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Woodworking Techniques: Joining Pieces

In some cases, depending on the type of joints used in the project, the assembled piece can stand as it is. However, for most applications, particularly those intended to bear additional loads, such as cabinets and tables, reinforcing the joint is important for it to hold up to the task. There are three different methods commonly employed by woodworkers in strengthening joints: gluing, nailing, and screwing.

Woodworking Techniques joinery


1. Gluing wood

Gluing is the quickest way of joining wood, as you simply slather the glue on the pieces, join them together, and let the glue set. However, to give the joint maximum strength, there are a few important considerations.

First, think about grain orientation. Joints that have the pieces’ respective grains running parallel to each other tends to have a stronger bond, as the glue is able to “grip” the wood fibers of both pieces along their entire length. A joint that has the grains of both pieces running perpendicular to each other is going to be weaker and may need additional reinforcements.


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Glue coverage also plays a big role in the strength of the joint. What you want to get is a consistent and even coverage on the entire surface of the joint. Ensure the glue is evenly absorbed or retained by the wood. In case you spot a section that is “drier” than other sections, this means that the wood has already absorbed the glue and can cause a weak joint. Apply a generous amount of glue onto the spot to regain coverage.

Environment also plays a large role in how the glue cures and performs. Temperature, in particular, affects how strong the glue would be. Most wood glues are able to perform for up to 50 degrees Celsius. Higher than that and the glue starts to soften, weakening the joint. Moisture is another environmental factor to consider; excessive moisture softens the wood itself and weakens a joint. Lastly, the glued joint must also be free of contaminants that can cause the glue to fail. Sawdust, in particular, can settle onto the pieces and interfere.

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2. Nailing

Of the three different methods of joining wood, nailing is the most common. Nails offer a strong fastener on joints that will last a long time. However, the strength of the nailed joint will depend on how well the nail is driven into the pieces.

A wood split is one defect that can greatly affect the strength of a nailed joint. Even a small split can gradually widen, weakening the grip of the nail over time. To avoid this, you need to know how to drive a nail into wood without splitting the later.

To successfully drive nails into wood without splitting, you first need to have the right nails. Check the point for its shape, a chisel-shaped point is more likely to wedge into and split the wood. To correct this, tap the sharp end of the nail with your hammer to blunt it. The blunted edge will be able to cut through the wood instead of wedging into and splitting it. It would also be advisable to use the smallest nails that you can for the particular task.


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You can also make it a lot easier for the nails to drive through the wood. Lubricating the nails with petroleum jelly is a particularly useful trick when dealing with hardwoods like maple or oak. Alternately, you can pre-drill a pilot hole to guide the nail through with less force. Make sure the hole is slightly smaller than the diameter of the whole to provide enough grip.

Where you drive the nails will also determine whether or not a split can occur. The edge or end of the board, for instance, has little material on one side, which could cause them to easily open when a nail is driven through. As such, it would be better to drive a nail further in from the end or edge to have more material support it. Avoid driving nails near or on knots, as these are made from the heartwood, which is harder and less flexible than sapwood.

In case you notice a crack starting to form around the nail, it would be best to take the nail out and look for another spot to drive the nail into. Alternatively, you can select a different fastening method that would be better suited for that area.

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3. Using Screws

Screws work in the same way as nails in that both hold pieces together through friction. However, the screw provides a stronger hold, as it has more surface area (courtesy of the screw pattern) to grip the wood. The screw is also ideal if you are looking for a fastener that can be easily removed when needed.

A good quality screwed joint starts with well-done attachment holes, called pilot holes. The pilot hole serves to guide the screw as it is driven through the pieces to be joined, preventing the wood from splitting. To create a pilot hole, mark where this would be drilled. Create an indent on the mark using a center punch or a nail. When determining the size of bit to use in drilling the hole, use a bit that is slightly smaller than the screw size you intend to use. This will give the screw enough material to grip while still being easy to insert it.


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Begin drilling the whole by positioning the bit’s tip into the indent. Ensure the whole drill is in the angle you want to the screw to go in. Use only the right speed setting for the particular wood you are working on and firmly support the drill to prevent it from wobbling. Once you have drilled through the same length as the screw you are using, carefully back the bit out from the whole.

To install the screw, fit an appropriate sized screwdriver bit for your drill, or select a matching screwdriver. Place the tip of the screw into the hole and slowly set it into place, carefully ensuring that it remains in the angle intended. Don’t push too hard on the screw and simply let it fit into place to avoid damaging it or the hole.

More about joinery here.

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