Quick Poll

Here’s a great philosophical one for today…

Classic wooden joints have been around for millenia. Dovetails and mortise and tenon joints were used by ancient Egyptian woodworkers back in the time of the pharaohs.

Until recently in the craft, flawlessly executing those joints has been the hallmark of a truly talented woodworker.  But, as time has passed, many new joinery methods have been developed to help shorten the learning curve for new woodworkers. Dowel joints, biscuits, pocket screws, the Festool domino and other joinery methods have allowed woodworkers of many different ability levels to build beautiful furniture without mastering the classic joints.

This week, do you believe that a true craftsperson can use these joinery methods and still be called a ‘true’ woodworker? Does it even matter?

[poll id=”145″]

19 thoughts on “Quick Poll”

  1. Definitively not the biscuits and “kreg” type fastening. I would say the a dowel (which would cover pegs/wooden pins” would have been used for a while.

  2. Let me make a comment as I put my dowel jig down :^)

    Tom you say:

    “Until recently in the craft, flawlessly executing those joints has been the hallmark of a truly talented woodworker. ”

    When did this become the criteria…did I miss……. the creation of the talented woodworker nomination committee. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t care anyway it would have an agenda.

    What is a talented woodworker??……..what is a woodworker for that matter, do I need to put dovetails in the dog house I’m making or Federal Bellflowers on my wooden post that my mailbox is attached to. I guess only “Professional Woodworkers” do that.

    What if an individual interested in making something out of wood happens by your blog and is now turned off by a Poll determining who a real woodworker is.

    Let me move to the learning curve— you say:

    “But, as time has passed, many new joinery methods have been developed to help shorten the learning curve for new woodworkers. ”

    It is true that it may shorten the time to reaching a quality crafted object, but there is no shortcut to learning how to make furniture out of wood, it is a steep and cluttered curve that only flattens with tedium. Basic joinery only entices an individual to get on the learning curve.

    I’m deciding now on a poll to determine if Krenov was a talented “Professional Woodworker” (he’ll love that moniker for sure), even though he used dowels.


  3. Yes it matters, but I think one has to consider who his/her audience is. I chose fewer as their skill develops. I follow a furniture maker who does beautiful work and has a very successful business and was surprised to see him use pocket screws on one of his projects. These things serve a purpose, but I think a woodworking who strives for continuous improvement uses a few of them as possible.

  4. Good poll Tom. I’m glad to see the voting going heavily in the more tolerant direction. 🙂 As you know, I’m pretty much a live and let live kind of guy. If someone wants to assemble some popsicle sticks with brad nails and spit, all the power to ’em. And likewise, if someone wants to use only the highest level joinery in their projects and settles for nothing less, they are certainly entitled to it. To each his/her own.

    Personally, I believe that if the item is sturdy and satisfies its intended function (even if that function is to be wall art), then I say anything goes.

    In many cases, those early successes with the more approachable types of joinery (like pocket screws and biscuits), could very well lead to a person being inspired enough to dig deeper into more traditional joinery methods. You have to start somewhere right? One of my first projects was a night stand made primarily with biscuits. Success with that project gave me the confidence to tackle a true mortise and tenon joint on the next project. That night stand is still alive and well with friends of ours in Missouri. And frankly, they could care less that its full of biscuits. 🙂

  5. Great poll. I am also glad to see that there is tolerance in the community. Even the biscuit and dowel joints can be badly done. Care in all joints is the measure of a craftsman and also the use of the joint or project as has been previously mentioned. Some places just do not need dovetails.

  6. While I don’t prefer to use them myself I don’t discount their use. Even Krenov used dowels for construction. Dowels had been used for years as a joinery method before the advent of biscuits. I tend to believe people are entitled to the joinery methods which makes them comfortable. I still think they are real woodworkers.

  7. All joinery techniques, even biscuits, pocket holes and dominos, require accurately cut pieces to fit them together without either putting strains on the joining method that will make the join fail in time, or leaving unsightly gaps.

    As someone who tends to prefer ‘traditional’ joinery and does it by hand, I don’t use other methods often. But I do find dowels a good way to align a panel glue-up.

    So long as the joint is well made, strong with a long life, accurate and consistent with the design of the piece, everything else is between the maker of the joint and his/her maker.

