Best joints to use

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Forum topic by mortalwombat posted 07-19-2012 09:32 PM 1451 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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65 posts in 2176 days

07-19-2012 09:32 PM

Topic tags/keywords: bench joints ikea junk question joining

So for my first woodworking project since High School Shop in 1999, I am going to try to build this bench:

So far, this project is my intro into SketchUp, so I am building it in there right now. I am going to make it almost identical since this is my first project, but I want to build it solid instead of the junk that I am assuming you get from Ikea.

My first question is how you handle the joints. I don’t have a ton of tools, just an old table saw, a miter saw, and a radial arm saw, plus basic hand power tools like a drill and a jig saw. I would guess I would use dowels for the joints? Is there a stronger joint I can make with the tools I have?

If I do use dowels, how do I set about drilling the holes in the ends of the boards? I am imaging it would be hard to get the holes straight and on center. I remember in shop in school we had a tool that would clamp down on the board, and run a drill bit horizontally into the board (I forget the name of that one) but I definitely don’t have access to one of those.

I want this thing to be sturdy, so I was considering a miter-like method to hold the slats, but then I don’t like the look of the miter cut all along the parts the hold the slats (Sorry I don’t know any of the correct terminology here). Ultimately, I want the strongest bench I can build with the tools I have.

7 replies so far

View Nicky's profile


695 posts in 4120 days

#1 posted 07-19-2012 10:23 PM

Your post could be answered in many different ways…this is my opinion based on the information you gave.

A table taw will allow for you to create a very precise tenons, your hand drill can be used to rough out mortise’s and a sharp chisel can be used to clean up the mortise. I highly suggest you search this site and/or youtube for the howto’s of creating a mortise and tenon joints.

Dowels would be acceptable, but the help of either a doweling jig, or a dowel center would be needed. To see examples just go to, and enter doweling jig in your search and get some ideas. A set of dowel centers will set you back $5.00, and works great.

But how about this first…You say you’ve not been in a woodshop since high school. Most people that I know that have gotten into woodworking start with a project, and use the tools available to them. This usually results in projects that don’t come out the way we like. This happens because most people are not familiar with the tools they are using, or the proper way to build a project. I don’t know what your abilities are, but from the list of tools you have what’s needed to complete the project. Using sketchup implies that you’re willing to take the time to think through a design.

Next steps are easy:
1. Familiarize yourself with your tools. Are they adjusted properly, and are they in good working order? Do this if for no other reason than your safety.
2. Familiarize yourself with the build of a project.; dozens of web sites with videos, including ljs, new yankee workshop, the wood whisperer and many more.. This should give you some idea of the steps required to build a project, some information on the proper use of the tools, and general information about woodworking.

Best of luck with your project.

-- Nicky

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2999 days

#2 posted 07-19-2012 10:40 PM

Mortise and tenons for sure are the best, and strongest joint to use.
And not any harder than trying to get dowels to line up, IMHO.

There are some simple bench plans out there that use half lap joints and those are almost as good. And, can be cut with nothing more than a circular saw, or a radial arm saw, or table saw. I think you have at least 2 of those 3.

View AJswoodshop's profile


1057 posts in 2305 days

#3 posted 07-19-2012 10:55 PM

Table saws are good with well-built jigs. Mattias Wandel has a really nice box joint jig video on youtube that I would highly reccomend building that jig. Also a quick set tenon jig is great to. He also has great homeade tools for making other joints. Check him out!


View jdmaher's profile


430 posts in 2608 days

#4 posted 07-19-2012 11:08 PM

What wood are you going to use? Let’s assume nice cheap douglas fir from the home center, just for the sake of discussion.

I strongly encourage you to use mortise and tenon joinery. NOT dowels. It’s easier and a stronger.

Here’s a “sketchy” description of what to do.

Cut the legs from 2×4s, at the height you like, two pieces glued together for each leg.

Cut the bottom rails from 1×4s, each piece 2” longer than the width / depth you want.

Cut the aprons just like the bottom rails.

Cut the top boards from 5/4×6” (look for decking material at the home store), to the length you want. Cut enough boards for the depth of table you want (think 15” or 20”). Edge glue them together to make the top.

Cut the slats from 1×4s, to the depth you want.

Mark and cut 1” deep and 1/2” wide and 2” long mortises (as Nicky suggested). Then, use the tablesaw to make the 1” long, 1/2” thick, 2” wide tenons on the ends of the bottom rail and apron boards, “sneaking up” on the size of each individual tenon ‘til it just fits its individual corresponding mortise without pounding – and doesn’t fall out.

Cut a 3/4” wide and 3/8” deep dado on the top of the front and back rails (hint, two cuts on the tablesaw, or use a dado stack).

Dry assemble (no glue), and trim each slat to fit on the “ledge” formed by the dados you just cut (the slats might NOT be precisely the same length).

Glue up the two side assemblies. Glue the side assemblies together with the long rails and long aprons. Spot glue each slat to the ledge. Use “figure 8” top fasteners to attache the top. Finish as desired.

Do it first in Sketchup. That will familiarize you with the ideas. Now, Sketchup is exact, so you can safely use copies of pieces (“components” in Sketchup). In the real world, wood ain’t exact – that’s why I highlighted individual fitting of each joint.

Those operations are also “sketchy”, so think it through before you do it. For example, square edges are a virtual necessity, so you’ll probably want to trim 1/4” of each edge of the boards you buy (to eliminate the provided roundover edge). For details, come back here or Google how to do each operation.

You’re gonna have fun!

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

View mortalwombat's profile


65 posts in 2176 days

#5 posted 07-19-2012 11:51 PM

Wow. Such good info! Mortise and Tenon makes a lot of sense, except I don’t have a set of chisels yet. Ideally, this would be done for free. I want to blow my wife away by saying “Look what I did for free! Now wouldn’t it be a great investment if I were to have better tools?!” lol. That, and money is tight right now. Real tight.

I have been keeping an eye on craigslist for good scrap wood. I guess I would have to buy a dowel jig, and I would have to buy dowels too. Or I would just have to buy a set of chisels. How much would a reasonable set of chisels run me?

@jdmaher – Thanks for the detailed instructions! That will really help :)

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2514 days

#6 posted 07-20-2012 12:09 AM

I use these chisels, which can probably be found at any of your Big Orange Box stores. They don’t cost a fortune and they’re not bad for the money. I’ve had mine for almost a year and I don’t feel the need to upgrade just yet.

-- Brian Timmons -

View mortalwombat's profile


65 posts in 2176 days

#7 posted 07-23-2012 04:00 PM

Thanks BTimmons! I’ll probably get those or something really similar

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