Getting Technical: 5 Types of Wood Joints You Should Know

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By Kate Reggev
No matter if a piece of furniture is big or small, plywood or solid, the type of joint used in production can make or break the item, literally.

When seeking to learn more about woodworking, gaining a deeper knowledge of wood joinery is a great place to start. Whether it's keeping the arm of a chair straight or holding a table leg in place, choosing the right type of joint is one of the most important decisions to make when crafting a piece of furniture.  

But don't worry if you don't quite know where to start—we've rounded up five of the most popular wood joints below. Keep scrolling to know which ones to use for your next project.

1. The Dado Joint 

Dado joints are a great choice when crafting shelves and seats.

Dado joints are a great choice when crafting shelves and seats.

A dado joint is a simple yet effective joint that is most commonly found in plywood construction, typically for cabinetry. It consists of a square-shaped groove that runs through a piece of wood or plywood, acting as a slot to allow the edges of another board to fit into. It works great for a range of furniture pieces, especially shelves and seats.

2. The Dovetail 

Cabinet fabricator Michael Madore made these kitchen cabinets and drawers with custom-made fronts and dovetailed detailing.

Cabinet fabricator Michael Madore made these kitchen cabinets and drawers with custom-made fronts and dovetailed detailing.

Known as one of the most common furniture joints, you’ve probably seen the eye-catching, tooth-like details of the dovetail on the sides of drawers. Because of the two interlocking parts—often referred to as the pins and the tails—dovetail joints perform well with tension, especially when the two parts are being pulled apart from each other. These joints are ideal for 90º angles, such as the corners of a wood bed frame or a drawer front. 

3. The Mortise and Tenon 

Stephane Lebrun’s Assemblage Table shows an example of precise mortise and tenon joinery.

Stephane Lebrun’s Assemblage Table shows an example of precise mortise and tenon joinery.

Another common type of wood joint is the mortise and tenon, which has been used by woodworkers for thousands of years. It consists of two basic parts: the mortise, which has a recess in it, and the tenon, which has a protrusion that fits perfectly into the mortise’s recess. These recesses and protrusions can take countless forms, and since they are known to create extreme strength, they are often used to construct entire buildings.

4. The Lap Joint 

The Union coffee table utilizes an interlocking three-part lap joint in the base of the table.

The Union coffee table utilizes an interlocking three-part lap joint in the base of the table.

A lap joint is one of the simplest types of wood joinery, and is most commonly used in cabinetry and dismountable furniture. This joint consists of two pieces overlapping and fitting smoothly into each other. Sometimes, a dowel is inserted to further strengthen the joint.

5. The Butterfly Key Joint 

Butterfly keys can be made in a range of materials, including wood, metal, and even stone.

Butterfly keys can be made in a range of materials, including wood, metal, and even stone.

Although many joints try to keep the joiner invisible, the butterfly key joint actually emphasizes the joint between two boards with a butterfly-shaped "key," or piece of wood that acts as a fastener. Butterfly keys are typically made out of a contrasting type of wood—frequently walnut—and can be used for aesthetic purposes, or to prevent an already-splitting piece of wood from further separation.