Woodworking craftsmen have invented many clever ways of joining pieces of wood and timber together, many of them are as decorative as they are practical, but for most DIY, general Joinery, and home maintenance a few basic woodworking joints will work for most projects or repairs.
Here’s our guide to the best woodworking joints to use for home renovation and DIY.
How to make Butt joints
One of the simplest types of woodworking joints is the Butt joint, they are easy to make and will hold wood together well, although they may not be the strongest of joints.
I have added a list of useful tools that you need to help create these woodworking joints and many others:
- Speed Square or combination Square
- Tennon Saw
- Marking knife
- Marking gauge
- Wood glue
- Wood Chisels
- Speed clamps
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To make a Butt joint cut a piece of timber square at one end and butt it up against the adjoining piece, glue can be used to hold the joint, I recommend using some kind of mechanical fixing such as panel pins or screws to hold the joint together.
Because timber end grain does not glue very well, and there is a small surface area holding the joint, if you use glue only to fix a butt joint the adhesive alone may not hold the joint and it can quickly fail.
There are a few ways you can improve the strength of a butt joint, firstly you can use panel pins or nails to reinforce the joint. I find that it is a good idea to drive the nails in at an angle, this helps to clamp the two pieces together and form a much stronger butt joint, do not make the angle too steep otherwise the nails will pierce the wood and stick out the sides.
Another great way to reinforce a butt joint, is by using screwed-on metal angle brackets or T-shaped fixing plates, they can be homemade to fit your joint or you can use store-bought ironmongery.
Another option to create a strong butt joint is to fix a reinforcing plate across the outsides of the joint, the plate can be made from plywood or metal and sandwiches the timber on both sides, and can be screwed, glued or nailed in place,
Metal timber connectors can also add strength to a butt joint and have sharp, pointed teeth which will grip the timber. These are fixed into the wood by hamming the teeth into the surface, these then act as a bed of nails to create a strong joint.
Using corner blocks is another simple and effective way to support and strengthen a butt joint.
Often created using a square or triangular block of wood, fixed into the angle between the two components to create a strong joint, these are often called gusset joints.
The blocks are either pinned and glued or screwed into the inside corners against both sides of the butt joint.
Ideally, the blocks need to be cut square to ensure the two pieces of the butt joint are perpendicular when fixed.
How to make Overlap joints
You can make a simple overlap joint by laying one piece of timber or square cut board across another and fixing it with screws or nails. Overlap joints are as simple as butt joints to make and are used for creating simple frames or supports.
When creating this type of joint I find it best to use several screws in a non-regular pattern, using at least two fixings placed diagonally can create a strong joint.
Dowels can also be used in place of screws to fix the joint and are a traditional method that has been used by craftsmen for centuries in many buildings and pieces of furniture.
To create a strong overlap joint, clamp the components together and hold them accurately with a G-clamp, then drill pilot holes into both pieces and a clearance hole in the uppermost piece for the screws, use a countersink bit to make the screw heads flush, remove the Clamp and apply glue and then screw the components together again to hold them strong.
Overlap joints can be used to make temporary frames or supports for all sorts of DIY projects around the home and garden and can be created at almost any angle, to keep an overlap joint square, clamp a framing or speed square to one side of the joint, and use this as a guide.
How to make halving joints
Halving joints are often used to join lengths of wood at a corner or T-joint or where components cross one another, they can be made so that the edges are side or edge on, some craftsmen refer to this as a lap joint, which is not technically correct, you can find out about lap joints later in this post.
Cutting a T-halving joint, first lay the cross rail on top of the side rail and mark the width of the housing on it with a marking knife or pencil, then extend the lines halfway down each side of the rail, this will form the edge of the shoulders that make the halving joint housing.
Using a marking gauge set to exactly half the thickness of the rails, score the center lines on both rails, this is the depth of each housing and will be the main joining face.
Next, you can mark the shoulder of the tongue on the Cross rail, I recommend that you make this a little longer than the width of the side rail, as this allows you extra material for trimming to create the final joint.
With the side rail and cross rail marked out, you can cut the tongue and the housing of each piece. There are several ways to do this using power tools but as we are considering everyone I will use basic tools here.
Place the Cross rail at an angle in a vice and using a hand saw cut down to the shoulder on one edge always keep the saw to the scrap side of the line, then turn the rail over and saw down to the shoulder mark on the opposite edge, this will leave a V shape in the centre of the rail.
Lastly cut the V away and make the cut square to the shoulder line. To remove the scrap cut across the shoulder mark leaving the first part of the halving joint.
The next step is to cut the housing in the side rail, using a hand saw, cut down both the shoulder lines to the halfway mark, this will form the sides of the halving joint housing.
To remove the material between the edges you have just made, make several saw cuts across the area to be removed as scrap this makes cutting the scrap way easier and will take less time
Use a sharp chisel to remove the waste between the cut lines, working from both sides carefully shaving the material away to form the bottom of the halving joint housing.
Once you are happy with the joint it can be fixed together, for this joint wood glue will form a bond that is stronger than the wood itself.
Evenly spread some wood glue on all the surfaces that will be touching, then assemble the joint and clamp it in place, check the joint is square once more, wipe away any excess glue that has squeezed out, and then leave the joint to dry.
Once the glue has hardened and the joint is set you can plane off the excess material on the end of the tongue so that it is flush with the side rail.
Making a halving joint for a corner is almost the same and a T halving joint. But rather than one housing cut into a side rail you form the joint using 2 identical tongues.
To join two pieces of wood using a halving joint to create a corner, both pieces are cut halfway through the thickness of the pieces, then joined so they create a joint that matches the total thickness of the timber, hence the name. The timber pieces of the joint are known as rails, one is the cross rail and the other is the side rail.
First, lay one piece on top of the other at the position you want the joint to be made. Mark the width of the tongues on the lower and upper workpiece using a marking knife.
Then as we did previously for the T halving joint, extend the marks halfway down the side of the rails, and then using a marking gauge that is set to half the thickness of the material, score the centres of both rails.
You can now cut two identical tongues in the ends of each rail and remove the scrap with a chisel, just as before.
Check the joint fits together and make any adjustments that are needed once you are happy with the position and fit, apply wood glue to both pieces and clamp and set the joint until the glue is dry, you can also use screws or pins to hold the joint whilst the glue sets.
Another variation on the halving joint is the cross configuration. This is the opposite of the corner joint in that it uses 2 housings cut into the rails and to form a cross and has no tongues.
The easiest way to cut a cross halving joint is to lay both rails side by side and mark them at the same time, this makes the marking shoulder lines much more accurate and more likely to match once cut.
Then separate components and mark the center of the rails with a marking gauge, just as we did before.
Again using a hand saw, cut down the shoulder lines and make several cuts across the scrap material and remove the waste with a sharp chisel just as before.
Check the fit of the two pieces ensuring they are square and the surfaces are flush, if you need to trim or adjust the rails to get a good snug fit.
Then bond the joint using wood glue and clamps and allow it to set before finishing.
How to cut a lap joint
A lap joint is another simple to make joint that is often used in woodworking for joining together two wide boards at a corner.
To cut a lap joint, first make sure the boards are cut square at the ends, take the first board and use it to Mark out the width of the rebate on the other board,
Set a marking gauge about at half the board thickness and Mark out the tongue on one edge
Using a tenon saw cut follow the marking and cut the rebate, Check the joint is even and cut square.
The lap joint will be pretty strong once glued together, apply wood glue to both sides of the joint and clamp the two edges together, to make the joint hold fast while the glue dries, use some dovetail or pin nails to hold the boards in place.
How to cut mitre joints
Mitre joints are another fairly simple joint to make, they are often used for joining corners of frames or worktops, they are very useful for creating accurate corners with decorative mouldings and skirting boards or baseboards.
A right-angle Mitre joint is made by cutting the ends of two workpieces at 45 degrees, this is best done using a Mitre box, r guide, as this helps to keep the saw straight and plumb.
For really accurate 90 degree joints, trimming them down to the required length with a finely set plane held on a shooting board will keep the workpiece from moving around and can be set up quickly, this is a good way to create lots of corners as the setting will be the same until the jig is moved.
Assemble the joints using a Mitre clamp or corner clamp, this will help keep the corner square. If the joining faces of the rails are wide and have a large surface area, then wood glue by itself should be strong enough to hold them together,
However, you can reinforce Mitre joints by cutting slots across the joint and adding strips of plywood or veneer into the slot, for decorative joint try using a hardwood like walnut, once the glue has hardened,the strips can be planed flush and sanded before finish is applied.
What Tools do you need to make basic joints?
To be able to make simple joints like these, there are a few basic tools you may need here are a few we recommenced you invest in that will help you to create great joints and complete your DIY projects with ease:
This article was written by: Richard Quinton – The DIY Help Desk Owner, Engineer & technical specialist.
Richard is one of the key partners in The DIY Help Desk team. He is a qualified Engineer, writer, and publisher, educated to Master’s level. He is a keen advocate of DIY and home improvements.
Richard enjoys helping others to learn new skills and reach their goals and believes that passing his knowledge and experience on through his writing is an effective way to positively impact the lifestyles and well-being of others on a larger scale.