The word “joinery” refers to a set of methods for attaching two or more pieces of wood together (i.e. joints), as we do when building furniture. For centuries, Japanese and Chinese woodworkers used complex, interlocking joints to connect pieces of wood, utilizing nothing but friction— no glue, no nails, no screws— to bond the wood components. But most fine furniture that’s built today employs a combination of cut surfaces, held together with quality adhesives, and where necessary, reinforced with fasteners.
Joints and joinery
Some joints, such as dovetails and miters, are prized for their beauty and the skill required to execute them. Others, like mortise and tenon and lap joints, are woodworkers’ go-to joints for strength and endurance. The tongue and groove joints commonly used in cabinet doors and hardwood floors, are glue-less, allowing the wood to expand and contract with seasonal changes in temperature and humidity. And the humble, reliable dado joint combines the speed of execution with ease of assembly and perfectly captures the mating workpiece with glue surface all around. A cabinet, dresser or bookcase built with snug-fitting, glued-together dado joints will last for decades.
The characteristics of wooden joints – strength, flexibility, toughness, appearance, and ease of execution – derive from the properties of the materials involved and the purpose of the joint. Choosing the best type of joint isn’t always easy. But whatever the choice, the use of time-tested methods that are appropriate for each application is a hallmark of high-quality solid wood furniture.
Inspect your joints
So the next time you’re shopping for wooden furniture, do as we do. Get down on your hands and knees and inspect it from underneath. See how it’s made. Imagine how you’ll use it, think about where the stresses to the furniture will occur, and ask the salesperson what joints are used in those high-stress areas. And, where you see lots of screws (or God forbid, nails), inquire about the joinery that’s inside that wood connection. If the answer is “nothing,” we recommend you find something else to buy.
Kitizo furniture joints
At Kitizo, we use a variety of joints, steering towards those that are easily produced in the mid-sized Massachusetts shop that manufactures our wood components, while maintaining an emphasis on strength, beauty, and ease of assembly for our customers, many of whom are new to woodworking. For example, the components of our popular Flip Chair furniture kit are held together with glued dadoes. The eight attractive cabinet screws act as clamps while the glue dries, but also remain to add strength and a design element to the piece. In the same collection, our Activity Stool utilizes super-strong mortise and tenon joints to hold the three legs to the wooden under-seat bracket, ensuring that if your little one tips it forward or back while sitting down, the legs will stay attached!