Quality Furniture Starts at the Joints

A telltale sign of quality furniture is what kind of joints are used to combine the different wood elements. Avoid furniture that uses simple butt joints, where two pieces of wood are glued or nailed edge to edge without overlapping. These joints will not stand the test of time, let alone the rigors of everyday use. Look for these 5 basic joints when shopping for wood furniture:

Dovetail or English dovetail joints are widely considered the mark of quality drawer construction. When done properly, this joint “locks” drawer fronts in place, preventing loosening through many years of use.

Mortise-and-tenon joints are often used to join rails to side members in chests and dressers. This strong joint is also used to join key pieces of chair frames.

Dowel joints are very common in furniture construction. This joint involves gluing a dowel or peg, usually made of hardwood, into a pre-drilled hole to connect two pieces of wood.

Tongue-and-groove joints are often used to make a strong flat surface as well as to attach drawer fronts. When glued properly, these joints are very strong.

Corner blocks are used to help hold together joints at the greatest point of strain. An example of this is where seat rails of chairs join the posts.

Another important component in selecting case goods is what type of drawer slides or guides are used. While there are numerous variations and makers, it basically boils down to these two:

Wood-on-wood rails are the most basic type of drawer slide, consisting of either a single, center-mounted rail or two rails spaced toward the edges of the drawer. As the name implies, this slide works by wood-on-wood contact. These types of slides aren’t the smoothest and usually don’t age well. Unless you’re buying an older or antique piece, avoid chests and drawers that use this method.

There are many variations of this next type of drawer slide, but it normally consists of side or under-mounted rails that employ a smooth ball-bearing or wheel action. This type of slide uses a 4-piece system, whereby a track is affixed to each side of the drawer opening and the corresponding guide attached to the outside of the drawer. This type of guide can be made of metal or plastic, or sometimes a combination of each. Many of these drawer slides are equipped with a stopping mechanism to prevent the drawer from coming completely out.

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