Mortise and Tenon versus Dovetail

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by Texchappy posted 05-03-2012 01:04 PM 13099 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Texchappy's profile


252 posts in 2215 days

05-03-2012 01:04 PM

Which is a strong joint: Mortise and Tenon or Dovetail?

Question comes out of a brief comment I saw in a youtube video I saw where it mentions the dovetail relies on it’s strength from end grain. As a new woodworker don’t understand all the ‘mechanics of grain’ but on the surface it makes sense.

-- Wood is not velveeta

6 replies so far

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2965 days

#1 posted 05-03-2012 01:31 PM

They are both strong joints; typically used in different applications.

I wouldn’t attach a table’s apron to a leg with a dovetail; that’s better done with a mortise and tennon joint.

Likewise, I wouldn’t attach a drawer corner with a mortise and tennon, the dovetail or finger joint is better.

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 2920 days

#2 posted 05-03-2012 01:31 PM

I think they are both strong, but for different applications.

Dovetails are better for items such as drawer boxes, where the interlocking of the pins and tails creates a strong natural “mechanical” bond.

Mortise and Tenon is better suited where you have larger frame members to join, such as table stretchers or a large panel door. Don’t think I have seen a dovetailed door…

Hope that helps a bit.

9 seconds after crank, I see we are both on the same thought process.

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2992 days

#3 posted 05-03-2012 02:03 PM

A better comparison would be dovetails vs. box joints (also called finger joints by some)

With modern glues, the finger joints will be stronger but the stresses you need to break either are way outside normal usage. It becomes a question of aesthetics and tools. Finger joints are easier to make by machine than dovetails and the dovetails are easier by hand than finger joints.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2258 days

#4 posted 05-03-2012 02:59 PM

As the other have said, they are both strong joints but they are typically used in different applications. Joinery is a fairly large portion of woodworking and even having a basic understanding of the different joints is very important to durable, long-lasting construction (especially when it comes to furniture and cabinetry/cases).

Does anyone have any recommendations of a book for Texchappy in order to give some basic descriptions of the common joints and when they should be used?

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View AJLastra's profile


87 posts in 2223 days

#5 posted 05-03-2012 03:02 PM


Taunton Press’s “Joinery”. Cant remember who helped compile that volume but its got everything you need to know about every type of woodworking joint. There are a few other titles in that series too. Jeff Jewitt did the one titled”Finishing.”

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2242 days

#6 posted 05-03-2012 03:28 PM

These two types of joints are both exceptionally strong, but not interchangeable. To understand joinery, you need to understand what each type of joint is needed for. note I am a woodworking newbie in practice, but I have studied it for a long time. I like to fully understand what I am doing, and more importantly why I am doing it before I start

Before you decide what joint to cut/make, you need to first understand what kind of stress the joint will receive. There are 4 main ones:

Tension – Imagine pulling a pen cap off of a pen.
sheer – Imaging snapping a branch off a tree by pushing it up and pulling it down
Racking – Imagine wiggling a plug out of a socket.
Compression – Imagine pushing a sharpened pencil into a piece of cardboard. This would result in a compression failure.

A mortise and tenon is a good choice for every stress but tension. It can be easily pulled apart. In most joints where dovetails are used, one of the major stresses is tension (such as opening drawers). If you’ve ever put a dovetail together to find it needs to be pulled apart/adjusted, you will quickly see that it is not good under racking stresses.


Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics