If you’re investing in quality, handmade, heirloom furniture, it’s helpful to know what to look for to make sure you’re getting what you pay for. One important way to spot quality craftsmanship in furniture is to look at the way its joints are constructed. Here are some common forms of wood joinery, from weakest to strongest. (You can see images of these and other types of joinery by clicking here.)
Butt joints are the most common and weakest form of wood joinery. A butt joint is made by fitting the end of one board flat against the other, forming an “L” or “T” shape. This type of construction doesn’t allow much space for glue, which means that the piece can easily be pulled apart and will break quickly, even under normal wear and tear.
Rabbets and Dadoes are sturdier than butt joints, but are weaker than mortise and tenon and dovetail. A rabbet is made by cutting a recess into one board; the second board is then glued and fit into the recess. Rabbets offer more space for gluing than butt joints, but less than dadoes. A dado joint is constructed by gluing the side of one board into a three-sided slot in another board, similar to tongue and groove. Rabbet and dado joints can last for decades, making them a better choice than butt joints.
Box Joints are similar to dovetail joints — the ends of both boards are cut into square “fingers” that interlock. Box joints are very sturdy and are a solid choice for construction; they provide many surfaces for glue and make for a very strong joint. Many craftspeople prefer box joints because they’re easier to make than dovetail joints.
The highest quality, strongest, and longest-lasting joints are mortise and tenon and dovetail. These types of joints have been used for thousands of years and require many years of experience and a high level of skill to construct.
Mortise and tenon joinery is made when the “tongue” of the tenon fits flush into a square or rectangular mortise hole. They can be glued, pinned, or wedged into place. Dovetail joints are constructed with “tails” on one board and “pins” on the other. These tails and pins are very precise trapezoidal shapes and interlock tightly together. Once they’re glued, they’re nearly impossible to break apart, providing the strongest possible construction.
In addition to being strong and sturdy, mortise and tenon and dovetail joints are truly works of art; it’s not surprising that Amish craftspeople have used these methods of construction for decades.
At Heartland, you’ll find that all of our furniture is made using the old-world craftsmanship of mortise and tenon or dovetail joinery — it’s just one more reason our furniture will provide you with years of lasting beauty!