If you are just getting started with woodworking, you will quickly find that right-angle joints are some of the most common things you will have to do. That’s the case no matter whether you are building wood decks, cabinets, or anything else.
In this article, I will take you through the two ways in which you can do these joints. While one of them looks nice and is the “proper” way to join wood at 90-degrees, the other one is the “quick and dirty” way which will still be more than sufficient in many applications.
Two Methods of Joining Wood at Right-Angle
Joining two pieces of wood together is called joinery, and there are multiple ways of doing this. Most of the joints can be used to join two pieces end-to-end or end-to-side. Some can only be used for end-to-side.
When it comes to joining wood at right-angle, some methods that can be used include butt joints, pocket holes, rabbet joints, lap joints, mitered joints, mitered lap joints, dado joints, mortise and tenon joints, and dovetail joints.
How to Join Two Pieces of Wood at 90-Degrees with a Miter Cut
A miter joint is what you get when two end pieces are cut at angles and fitted together, such as commonly seen in the corners of picture frames and the upper corners of some doorway cases.
The miter joint is more attractive in appearance compared to a simple butt joint since the end grain of both the pieces of wood is not visible like it is in a butt joint.
On the other hand, one con of mitered joints is that they’re not very strong since they have no interlocking elements and often rely on wood glue to hold them.
What You Will Need
- A miter box
- A saw
- Wood glue
- Screws or nails
- A screwdriver or a hammer depending on the fastener type you choose
Step 1: Determine your miter angle by measuring the complete angle change, then dividing it by two. In the case of a 90-degree change, this will be exactly 45 degrees.
Step 2: Measure for your starting points by keeping track of which side will be outside and which will be inside, and make your measurements accordingly.
Step 3: Line up the saw at the correct angle and then line up the wood, placing it upside down whenever possible. When cutting the wood in a picture frame style, place the flat style on the cutting surface.
Step 4: Clamp the wood in place, then start the saw and lower it on the wood, not applying much pressure and letting the saw do the cutting. Once done, raise the saw and wait for it to stop moving. If you are using a handsaw, use the miter box to do a precise cut.
Step 5: To join the wood pieces together, apply glue to the angles and fit them together. use clamps to hold the pieces in place. Once glued, use nails or screws to further secure the joint.
Alternatively, you could drill dowel holes and use dowels to add support and make the joint stronger. Drill the hole, cover the dowel in wood glue, and join the pieces. Keep the pieces clamped for a day so that the glue sets firmly.
Tips & Tricks
- The most important thing to keep in mind for miter joints is to cut very precise angles so that there is good contact between the two pieces of wood. If necessary, you can use a file after cutting to make the surfaces fit better.
- Because the glue will be applied to the porous end grain of both pieces, you will likely need to use more woodworking glue than used when gluing on side grain.
- Keep some scrap wood handy for testing before working on your main workpiece.
How to Join Two Pieces of Wood at 90-Degrees Using a Butt Joint
Butt joints are easy to construct and all that’s required is to use screws to attach two pieces of wood at their respective ends. While this method is simple, a butt joint is not very strong. It is also aesthetically less pleasing than a miter joint because the end grain is visible.
What You Will Need
- A saw
- Wood glue
- Nails or screws
- A hammer or a screwdriver depending on the fastener type you choose
Step 1: Measure out the lengths you want your wood to be and then mark a straight line across the timber where you are going to cut it using a square.
Step 2: Cut the wood pieces at the lines you marked in step 1.
Step 3: Secure the first piece of wood to the side of a bench with clamps, keeping the top flush with the rest of the bench.
Step 4: Apply glue to the top of the clamped wood and then place the second piece of wood directly over the first piece, aligning the edges. Clamp the joint to secure it in place and optionally, hammer in some nails or add screws for additional strength.
Step 5: Confirm that the joint is square and leave it to dry. If you are putting nails or screws in the joint check it is square before you use them.
Step 6: Optionally, you can insert a square or triangular block of wood to the inside of the joint which strengthens the butt joint and prevents movement.
Tips & Tricks
- You can use countersink or putty to prevent the screws or nails from getting loose over time.
- For precise butt joints, use a chop saw which is designed to make precision square cuts. It’s difficult to get accurate angles with a hand saw or a circular saw.
If you are building a temporary structure or something that will be hidden from plain sight, you might want to do a butt joint. In other words, you might want to simply connect the edge of one board to the face of the other board.
However, if you want something that will, in many cases, be aesthetically pleasing and look more professional, you should opt for a miter joint. While it will require more time and effort as you will have to cut both pieces of wood at a 45-degree angle, it will also be worth it in most cases.