The average set of kitchen cabinets relies on butt joints and dado joints. High-end chests or other exclusive drawers often feature complicated joinery, such as the dovetail and finger joint, that require extra time and effort. Modern fasteners and glues have delegated the dovetail joint to mostly an aspect of aesthetics. There are numerous variations, but simple joints function just as well as their complicated counterparts.
The butt joint is the most common production joint and consists of two pieces butted together at 90 degrees. When combined with glue and fasteners, the butt joint is strong and reliable. Butt joints rely on square, clean edges that fit together flat. If you're building a drawer using butt joints, check the ends of each piece with a try square to make sure they're 90 degrees. If need be, adjust the saw and trim them again to make them square. Butt joints typically include at least four woodworking staples through each joint, with adequate glue to cover contact points. Pneumatic brads are another option if you're concerned about aesthetics, as nail holes are easily filled. The butt joint is typically used when the drawer box is built separately from the drawer front. The drawer front is installed on the drawer from the inside with screws, and hides any staples or other fasteners from view.
Sometimes referred to as a half-lap, the rabbet joint is widely used on drawers. The rabbet joint consists of a channel, half the thickness of the material, cut along one edge of an adjoining part to create a shelf or lip. The resulting lip fits snug over the other component or part. The joint is typically fastened together with brads or staples after adding glue. Because of the overlapping design, the rabbet joint is considered slightly stronger than the butt joint. The rabbet joint is typically used when the drawer box is built separately from the drawer front.
The dado joint consists of a channel cut vertically so the drawer ends fit into it. The dado is a channel the same width as the material thickness, and half the depth of the material thickness. The ends of adjoining pieces fit into the channels. Nails or staples are used to bond the pieces together after adding glue. The dado joint can be used to secure the drawer sides to the drawer front, or the drawer box can be built separately using the dado joint, with the drawer front attached to the box with screws. The dado joint is considered stronger than the rabbet joint because one piece fits inside the corresponding piece.
Lots of options exist for wooden drawer joints, most of them springing from variations on the rabbet and dado joint. For example, for a tongued rabbet, the dado channel can be positioned along the ends of the joint to create a short tenon. A corresponding dado is cut along the ends of adorning pieces to create additional tenons and mortises. The double tenons add strength to the joint, but require additional time and effort, plus a bit more effort to create the joint. This type of joint will suffice without nails or staples if clamps are used to hold it tight until the glue dries.
One of the most common features of high-end furniture includes the dovetail joint. This exclusive joint relies on special equipment to accomplish. The familiar triangle shape of the dovetail joint, visible from the side of the drawer, adds aesthetic beauty -- if you're concerned about it. The dovetail is a mark of craftsmanship held over from the early days of woodworking. It's not necessarily any stronger than other types of joints, but the presence of a dovetail joint means that the drawer has been manufactured to a high standard of quality.
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