Joints that line up...or how I'm completely incapable of doing precision woodworking.

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Forum topic by Goonie posted 10-14-2013 10:30 AM 2592 views 1 time favorited 42 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Goonie's profile


20 posts in 1699 days

10-14-2013 10:30 AM

Just started my first proper woodworking project, that being Bandsaw, and one thing I’ve quickly learned, is that making joints that actually line up 100% of the time is some kind of sorcery to me.

I cut each piece perfectly. Measured them all up, each board is square, and come glue up time where I was expecting to put together a puzzle, it’s anything but.

So what can the wizards of old teach me about this? What am I doing wrong? I’m using 1×6 s4s pine from the local big box store, and don’t have a planer or jointer yet. Would that be the culprit?

42 replies so far

View Benvolio's profile


148 posts in 1925 days

#1 posted 10-14-2013 07:36 PM

knife walls are your friends!!

Paul explains here

If you’re currently using a pencil to trace the outside of one joining peice to the other – then when you cut them you need to make sure you’re cutting INSIDE the pencil line so the line remains visible at the end of the cut. Think about what’s happening there – if you were to saw along the line, you’ve created but running a pencil on the outside of your joining piece then your mortice/pocket/rebate etc will be two pencil widths wider than it needs to be. In the world of tight joinery – that counts for a lot!

As fine wood workers we use knives to mark out our joinery.

1) place your piece to be fitted (we’ll call this the tenon) where you want it to meet the pice you want to cut (we’ll call this a mortice but the principles are the same whether cutting with a saw or chisel)

2) grab a stanley knife (more refined knives are avaiable but a stanley will get you started) and trace the outline of the tenon onto your mortice piece. To make it super accurate, you should lean the blade out slightly so the natural bevel of the blade edge runs flush along the wood.

3) with your score line in place, you can grab a sharp chisel and in the waste side of the line, you can pare away the top 0.5-1mm beside the line. This will give you a little channel for your saw to run inside, or your morticing chisel to reference from.

using the knife wall will not only make your joints accurate to the width of the sharp edge of a knife blade, but will also help you prevent tear out from the saw, and will give you give you a helping hand to get your cut started.

-- Ben, England.

View Goonie's profile


20 posts in 1699 days

#2 posted 10-14-2013 07:40 PM

Hey Ben,

Great tips, however in this case, I’m talking about cuts made on a table saw.
For instance, if I take a cut list, and cut everything to measure up, when it comes time to the glue up, things aren’t perfect anymore. It’s strange.

View BigMig's profile


438 posts in 2607 days

#3 posted 10-14-2013 08:03 PM

One thing I learned is to NOT cut out all parts at the beginning – but instead, cut out only the parts for one joint. Test these parts in a dry-fit situation, then move along to the next set of parts. Try to avoid gluing up EVERYTHING at once, but instead, glue up in sub-assemblies wherever possible. Then glue together the subassemblies. That could allow for better fits.

Just ideas, but I hope they help.

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1567 posts in 3559 days

#4 posted 10-14-2013 08:21 PM

Framing lumber can be wet, are you bringing the wood home and letting it stabilize for a few days/weeks? The wood may be moving after you cut it, Try cutting to a rough dimension then stack it and let it dry for a week or so then make your final cut.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View toddl1962's profile


29 posts in 1923 days

#5 posted 10-14-2013 08:48 PM

I have also found that when I rip pine boards sometimes there are stresses in the wood that cause the resulting edge not to be straight. In fact those stresses have caused the wood to bind against the blade at times!

Before I had a jointer I would route the edges of the boards using a table edge (known straight, of course) to create pretty good joints. If you don’t have a router you’re completely dependent on the quality of your tablesaw and wood for straight edges.

-- Todd

View Goonie's profile


20 posts in 1699 days

#6 posted 10-14-2013 09:05 PM

The wood is supposedly kiln dried…so I never really thought. I cut my pieces weeks ago, and am still in the process of doing the frame glue up. ( Don’t have nearly the time I thought I did going into this! LOL )

I know I need a jointer and a planer…just don’t have the money, and there aren’t any on Craigslist in my area.

View knotscott's profile


8007 posts in 3370 days

#7 posted 10-14-2013 09:17 PM

How were you squaring/flattening your boards without a jointer? If things were really flat and square you should be fine.

I ask because many folks resort to doing edge jointing with a router or table saw if they don’t have a jointer….it helps and can be close, but it doesn’t necessarily create a true reference point. A jointer’s primary task is to flatten a reference face, and then square an adjacent edge….if the jointer is true, the board will be flat on one face and perfectly square on one edge….then the board is ready for the planer to make the other side parallel to the reference face, and ultimately to be ripped to final width. There’s a difference between a board that “appears” to be flat, and one that is truly flat….if the face of the board isn’t truly flat, the attempts to square an edge with the TS or router will be somewhat random and won’t necessarily be a true 90° to the face, which can ultimately cause things to not line up well.

