Joiners use Joinery

That’s why I’m not called a fastener, or a stapler. Or a nail gun ninja for that matter. My ultimate goal revolves around fast accurate work with sharp edges, be they powered or pushed by hand.


So I set to work making some sliding dovetail rod tenons to join a cabinet skirt to its carcass bottom. The clamp gives the scale, these are pretty small. The dovetail is 1:6 and the tenon 3/8″ thick. They’re small enough that it’s not worth getting a saw out to cut the tenon shoulders. Its fun chisel work, to form dovetails. Give it a try!


I made the rod tenons out of White Oak, a denser wood than the White Ash the skirt is made from. Using a sliding dovetail rod tenon allows for the dovetail to be installed and plugged, and then the rails to be set on to the tenons and pegged. However, I want the room in the mortise for the expansion and contration of the panel work, so I’ll not be plugging the mortise.


I started the mortise and sliding dovetail by drilling as much of the waste as possible.


And then chisel work to pare the end grain to the line, followed by a router plane to clean to depth, where I gave myself five thousandths clearance over the 3/8″ height of the dovetail. The walls of the dovetails I chopped with an undercut as close as I dared by eye.


And then to be followed by a paring block with the correct 1:6 ratio. This is the first time I’ve used a paring block to form the dovetail cheeks and I loved it. Both faster and more accurate, two of the dovetail keys fit well with no further paring.


Basically, everything has to fit perfectly if I expect all of them to slide properly when the skirt is assembled. Layout using story sticks to transfer marks between parts was critical, no measuring from a scale, and using a marking knife. All of the rod tenons were previously fitted to their mortises in the skirt, and thus were unique and needed to be individually numbered to keep everything organized.


After fitting the sliding dovetails I went ahead and drilled, mortised, and pegged the joint, again with Oak.


And then glued the skirt boards together, checking repeatedly for squareness. This is how I left it for the night. I’ll get back into the shop today and have a moment of truth checking the fit, I’m excited! Did I mention the sole purpose of the skirt board is to hide the caster wheels on the bottom of the cabinet carcass? Its an extra day of work to make the attachment this way, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount about this connection which I hope to use on pieces in the future.

I hope everyone is staying warm by the fire, getting ready to celebrate some holiday cheer. Can you believe the new year is so close at hand? As a blogger I have an easily searchable index of what I’ve accomplished over the past year, and even so it feels like the past year has just swept by. I think of what I want to accomplish in the next year and there are so many things that are unknown, but that is part of the joy in life. So I wish you, dear reader, many exciting possibilities in the time to come as well.

7 thoughts on “Joiners use Joinery”

  1. Once again I am impressed by you care and thoughtfulness in your work. So nice!

    I also like your idea of using a pinned M&T opposite the sliding dovetail. The oak peg adds a nice detail and gives a hint of the joinery.

    Merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks Jason, its good to hear from you! Perhaps you could send some Hilo warmth to me for Christmas? I hope you have a great time celebrating with your family, and many happy years to come.

  2. Dude, serious work. I’m just imagining a renovator or museum historian or inheritor finding this piece and finding your name, discovering it’s a work by the Great Coloradoan School of Dwiggins, founder of the Japan-Infused Craft Movement, and reveling in discovering each tiny part that you focused on. That tiny adorable dovetail, for instance!

    I know my grandma was incredibly surprised when I was helping with renovating last winter, and she couldn’t understand why I couldn’t pull apart a cabinet-I cut it with a disposable saw, and showed her how it was a mortise and tenoned cabinet. She was so surprised people cared that much. Later on, my uncles found the workbench-very similar to yours and mine-the carpenters used; old bits of molding and random boards with the plane marks showing; it’s a bit exciting, as odd as that is, to find all these hidden marks.

    I really don’t grasp a lot of wood theory. I’ve read a lot on it, but when it comes into practice, I usually just don’t think about it. I’ll think about the basics, but never a lot; as a whole, my work is usually much more beginner and ‘rustic’ then the art you create. A lot of it lately is geared to getting funds for college and life, and also what I can fit in my shed. I’m thinking of getting into leathercraft, I was given a book on ‘manly’ crafts by popular mechanics, the articles mainly written for WWII soldiers and returning vets. Leather is much more affordable for me, and easier to do in the winter! Plus I’d love to make a belt and moccasins, belts would sell well I think.

    I hope your having a merry Christmas in Colorado! I’m stuffed from Christmas pierogi. Hopefully Santa leaves some nice stuff for ya tomorrow!

    1. Thanks Steven! Honestly this cabinet piece is turning into serious technical overkill, but that is the best way to gain skill, by pushing the limits of your technique and understanding. Learning the movement of wood has taken me a long time, and I wouldn’t have changed the orientation of the sliding dovetails if I hadn’t noticed how markedly the panel had expanded in width. I had visions of some of the furniture pieces at the MET that hadn’t allowed for that movement and had split, broke into a cold sweat, and spent an hour just staring at the board wondering how to change it. Growth!

      The leathercraft idea is a good one. I hope to get my niece a horse one of these days and have spent a bit of time in saddle shops looking at what-not. My gosh, saddles are still hand work and the price reflects that! Plus you can write deer hunting trips off on your taxes as a business expense to gather hides, haha. When I was making my spinning wheel I needed some heavy leather for the flyer bearings and found that the saddle maker was selling his scrap by the pound, way cheaper than ordering online.

      My winter craft for wiling away the long dark hours is spinning, mainly fine cotton at the moment, chasing that edge of perfection and wondering at the textile skill shown in centuries past. Merry Christmas!

  3. Very nice joints. As Im slowly working my way from carpentry, to joinery, and finally to cabinetry, Ive thought a lot of joints as opposed to metal fasteners or glue, and often am disappointed at most all furniture, even very old styles using screws, or nails or relying on glue joints. Im constantly chasing that self imposed ideal, no glue, no metal fasteners.
    Two areas of this ideal have left me frustrated:
    1. attaching table/desk tops
    2. joining boxes/drawers
    Any suggestions on how to do these two joins without glue or metal?

    1. Hi Josh, thanks for the comment. I share the same frustration with the poor quality stuff that surrounds us. In the end the market for hand made furniture with good joinery is very small, the prices are very high. So if we want something done properly we probably have to make it ourselves. As far as your joinery frustrations:
      1) My favorite method when you don’t want the joinery to show on the table top would be sliding dovetail keys, like I use in this post to join the bottom skirt to the cabinet carcass bottom, a high quality all wood connection that can allow for the expansion and contraction of the panel being attached to rails or whatever. If you’re making more of a Nakashima style table you could also through tenon the legs into the top and wedge. When I visited Miya Shoji in NYC they had a table with a huge live edged slab of walnut for the top that merely rested on some blind pegs and was held by its own weight. If its a table with more traditional leg/rail assembly then sliding dovetail keys, all the way.
      2)Drawers, well the classic way is through dovetails at the back and half blind at the front, with a groove for the bottom board. Even though you want to avoid glue, do consider it. With a reversible adhesive like hide glue there’s no reason the drawer can’t hold up several hundred years, lots of furniture in the MET is testament to that. But I get the challenge, no glue, so that leaves you joining the sides with mechi (wedged stub tenons). Chris Hall has taken glueless drawer design to a logical extreme, check out

      Hope that helps and have a great new year!

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