Now I know by ABC’s of decorating: D is for dovetail

the letter d


No, we are not talking about birds!  You may  have heard the term dovetail, dovetail joint or mortise and tenon joinery.  All of these are referring to methods used to join sections of wood  together that are most commonly found in high quality, custom furniture and cabinetry.

Details of dovetail joints

A dovetail joint is created by cutting a series of triangular points on one side of a drawer or door that correspond to cutouts on the other side.  When properly cut, these pieces will fit together  like a puzzle, creating a strong connection or joint.

Alternative types of joinery

If some instances a dovetail joint is not the best solution.  For example, items crafted from plywood that has many layers of thin wood glued together would not respond well to the cutting necessary to create the dovetail.  Other methods to consider :

  • a box joint  is similar to a dovetail in that cut pieces fit together like a puzzle but are cut into squares instead of the more labor intensive triangular shape of dovetail joints.
  • a butt joint is simply two pieces of wood that butt up next to each other with no cuts that fit together.  It is held together with screws, nails or glue and is considered a fairly weak joinery method that is often used in mass-produced items or items crafted from plywood or other composites like MDF.
  • a mortise and tenon joint involves the creation of a shallow cutout (mortise) that can accept a corresponding piece (tenon) that slides right in.  This creates a strong joint that is commonly used in the production of furniture, cabinetry and tables.
  • a mitre joint is one of the simplest but also one of the weakest joinery methods.  Two pieces of wood are cut at a 45 degree angle with a mitre saw , fit together to create a 90 degree angle and then held together with screws, nails and/or wood glue.  Often used for crown molding, frames or other inexpensive projects.

A top quality, high end piece of furniture can be identified by the use of fine construction techniques, including joinery method used, finishes and other designer details such as specialized painting, custom hardware and unique designs.  So next time you are shopping for that special piece be sure to take the time to check for these details that will help you identify a quality piece that you can enjoy for many years to come.

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