What works vs. what’s “right”

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I try to be a practical woodworker. As such I tend to favor what works instead of “what you’re supposed to do.” The perfect example is joinery.

If a joint requires strength, I do what’s necessary for strength – dovetails, dowels, rabbets, pocket screws, whatever. The same applies if appearance is the key, which is why I did some recent drawers with half-blind dovetails simply because they were beautiful, when another method would have been just as strong.

I’ve stated here before that in many circumstances butt joinery is perfectly fine, and I stand by that. If utmost strength isn’t needed for the intended use or appearance’s sake – like those drawer dovetails – then I’m going with butt joints.

On a recent carcase I used butt joints to make the box. Now, these cases were made with frame panels for the sides, so all those butt joints were long grain-to-long grain, and when it comes to glue joints there’s just nothing stronger. The wood will fail before the joint will.

When I showed the cases to a neighbor, he wondered where the screws were. I explained that there wasn’t a need in this instance, but I don’t think I made a believer out of him. He was just too ingrained with the idea that butt joints are bad, but screws are better. Admittedly, once learned that’s a hard belief to shake.

Every method of woodworking has its place, depending on usage. But sometimes a specific method isn’t always needed for a specific end use. Nothing wrong with using those methods if that’s what you want to do (as noted earlier, for appearance or whatever), but don’t tell me that I must use them just because it’s the so-called proper way.

A.J.

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