Dovetail Joints Vs. Mortise and Tenon: When to Use Which

Dovetail Joints and Mortise and Tenon are the two most popular kinds of wood joinery. Each type is for a specific purpose. So, let’s discuss – when is the right situation to use dovetail and mortise and tenon joints?

Dovetail Joints is a durable kind of woodworking joinery, which provides tensile strength or resistance from pulling apart. It includes a series of pins cut to extend from the end of one board. The series interlock with a set of tails cut into the end of another board. You can use dovetail joints to connect the sides of a drawer. On the other hand, Mortise and Tenon are for joining two pieces of wood at 90-degrees. 

You will find in this article the other kinds of wood joinery methods, and when is the right situation to use them. Furthermore, you’ll also learn about how dovetail joints and Mortise and Tenon can help you improve your woodworking skills.

What Are the Other Types of Wood Joinery and When to Use Them?

Aside from dovetail and Mortise and Tenon, there are other kinds of wood joinery. As they said, an excellent woodworker knows at least six different types of joinery. However, the hardest part is knowing what and when to use them. So, here’s a list of the various joints that are beginner-friendly as well. 

  • Butt Joints. It is the most straightforward kind of wood joinery that attaches two pieces of wood perpendicularly to each other with the use of nails or screws. However, butt joints have no structural integrity, and the head of the nails or screws are always visible. When speed matters and the project don’t require elegance, butt joints are the right technique for you.
  • Pocket-Hole Joinery. It is excellent for attaching wood pieces with different grain orientations like table legs or for making face frames. Pocket joinery is faster and stronger, but it requires a special jig and drill bit. The first drilling operation is to counterbore the pocket hole itself that takes the screw head. Then, the second drilling is for the pilot hole with the same centerline as the pocket hole.
  • Biscuit Joinery. This method involves gluing wooden biscuits, an oval-shaped piece, into slots. There’s a unique tool for creating biscuit slots, or you can also use a router. Biscuit Joinery is excellent for holding plywood or other engineered material because it provides plenty of gluing surface with the addition of biscuit strength.
  • Miter Joinery. This kind of wood joinery is perfect for picture frames and other projects that require aesthetic designs. Miter joinery features bevel cuts, wherein it combines two pieces of wood. However, doing it takes extra time to set the joints plus it is not as strong as the other wood joinery methods.
  • Dado Joint. Shelves are one of the most popular uses of dado joints. You use it for attaching shelves to a bookcase carcass. This method involves joining two pieces of wood with a groove cut into one board. A dado is a slot cut into the surface of lumber, which you cut parallel to the grain and its ends are open.
  • Bridle Joint. It is almost similar to mortise and Tenon, except that you cut the Tenon and mortise to full width. This method joins two pieces of wood at their ends to form a corner. Bridle joint offers good strength in compression, plus it has a high resistance to cracking.
  • Finger Joint. It is one of the most popular woodworking joints in joining two pieces of wood at right angles to each other. It is almost the same as a dovetail joint, except that it has square pins not angled.
  • Lap Wood Joint. It is one of the most many woodworking joints, wherein you remove material from each piece with the same size. Then, it is where you will combine two pieces of wood. 
  • Rabbet Woodworking Joints. It is a recess cut into the edge of a piece of wood. One of the most popular applications of rabbet joints is the back edge of a cabinet. Rabbet Woodworking Joints allow the back to fit flush with the sides.
  • Tongue and Groove Woodworking Joints. It is an edge-to-edge joint wherein one-piece has a slot or groove cut along one edge. Then, the other piece has a tongue cut on the other corner. Two or more pieces fit together to make full tabletops, wood flooring, parquetry, and paneling.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Dovetail Joints?

Dovetail Joints looks beautiful from the outside once done correctly.Dovetail joints require more time to make.
Dovetail joints are solid, ad provides sturdy support.Dovetail joints can be challenging to design and cut, especially for beginners.
Dovetail joints do not require the use of any metal fixtures, screws, or fasteners.Dovetail joints leave no room for error.
Dovetail joints can hold tightly together, even with the use of wood glue alone.
Dovetail joints offer a large surface area for gluing.
Dovetail joints are challenging to pull apart and interlocks two pieces of the wood beautifully and securely.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Mortise and Tenon Joints?

Mortise and Tenon Joints are ideal for all sorts of frame construction projects like window frames to cabinet door fabrication.Mortise and Tenon Joints can shear on either side if the proportions are incorrect.
Mortise and Tenon Joints are incredibly stable when done correctly.Mortise and Tenon Joints may be difficult for DIY enthusiasts, hobbyists, and starters.
Mortise and Tenon Joints are solid, ad provides sturdy support.
Mortise and Tenon Joints may not require the use of any metal fixtures, screws, or fasteners.

Dovetail Joints Vs. Mortise and Tenon Joints: Which One is Better?

It depends on the kind of project that you have. For example, if you want to have elegant joinery with more significant support, then dovetail joints are your best option between the two. However, you have to be ready as the process of doing dovetail joints is challenging. 

On the other hand, Mortise and Tenon Joints are ideal for simple projects. Depending on your level of expertise, it takes a lot faster to do compared to Dovetail Joints. Also, it looks a lot simpler, but you can be sure of its quality.

  • Overall, it all boils down to the different applications. For instance, you may want to avoid a dovetail when the project is about attaching a table’s apron to a leg. This kind of operation is better with mortise and Tenon joints. 
  • Likewise, you may want to avoid using a mortise and Tenon to attach a drawer corner because the dovetail is better because of its interlocking pins and tails that create a powerful natural mechanical bond.

What are the Factors to Consider in Choosing the Right Kind of Wood Joinery Method?

The two wood joinery methods are both powerful. Before you decide what joint to make, you have to understand the kind of stress the joints will receive fully. 

  • Tension. Think of the weight that the joints should carry. Do you think the kind of wood joinery method that you have in mind can carry the weight of your workpiece?
  • Sheer. How much toughness do you need when you push up the workpiece or pull it down?
  • Racking. Can the wood joinery method withstand different mass of loads overtime?


What Is the Difference Between a Dovetail Joint and a Finger Joint?

The most apparent difference between these two wood joineries is that Finger Joint has square pins not angled. On the other hand, the dovetail joint has angled pins instead. Also, dovetails are only useful for pulling from one piece, but not the other. 

Do Dovetail Joints Need Glue?

Wood glue is more applicable to use done screws and nails when it comes to woodworking. On the other hand, carpentry requires nails and screws than the use of wood glue. It is because of the degree and the size of the workpieces. So, depending on your purpose, you may use glue, screws, nails, or a combination of all.

How Tight Should Dovetail Joints Be?

Dovetails should fit snugly – it should not be too tight or too loose. The only problem that you may have is if the direction of the grain in the wood is different. If that is the case, dovetail joints are not your best option.

Final Words

Technically, Dovetail Joints offers more strength. However, you have to take into consideration the grains of your wood. Also, Dovetail Joints are ideal if you want to have an appealing decorative look to your workpieces. The interlocking tails and pins make a stable joint. The process is not simple, but it is an achievement to create one. 

On the other hand, Mortise and Tenon Joints provides a lot of strength and glue surface. It may look like a bitt joint, but it hides the sight of the Tenon inside. Wood joinery is a large portion of woodworking, and having a basic understanding of the different joints is essential for long-lasting construction.

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