My method is pretty much what Norm Abrams, David Marks, Tommy Mack, and the Woodsmith Shop gang do:
1. Create a flat reference face on the jointer
2. Flip the board on edge with the flat face against the jointer fence, and edge joint a square 90° edge to the reference face.
3. Put the board flat face down on the planer and make the top face parallel to the reference face at final thickness…you now have two flat faces that are parallel to each other at a uniform thickness, plus there’s one perfectly square edge adjacent to both faces.
4. Put the square edge against the TS fence and rip to final width.
5. Crosscut to length.

There are other methods for flattening and squaring besides a jointer, but it’s the most efficient and effective method that I know of. It’s really all about creating a reference point on the board to use against your tool’s reference points.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Goonie's profile


20 posts in 1699 days

#8 posted 10-14-2013 09:18 PM

I buy s4s…and rip and cut on the table saw.

That’s all I can do for right now without a joiner and a planer. =(

View knotscott's profile


8007 posts in 3370 days

#9 posted 10-14-2013 09:39 PM

S4S can still move on you after you buy it….and who knows how flat and square it really was in the first place.

I’d save my pennies and look for a good deal on CL…..a used planer and/or 6” jointer are a reasonable starting point IMO. You’ll make up the cost when you start buying rough sawn lumber, reclaimed, or repurposed lumber, etc.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View JAAune's profile


1797 posts in 2311 days

#10 posted 10-14-2013 11:09 PM

Reality Check:

You think you cut your parts 21” long and with 90 degree joints. The reality is that you cut several parts 20.987” and several 21.011” long. The joint angles vary from 89.997-90.014 degrees. When the first parts get glued up there’s a tiny gap in the joint so now the parts take on a new angle.

Now if your furniture requires three dozen operations to complete, multiple the above errors 36 times. Each cut and each joint puts your work further out of the intended position.

Factor in shrinkage, swelling and warping and everything becomes impossible to assemble properly.

The best way to work is to cut your parts over-sized and set them aside while you begin the first portion of the project. Measure, mark and fit each assembly as it is needed.

I have everything designed and modeled perfectly on the computer before I start building anything. However, I still don’t try to cut all the parts at once. I work with small portions and fit them together carefully as I go. My measurements don’t need to be perfectly on target so long as they fit exactly where they need to go.

-- See my work at and

View HerbC's profile


1754 posts in 2853 days

#11 posted 10-14-2013 11:48 PM

If you’re using construction grade lumber, the KD stamp is usually a KD19 stamp, meaning the lumber is kiln dried to 19% moisture content. It should dry further in shop before you start milling parts.

Good Luck!

Be Careful!


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View RPhillips's profile


1177 posts in 1830 days

#12 posted 10-15-2013 12:00 AM

Good Info here for us wood noobs!

-- Rob - Indianapolis IN - Learning... one mistake at a time...

View firefighterontheside's profile


18152 posts in 1851 days

#13 posted 10-15-2013 12:03 AM

I’d say since you don’t have the tools used for straightening at your fingertips, it’s very important that you get the straightest boards that you can. When I buy from HD or other I will commonly go through 10 boards to get one good one. When you take it to the table saw look at both sides and pick the best side to put against the fence. If you put a concave side against the fence you will end up with a ripped board that is narrower in the middle. When you put the convex side against the fence you will get a ripped board that has the same curve as the original, which will be better. Also all that other stuff that the others have suggested.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View Goonie's profile


20 posts in 1699 days

#14 posted 10-15-2013 12:07 AM

All great tips guys…I’ve been watching craigslist for a long time…nothing but those crappy old sears jointer/planers that people want 200-300 for! Crazy.

View Joshua Oehler's profile

Joshua Oehler

169 posts in 1685 days

#15 posted 10-15-2013 12:25 AM

I agree with you. I have a stack of beautiful wood just begging for me to start on some xmas presents, no planer and a bad jointer and no way possible to spend money on them I am stuck with being frustrated and not even wanting to go to the garage. I have been watching craigslist and papers in my area for about 2 years for those items and a bandsaw and haven’t found anything that isn’t a pile of rust or only about $25 cheaper than a brand new one. I broke down and spent the money on a porter cable benchtop jointer about 1 1/2 years ago thinking it would be better than what I had which was nothing…I now am about $200 poorer and still have nothing lol. Without having much expierience fine tuning tools I can’t figure out whats wrong with it. Everything I find on how to properly tune it requires another $100 in finely tuned straight edges, gauges, specialty shims and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t afford. It is a frustrating feeling for sure

-- - "But old news can change, as memories float downstream. So don't judge me by my failures, only by my dreams"

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