  8. I’m for anything that let’s me get to the real creative part of the process. I’ll use the fastest and most reliable tool possible for milling and joinery if it doesn’t get in the way or compromise the final product!!

  9. There can be beautiful furniture made with dowels and biscuits, and there can be the ugliest things made with nothing but dovetails. Traditional joinery does not equal good furniture and vice versa. The best furniture has the highest quality of joinery and are beautiful to look at.

  10. We use certain joinery techniques to arrive at a desired product: A sturdy, long-lasting piece of work. We use the traditional joinery techniques because they accomplish this. Other joinery techniques work. But are they sturdy and long-lasting? I think the jury is in on dowel joinery: It’s terrible. How many dowel joints have you seen fail? Too many. Kreg-jig joinery seems like it may, in time, become a “traditional” because it works, it’s sturdy, and I’ll bet it’ll last a long time. Biscuits? Possibly. I have a feeling that “traditional” tongue and groove would be stronger and last longer because there’s more surface area for glue, and it uses the same wood, whereas a biscuit could react adversely to different conditions. Jury’s still out.

  11. It’s hard to argue with the ease of use and success of the more modern methods… well placed pocket screws (preferably out of sight) can really speed up joinery, and need not be relegated to “mass” production shops… they LOOK identical to a mortise and tenon joint…

    As a relative beginner, I rely heavily on such methods. They help me finish projects successfully and gain confidence.

    However, I voted for “A good craftsperson uses fewer as their skills develop” because I want to become better at what i do, not just churn out finished products. Maybe you can’t tell the difference, but I’d know, and if I’m doing this for my own pleasure, I’m going to want to improve my joinery skills…

  12. I think it really depends on where and for what reason. Hey, Maloof used screws to reinforce some of his joints. I don’t think anyone can argue that he was not a gifted craftsman.

  13. I have used each method described and still do. Plus, I’ve tried projects with no external substances.
    In the end, I do what seems most appropriate at the time and what makes me happy with the results.
    Watching how you and others complete your projects gives me the confidence to try a new way to do things too.
    As long as I’m proud of the results, that what really matters to me.
    Thanks Tom

  14. interesting. I would have thought that this would generate some conversation regarding the difference/distinction between ‘craftsman’ and ‘carpenter’ (and for that matter ‘woodworker’.) in one regard, the problem with biscuits, is simply that in order to do it you need a specialty tool to install them. and you need to purchase biscuits. they are not the type of thing that you can manufacture easily yourself.

    but then I’m currently in the middle of building a fairly large boat, and have discovered in my research that a lot of boat building boils down to ‘whatever works, and whatever is pretty,’ and not necessarily in that order. the same is basically true of furniture and the like. does it matter how it is constructed, providing it does what it is meant to do and looks good doing it? if anyone is too worried about how something is constructed as the sole judging point, they’re sort of missing out.

    that being said, I harbor some suspicion of biscuit joints as they have a much larger dependency on the glue holding things together, where with a mortice and tenon, there is actually some mechanical structure holding the piece together and the glue is a safeety. oh well, whatever works…

  15. probably cheaper just to join a band… but good to hear you got a metronome. here’s a fun rhythm exercise, (you can think of it like dovetails for the bass.) take the binary sequence up to 16, (i.e. 0000, 0001, 0010, 0011,0100, etc.) and play each pattern against the metronome. just the right hand, on each open string, first at one note per tick, up to 4 notes per tick.

    it’s funny, when I was a kid taking piano lessons, I couldn’t see the point of scales, and like many of the classes I took, none of the teachers could clearly explain to me the point philosophical point of doing the exercises. it wasn’t til years later when I understood the concept of training reflexes so that when you heard a note in your head, you were trained by habit to have you fingers go where they should to mirror that music in the real world.

    It’s probably a good analogy for the answer to the question you posed in this post, no variety of joint work is going to devalue the work on its own, but for the person making the piece, the more generalized knowledge and skill you amass the more likely that you will choose a joint style based on it’s particular utility to the job at hand. the skill or quality of the craftsman is better judged by their decision to use a particular joint in a particular place than by their skill at executing the joint itself. do you want to be known for your finger technique or your musical expression… do you want to be known for your dovetails or your furniture. in either case, I’d choose the latter. (though the former is a nice bonus!)

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