How to make finger joints with hand tools.
Handmade joint making is a skill that really separates the men from the boys.
Besides making for a better joint, joints add a level of sophistication to wooden articles crafted using them that is unmatched while being able to make them with hand tools is an art.
If you are interested in practicing this art, finger/box joints should be your first step in refining your “joint making by hand” skills before moving on to more complex joints like dovetails.
Hand tools you will need:
- Dovetail saw
- Coping saw
- Chisels and a mallet
- Smal try square
When making wood joints always make sure to use a sharp chisel.
Even a brand new chisel needs to be sharpened before it is ready to produce quality joints.
Whetstone sharpening is a quick and easy way to make sure you always have razor sharp chisels in your shop.
Step 1 – Mark the cut lines
Accurate marking is the first step in making secure fitting hand cut finger joints.
Placing the two pieces of wood together in a vice that are to be joined makes for more accurate marking.
Use a try square to mark the cut lines across both pieces simultaneously. This allows you to close to perfectly line up what will become the positives and negatives of the finger joint. Clearly marking the areas to be removed will help to prevent unwanted errors when you saw.
After marking the face of the box joint you need to mark the depth of the joint.
Use each piece to mark the other and so ensure cutting the joint at the correct depth when sawing.
Once this has been done use your try square once again to mark the depth cut lines using the already marked lines as references.
Once again clearly mark the areas to be removed to avoid confusion.
Once completed you will start removing the negative areas of the finger joints.
Step 2 – Saw on cut lines
Removing the cutouts is a two-part procedure that will start with a dovetail saw to be used for the horizontal cuts.
These saws produce a fairly rough cut which is not the desired result for your joint.
To overcome this you will saw slightly to the side of the line toward the area that will be removed and clean it up with a chisel in the next step.
The same applies for the saw depth, however, if the joint is cut too deep and the fingers stick out when the joint is assembled, the protruding areas can be sand down.
To make the horizontal cuts you will use a coping saw, again keeping inside the lines.
Note that the closer you saw to the line the less labored it would be to tidy up with a chisel but at the same time, the closer you saw to the line the less room there is for error.
After this step, the result will start to resemble a box joint but should not be able to fit together just yet.
In the next step, you will crack out your chisels and start cleaning up the joint to a point where they fit together.
Step 3 – Clean up the joint and make it fit
Now you will use a chisel to make the joint come together.
With the chisel remove the remaining wood in the way of the joint.
It would be a good idea to check how the joint lines up regularly to make sure you are not removing too much wood.
With the chisel, you will want to get as close to your guidelines without going over it and ideally, end up on top of the lines.
Avoid using a mallet to drive the chisel. This way you will have more control of the direction your chisel is moving in.
When you are confident the joint will fit together you can use a mallet to gently tap it into place.
Remember, while you want the joint to fit as snugly as possible you should not force it. If you crack or break the wood at this point all your effort would be for nothing.
The joint is completed by gluing it together and after curing, sanding it to a flush finish.
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