If you scroll through the furniture in my shop or follow along on Instagram, you may have seen me mention the term "traditional joinery." The type of joinery I use in my pieces is important to me, and ultimately it's the reason my furniture works.
So, what the hell is joinery, and why do I keep talking about it?
The quickest definition of “joinery” is a technique woodworkers use to connect (or join, get it?) pieces of wood together. But from there nothing else about it is quick. I’m gonna give you a very basic primer on joinery to better explain what I’m talking about when I say a piece is built with only traditional joinery, and why it’s a totally awesome thing that when done correctly cannot be matched in terms of strength, longevity, or beauty.
First up: never nails. The problems with fasteners like nails or screws are vast, but not inherent; the bulk of the issues stem from the fact that when you're using a nail or screw, you're most likely putting the wood together in the weakest of all ways--something called a butt joint. With a butt joint, the connection between two pieces of wood is deriving strength from only the nail or screw; the connection is not only spectacularly weak, loose, and fallible, but it has the longevity of something akin to the budget end of Ikea furniture.
Wood--a once living, growing, organic thing--is susceptible to moisture changes, which can lead to movement. Even slight changes in wood will compromise that flat surface-to-surface butt joint that you have with the nails and screws, and in more extreme circumstances this can tear out the nail/screw, totally failing the piece of furniture.
But, fear not! Because if you have a piece of furniture that is build correctly using traditional joinery, this ain’t no thing.
There are hundreds of types of joints, some better than others. Some slide in and then can't slide out, some you pound in with a mallet, some you use wood pins to secure. But the key to a strong joint is that you make a cut in one of your pieces of wood that can some how receive the cut you make you make in your second piece of wood. It's all about fit.
A mechanical joint, for example, is a type of joint that derives its strength from the physical action of working a giving end into a receiving end--like the joint above on the left. Physically malleting one of the sides into the other, then working the wood pins in creates friction and tension, and that tight fit (when you've done your work right) translates to a joint that's not going anywhere. Joints like these also account for the natural movement of the wood. As the wood expands and contracts over time, as it's wont to do, the joint will never fail. Beautiful, right?
To make joints fit right & tight and achieve their peak functionality, there are lots of different cuts involved, different tools, different bits, measurements, tests, and planning. And there are a bunch of forms of joinery, but they're all basically variations on the main theme: strength, flexibility, and toughness.
And at the risk of giving you way more information than you want to wade through about joinery, I'll leave it here: The bottom line is that joinery takes years to learn, implement, and perfect. But when I build a piece using traditional joinery, you can see the level of attention I've put into it, which to me is one of the best parts. What you’re getting out of a piece that’s built with traditional joinery is something strong, engineered to last a lifetime, and something that took hours to build and get juuuuuust right. The beauty's in the details.
**Edit** For those who are wanting more joinery info, I encourage you to check out Woodwork Joints.