We have posted a lot about what makes a cabinet looks good – door styles, hardware and molding, finishes, and etc. – but none of that matters if they fall apart within the first year. When making custom kitchen cabinets flexibility and quality are the main goals.
Some of a cabinet’s stability comes from the wood species you choose, but most of it depends on how it is constructed. It’s not just the material that’s important, but the joinery. Master woodsmiths, like those of the Artisan Cabinet Company in Chaska, Minnesota, can craft sturdy cabinets that hold up under years of use, simply by choosing strong joints as the foundation of the assembly.
Here are some of the most common joints used in building cabinets and other casegoods.
A joint that is gaining in popularity, pockets are created by drilling diagonal holes into a piece of wood near where it will but up against another. Screws are driven through this hole into the facing piece. This is similar to mortise and tenon or dowel construction. The advantages are the strength provided by the screw, and the fact that it sits inside the wood, out of sight. It is most often used in face frame construction.
The simplest of joints, a butt joint is created when the end of one piece of wood is butted against another piece, usually at a right angle, and screwed or nailed into place. Butt joints can be squared or mitered. A mitered butt joint is when both pieces of wood are cut at an angle and the cuts placed together. The advantage is that it hides the end grain, but it’s not quite as strong as a square butt joint.
A half-lap joint is another very simple joint. Two pieces of stock (usually of the same width) have half of their thickness removed so they can be placed together seamlessly – again, usually at a right angle – without adding any additional thickness at the joint. It is a favorite of custom cabinet makers, as it allows them to add sturdiness without increasing the overall dimensions of the cabinet.
Tongue and Groove
If you’re a fan of decorative wood floors, you’re probably familiar with tongue and groove joints already. In this joint, a groove is cut out of the center of one edge of a piece of wood. A corresponding tongue of the same thickness is trimmed out of the facing edge of another piece. The two pieces are then pressed together, locking each into place with its neighbor. A variation of the tongue and grove is called the Cope and Stick, and is used to make paneled doors. Each piece of the door frame (the sticks), is routed out to allow the edges of the panel to fit into them. The edges of the panel are shaped (coped) to fit the profile of the routs.
Similar to the tongue and groove, a dado joint is created by cutting a square groove into one piece of wood, and sliding another piece into it. In this case, the full thickness of the edge of the second piece is the tongue. This is most often seen in bookcases, where grooves are cut into the sides of the case, and the shelves slid into them perpendicularly.
A rabbet joint is essentially a dado cut along the edge of a piece of wood, rather than in the center. It is also similar to the half-lap, in that the rabbet is cut to a depth that allows another piece to be set against it without adding to the overall thickness. It is a strong joint, most often used for placing backs on cabinets.
Mortise and Tenon
Variations of the mortise and tenon joint have been used for centuries due to its strength. To create this joint, a hole (the mortise) is created in one piece of wood, and a corresponding peg (the tenon) carved out of another. The mortise may be cut to a partial depth, or go all the way through the wood. Similarly, the tenon may be cut to fit flush against the outside face of the piece with the mortise, or it may extend a bit further and be held in place with a dowel or wedge.
A biscuit joint lends strength to end-to-end joints such as a mitered butt joint. Small slots are cut into the center of each end, and thin wafers of compressed wood (the biscuit) inserted into them. On being glued, the biscuits swell against the slots, locking the joint. This can be very helpful when using thinner stock.
Combining the best features of the mortise and tenon and biscuit joints, dowels are small wooden pegs that are fitted into holes drilled into both pieces of wood making up the joint. Like the biscuits, the pegs swell when glued, locking the joint.
Dovetail joints are probably the most familiar. Because they are both strong and beautiful, they are often used as part of the overall decoration on cabinets, chests, and other casegoods. Dovetails can also be found in drawer construction. In this joint, a series of pins, similar to tenons, are cut into the end of one piece of wood. The spaces in between the pins are referred to as the tails. Pins are also cut into the other piece that makes up the joint, opposite the tails of the first. Both pieces are cut so the pins and tails seat together snugly. A variation of the dovetail where the pins and tails are squared off, and the edges fit together at a right angle, is known as a Box Joint. Dovetails can be squared or mitered, and the pins and tails scribed in many different shapes. Contrasting finishes are often used to highlight the joint.
Like other aspects of woodworking, these joints can be constructed and combined in different ways. Your custom cabinet maker will choose the proper options to ensure your pieces are long-lasting and strong.
Artisan Cabinet Co, in Chaska, provides professional, high-quality custom cabinets to homeowners throughout the Twin Cities. Call us at 952-737-7088.