The type of joint used in the construction of a piece of furniture may determine its strength and longevity. The stronger and better crafted a piece of furniture, in particular the joints, the longer the piece will last. Joint construction in furniture encompasses many techniques, but the concepts are borne of techniques used for centuries.
Mortise and Tenon Joints
Based on one of the oldest techniques known, this type of joint dates back several thousand years and its origins are attributed to the early Egyptians. In a mortise and tenon joint, a squared peg is set into a squared hole. An exact fit results in a tight, almost immovable joint. This joint may be used to fit a rail to the leg of a chair or a bed post to a bed frame.
The dovetail joint, like the mortise and tenon, involves fitting a shaped piece into a shaped hole. The dovetail joint, however, employs two or three wedge-shaped cuts slid into wedge-shaped cutouts. The wedges and the cutouts come together at a right angle, forming the corner joint in a drawer or chest.
A basic construction, the butt joint consists of two pieces of wood set at a right angle. The face of one piece of wood is set on top of the edge of another piece; the end of the faced piece lines up with the side of the edged piece. The two pieces are then joined using nails drilled through the top of the faced piece and into the edged piece. This joint may be used for case goods and cabinetry.
The joining of two components by dowel resembles mortise and tenon in that two pieces of wood are joined by putting a shaped piece into a shaped hole. The dowel is a small round projection that fits into an equally sized hole in the component that needs to be joined to the first component. The holes may be drilled on the face of one piece, near the edge, and the doweled edge of the other piece then fitted into it. Glue is needed to secure the dowels into place.
Joints usually require adhesion in the form of glue, although the addition of glue in furniture making was not used until the 15th century. Animal glue, an adhesive resulting from the boiling of animal feet and skin, has been used for over 300 years to fix joints in furniture making. A glue used in contemporary times is polyvinylacetate (PVA), known as white glue. A synthetic adhesive, PVA is less susceptible to temperature changes than animal glue and is readily available.
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