Talk like me : joinery and woodworking

As we’ve already mentioned here, it is of the utmost importance to be able to describe a piece we’re working on as precisely as possible .

When furniture and wood works are concerned, from Boulle commode to music boxes, being able to identify the way wood pieces are bound together can provide a more accurate dating, identify an workshop, or prosaically, to begin to understand the causes leading to a deformation.

To be able to navigate trough the vast sea of joinery techniques, let’s ask for help from M.Nosban, wood working specialist of 1835 that published his « Manuel du menuisier en meubles et en batimens, suivi de l’art de l’ébéniste… » (that roughly translates into « the carpenter’s manual for architecture and furniture building, followed by the art of the cabinetmaker »).

According to him:  « Il ne suffit pas de savoir dresser et chantourner les différentes pièces de bois qui composent un ouvrage, il faut connaître l’art de les unir entre elles, de les entailler de manière que leurs extrémités s’emboîtent les unes dans les autres. C’est là ce qu’on appelle assembler, et il n’est pas douteux que cette opération ne constitue une des parties les plus importantes de l’art du menuisier; sans elle on ne ferait jamais que des pièces épaisses, des fragments, jamais un ouvrage complet ; et si on la négligeait, si les joints étaient mal faits, le meuble d’ailleurs le mieux fait deviendrait grossier, commun et ridicule. C’est de la perfection des assemblages que dépendent la solidité et l’élégance des travaux du menuisier. On ne saurait donc y apporter trop de soin et de précision. »

Translation is harder on that one. It is technical yet very literate which to French readers equals something that English ones might regard as Emily Post trying to read Ikea building instructions.
Brace yourselves, here goes a somehow nonliteral attempt to a translation :

« One can’t only know how to cut and carve wood pieces to create something, one also has to know how to unite them, how to shape their extremities so that they fit together. It is what is called joining, and it is one of the most important part of the art and craft of joinery ; without it, one would only create thick pieces, fragments, never a complete work ; if neglected, if joints were ill-crafted, the most nicely thought piece of furniture would become coarse, vulgar and preposterous. It is from perfection of joineries that both stability and elegance sprout. One then cannot be too careful and precise with it… »

Ye be warned !

According to M.Noslan, main types of joints are :

Extract from « Manuel du menuisier en meubles et en batimens, suivi de l’art de l’ébéniste… » , NOSLAN M., 1835.

Fig 43 : Through joint (mortise and tenon) and its variant, forked joint, where a tenon is kept in a mortise by another forked one (fig A).

Recent addendum, forked joint.

Those two types of joints are the basis for more or less every other ones :

Fig 44 et 47 : Moulded frame joint, when the linked parts have mouldings, like frames for examples.

Fig 45 : Mitred mortise and tenon joint, which is a variation of the moulded frame joint for pieces where the grain of the wood will be showing, whether bare or varnished : that way, there is an eye pleasing continuity from one piece to another.

Fig 48 : Corner halving joint, without tenon or mortise but with a puzzle like feature that allows imbrication.
Fig 50 : Dovetail joint.

Fig 54, 55 et 56 : Scarf joint or « trait de jupiter » joint or « bolt-o-lightning joint » variations.

Fig 57 : Splice joint

And now, quizz time : would you be able to describe joinery methods used in this case ?



Wood worker photo by Ian Schneider
Bar stool photo by Ruslan Bardash

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