?

Why bother building a dresser at all, when you could go to ikea and buy one you could knock together in an hour?

Because you can. And it s fun.

- Dave Polaschek


I do have fun woodworking but I guess I’m a bit of a utilitarian. I see joinery as a means to an end. I make the easiest joint possible that fits the strength requirement as well as aesthetics. i.e. pocket screws for face frames and dominos where the screws would show.

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Bobmedic

372 posts in 2618 days


#7 posted 10-29-2017 03:30 PM



Something like this?

Because the divider is laying flat. The dovetail on each end keep the sides from pulling apart at the top.

Tends to hold a bit better than a simple tenon…

Whether it shows, or not….not really an issue. As long has it holds the parts together….

- bandit571


Yes, exactly like that. I can see that there would be a mechanical advantage to the dovetail but what would be pulling it apart? I understand the dovetails like that on the end of a work bench where the vice would be pulling on the joint but in the example you pictured, once it’s glued together and the top is attached there is no axial force and racking will be stabilized with the top. Couldn’t the same thing be accomplished with a pinned or draw bore M&T with less effort if axial force were an issue?

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Rich

1887 posts in 406 days


#8 posted 10-29-2017 03:57 PM

Back when glues weren’t what they are today, some form of mechanical strengthening was needed. If you are trying to build a piece that’s historically accurate, you’ll need to do the same. It might be dovetails, cut nails, or screws.

Dovetails were often used in carcass joinery and then covered with moulding. They weren’t for decoration or to impress anyone with the skill of the craftsman, they were needed for strength. Same goes for drawers.

Dovetails have become a mark of finer furniture these days because they stand in contrast to the cheap, mass-produced crap held together with staples that’s so common now. And too, even with today’s glues, they still add strength.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

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Bobmedic

372 posts in 2618 days


#9 posted 10-29-2017 04:24 PM



Back when glues weren t what they are today, some form of mechanical strengthening was needed. If you are trying to build a piece that s historically accurate, you ll need to do the same. It might be dovetails, cut nails, or screws.

Dovetails were often used in carcass joinery and then covered with moulding. They weren t for decoration or to impress anyone with the skill of the craftsman, they were needed for strength. Same goes for drawers.

Dovetails have become a mark of finer furniture these days because they stand in contrast to the cheap, mass-produced crap held together with staples that s so common now. And too, even with today s glues, they still add strength.

- Rich


That sir, is a fine answer. I guess I never thought of replicating a period piece. My original post/question was meant to start a discussion however I’ve seemed to have offended some of the purists. One gentleman suggested that dovetails are done simply because you can. I find that an inadequate answer. Just because you can do something, doesn’t always mean you should. I’m a Registered Nurse and Paramedic, I could start 14 gauge IV’s (the largest) in everyone’s external jugular vein (neck). That would give a clear advantage because fluids would run better and I could draw blood more easily from them. However, this would come at the discomfort of the patient. We generally use 18-22 gauge needles. We can still get the fluid in reasonably easy and they hurt much less. Point being, there’s a time when good enough is sufficient and anything more is unnecessary.

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a1Jim

116510 posts in 3394 days


#10 posted 10-29-2017 04:29 PM

Rich
That is a better answer and I agree, it’s one of those points I knew about but couldn’t conger up in my old gray matter.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View Carloz's profile

Carloz

876 posts in 408 days


#11 posted 10-29-2017 04:35 PM


you answered your own question, strength

- PaulHWood

Not really, most of the other joints are just as strong or at least strong enough for the application. I think many times people tend to way over engineer their woodworking projects.

- Bobmedic


Are you saying that a double joint with double glue surface has the same strength as a single surface? And as other mentined “strong enough” is the phrase used in Ikea design department but not here.

View jbay's profile

jbay

1800 posts in 716 days


#12 posted 10-29-2017 04:42 PM

No “finish the debate” answer, but,
for real craftsman it doesn’t take much longer than any other joint.
If you building quality furniture I would want the fancy joints throughout the whole piece just for the craftsmanship of the piece. I wouldn’t want to have a divider screwed together with sheet rock screws just because it wont be seen.
I guess for me it would be all about the craftsmanship, overall.

A craftsman doesn’t justify his quality by doing things because it’s easier.
(If it were easy anyone could do it.) :>/

-- If anyone would like to see my Portfolio, PM me and I would be glad to send you the link.

View dubois's profile

dubois

28 posts in 1647 days


#13 posted 10-29-2017 05:24 PM

I’m skeptical of this claim that historically glues were insufficient and a dovetail could make up for this, I just don’t buy it. Probably such a choice had/has more to do expediency and making a buck. Probably something like a dovetail can be over used, though personally I would always choose it for a drawer, but there are places where it is simply needed to suffice like a for a ship’s chest – can you imagine the demands required?

View Bobmedic's profile

Bobmedic

372 posts in 2618 days


#14 posted 10-29-2017 05:24 PM


you answered your own question, strength

- PaulHWood

Not really, most of the other joints are just as strong or at least strong enough for the application. I think many times people tend to way over engineer their woodworking projects.

- Bobmedic

Are you saying that a double joint with double glue surface has the same strength as a single surface? And as other mentined “strong enough” is the phrase used in Ikea design department but not here.

- Carloz


It was a drawer divider. Roughly about 3/4 to an inch thick. I’m sure the double dovetail is stronger. I’m saying a M&T joint would achieve the same thing and in less time. In both cases the wood will fail long before the joint so it doesn’t matter.

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Bobmedic

372 posts in 2618 days


#15 posted 10-29-2017 05:37 PM



No “finish the debate” answer, but,
for real craftsman it doesn t take much longer than any other joint.
If you building quality furniture I would want the fancy joints throughout the whole piece just for the craftsmanship of the piece. I wouldn t want to have a divider screwed together with sheet rock screws just because it wont be seen.
I guess for me it would be all about the craftsmanship, overall.

A craftsman doesn t justify his quality by doing things because it s easier.
(If it were easy anyone could do it.) :>/

- jbay


By that same rationale, do you make your drawer boxes and runners/dust covers out of the same material as the whole piece? I’ll bet dollars to pesos that lesser woods are used in even the finest Stickley furniture for those applications. If dovetails are the be all end all joints then why aren’t face frames put together with them? I’ll tell you why. It’s because they are a PITA especially when other means will produce a sufficiently strong joint. Norm Abrahm put most of his stuff together with glue and brads. Is he not a “real craftsman”?

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