7 Wood Joinery Methods That Use No Metal Fasteners

No Screws, Nails, or Brackets

Male carpenter using electric circular saw in home workshop with wood chips flying
apomares / Getty Images

One of the many ways that fine woodworking differs from carpentry is that there are several methods of joinery that require no mechanical fasteners to secure pieces of wood together. Carpentry, with its emphasis on quick, efficient construction, virtually always uses nails, screws, tacks, or brackets to form the joints. Fine woodworking, on the other hand, emphasizes elegant appearance, and it takes pains to hide the methods of joinery. True, there are times when a furniture or cabinetry project may call for some finish nails or wood screws, but there are many methods for connecting wood that do not require such fasteners. With a top-quality woodworking project, the methods of joinery are often entirely invisible.

The following is a list of various joinery methods that, when done properly, will securely fasten two boards together with no metal fasteners whatsoever—just a little know-how, some tools, and usually a bit of glue to secure the joint.

  • 01 of 07

    Mortise-and-Tenon

    Drawing of a Mortise and Tenon Joint
    (c) Chris Baylor

    Examples of mortise-and-tenon joints can be found in woodworking projects that are centuries old. It is one of the oldest joinery techniques of all, and one of the most durable. The premise of a mortise-and-tenon is simple: a square or rectangular hole in one board, known as a mortise, is cut to accommodate a pin on another board, called a tenon. It is commonly used in applications such as securing table or chair rails to legs. When the tenon is inserted into the mortise and secured properly, the two boards can become nearly as strong as a single piece.

    Mortise-and-tenon joints can be cut by hand, using chisels, but most modern woodworkers employ a band saw or a tenoning jig on a table saw to safely form the tenon peg. The mortise is usually cut using a dedicated mortisera drill bit encased inside a four-sided chisel. 

  • 02 of 07

    Through Dovetail

    Drawing of a Through Dovetail Joint
    (c) Chris Baylor

    There may not be any more attractive or classic wood joint than the through dovetail. When properly cut and assembled, the through dovetail is a very strong and undeniably beautiful method for joining the ends of two boards. This method is commonly used for drawer construction or for building chests where the corner joints become part of the character of the piece.

    In any form of dovetail joint, a series of angled pins and tails interlock to form very tight-fitting joints. In the through-dovetail version, the pattern of the pins and tails are visible from both sides of the joint. This makes the joint both easier to cut, and also quite attractive, especially when the pieces use woods of contrasting tones.

    The classic (and very difficult) method of cutting through dovetails is with a hand-operated dovetail saw, but today's woodworkers usually make the cuts with a dovetailing jig and router

  • 03 of 07

    Half-Blind Dovetail

    Drawing of Half-Blind Dovetails
    (c) Chris Baylor

    Similar to a through-dovetail joint, the half-blind dovetail is a variation in which only one face of the joint shows the dovetails. When looking at the joint from the opposite side, the board appears to simply end with no visible joint whatsoever, hence the name "half-blind." The half-blind dovetail joint is a little trickier to create but has very specific uses, such as when connecting the sides of a drawer to a front where you don't want the joinery to be visible. Any standard dovetailing jig can be adjusted to make half-blind dovetails.

  • 04 of 07

    Sliding Dovetail

    Drawing of Sliding Dovetail Joint
    (c)Chris Baylor

    A sliding dovetail joint is simpler than either a through- or half-blind dovetail joint, in that it uses just one long pin that slides into a matching tail slot to join the two boards. This joint has ample strength in one direction, but very limited strength in the other direction, as the joint can be easily separated if no glue or other methods are used to secure the joint. Despite the limitation, there are some very specific instances where a sliding dovetail is a perfect choice. For example, there may be instances were you want a construction that can be easily disassembled, such as on a bookcase where you want shelves that can be removed.

    Like other dovetail joints, a sliding dovetail can be cut using a dovetail jig and router, but it can also be cut with a router and dovetail bit alone.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Box Joints

    Drawing of Box Joint
    (c) Chris Baylor

    If you're looking for a simpler alternative to the through-dovetail joint—one that can be created very simply and easily in a repeatable fashion—consider the box joint. A box joint is like a dovetail joint, but one in which the sides of the pins and tails are cut perfectly square. It is normally reinforced with glue applied to the edges of the pins. This variation of the finger joint has multiple uses and can be created very quickly using a box joint jig with your table saw.

  • 06 of 07

    Doweling

    Dowels to Join Wood
    (c) Chris Baylor

    Doweling is another old-school joinery method, whereby two or more round sticks of wood, known as dowels, are inserted into corresponding holes in two adjoining boards to hold them together. It is essentially a butt joint with hidden dowels that reinforce the joint. Glue keeps the dowels and boards from separating, while the dowels provide lateral strength. Making a dowel joint takes little more than a drill and a set of bits, but the dowels can be a little tricky to align, so most woodworkers use a dowel jig to make this joint.

  • 07 of 07

    Biscuit (Plate) Joinery

    biscuit cutter
    ©Ryan C Kunkle

    Biscuit joints aren't nearly as structurally strong as many of the joinery types in this list, but they are perfect for some applications. For instance, biscuits are great for joining face frames to cabinet carcasses, or to glue up individual boards to form tabletops. In this method, a biscuit joiner tool is used to cut slots into the corresponding boards, then a football-shaped biscuit is glued into each of the slots and the pieces are pressed together and clamped until the glue dries. Once the biscuit expands with the moisture from the glue and then dries, the joint is secure.

    Making biscuit joints requires a specialty biscuit plate joiner, but the tool is not expensive, and once the technique is mastered, biscuit plate joinery becomes a favorite method for many woodworkers.