Doweling vs. Biscuit Joints
posted on May 9, 2007 by Rockler

Which is better, a quick and easy biscuit joint, or a good old fashioned doweled joint? Most woodworkers will tell you that it depends on the situation, and on what you are trying to achieve. Still, the two joinery methods are frequently held up to direct comparison. And when they are, a variety of opinions emerge, as happened recently on the Woodworking.com Forum:

“The tests I've seen published suggest that biscuits are the stronger of the two joints and are absolutely the easiest to fashion. Since the biscuits do have some slop in the slots they do not have to be as precisely located as dowel holes…”

“…Biscuits don't really add much strength they are more for alignment, where the dowels will add a good deal of strength…”

“In my use of biscuits they are designed to keep joints from pulling apart. The clearances the cutter makes to insert the biscuit allows for enough movement that alignment is not guaranteed…”

“Biscuits make an okay spline sometimes, but dowels are by FAR stronger in most cases…”

“…The forum seems to be of the opinion that biscuit is good for alignment only and contributes very little strength to the joint. On page 70 of Jim Tolpin's book, "Building Traditional Kitchen Cabinets" he writes, (Joining wood with compressed hardwood wafers let into slots is a viable alternative to mortis-and -tenon joinery. When done correctly, a biscuit joint is at least as strong as a similar size mortise and tenon joint, and decidedly stronger than a dowel joint.)…”

(Be sure to read the rest of the discussion for the whole story and some useful opinions on when to use the two methods.)

What we hear most – and agree with - is that biscuits joints serve best as a quick and easy way to keep glue-up parts in alignment, and that they add appreciable pull-apart to strength joints that would be otherwise too weak to stand on their own – like butt joints and miter joints. Doweled joints, on the other hand, are stronger – especially when it comes to shear strength – but usually take longer to make. This popular conclusion also echoes the findings of the “Wood Joint Torture Test”, published in the November, 2006 issue of Wood magazine, where dowels and biscuits were actually tested against one another under stress in a variety of joints.

Accepting that the two types of joint have these strengths and weaknesses, the next step is to determine what you need from a wood joint: How much shear strength do you need from the mitered joints of a picture frame, for example? Not much. You just need the parts to line up and not pull apart. And when you’re edge-gluing lumber, you just don’t need added strength. With modern adhesives and properly edge-jointed parts, the joint will be plenty strong with without reinforcement - but alignment could be a problem. In that case, throwing in a few biscuits will take only a couple of minutes, and could save you from dealing with a few badly misaligned joints. On the other end of the spectrum, ask yourself how comfortable you’d feel sitting on a chair held together with nothing more than biscuits and a little glue?

Biscuit joinery and doweling are both useful joinery methods, but a direct comparison doesn’t make that much sense: They’re good for different things. We’re guessing that most woodworkers will find more use for a biscuit joiner, with its ability to invisibly align and secure joints so quickly. Doweling, on the other hand, will do most of the things that a biscuit joiner will do – just not as fast. Doweling also makes for a stronger joint, and if you own a drill, it’s less of an initial investment: You just need a doweling jig and a few drill bits. Either one will give you a reliable and reasonably quick method of reinforcing a variety of joints, and the more joinery tools and skills you have at your disposal, the more flexible your woodworking will be.

posted on May 9, 2007 by Rockler
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12 thoughts on “Doweling vs. Biscuit Joints”

  • JW Fischer

    I have been remodeling homes & building cabinetry for 24 + years.<br />I completely agree with Blog's Editor in regards to Biscuit vs Dowels.<br />Biscuits indeed are for alignment only as dowels are for more precision alignment in addition to strengthing two pieces of wood at a joint or seam.<br />The Festool Corporation has taken joinery one step further with the new Domino Joinery system which uses a larger type of dowel known as a domino.<br />Instead of having to mortise two holes for dowels you only have to mortise one hole. Twice as fast and twice as strong.<br />The Domino Joinery tool is very accurate and quite easy to operate.

  • I've completely stopped using my biscuit joiner since I found a wonderful doweling joiner. Basically the same machine as the standard biscuit joiner, only it uses two drill bits 32 mm apart. I feel much more confident delivering cabinets with dowels. Check out german manufacturer www.mafell.com

  • I love biscuit joiner for putting miter seams together. It is fast and easy. try doing it with a dowel and it would take forever

  • For the little melmaline toilet paper & Magazine rack/cabinet, I built this last weekend for my wife, biscuits made it quick and easy to build. <br /><br />For my workbench I need dowels. I'm adding a wide board on the back of my roll-out table. The dowels are for strength over time. <br /><br />I look at it more as what the purpose and forces that will be exerted on the joint in making my decision on which one to use. <br /><br />

  • I use both methods individually and on occasion use both together. When I am forming up an octagon which I will later cut into a circular piece, I use biscuit joints to form them up and then drill perpendicular to the biscuit joints and insert dowels through the piece and the biscuits.<br /><br />As they say, Works for me!

  • Before trying to decide between biscuits and dowels, you need to try a Dowelmax. Dowelmaxs are expensive, but they're as precise as a Swiss watch. They're also very fast, and can be mastered in no time.<b></b>

  • RocketRoy

    Recently purchased a Freud 710K 32mm Doweller.
    Nice piece of kit, O'dear, in MDF-MR bits burn, holes burn.
    Have used an Elu Trimmer/Biscuit cutter for years.
    Thought i'd try something different. Have made kitchen units
    from above material with biscuits, solid construction and allows
    for adjustment. Have also remade other peoples kitchen and
    other units ( cheap srewed together type) with this tool.
    Rock Solid construction. You 'Name It', Speaker Cabinets,
    General Firniture, Hi-Fi and TV units.
    I don't just have biscuits with my Tea, i have'em with everything.
    Biscuits are the way to go. Of course the Freud 710k will be okay with natyral wood, but a no-no with MDF-MR.

  • STEVEN PATAY

    Biscuits are the slowest and most counter productive form of jointing ever. yes it's quick to cut the slot but what about the 10 hourt the joint spends in clamps etc' unless you spend out for the high tec' glues now produced to try and rectify this problem, Remember school days, the woodwork teacher in his brown coat, if i was to make a wood joint as slack as a biscuit jointer joint he would probably hit me with it at best and im not going to the worst case .
    I love my dowel jointing because its fast accurate and instantly rigid even without glue so i can dry assemble my work as often as i like (biscuits dont allow this). One drop of glue (cheap PVA-weather proof) at each end will do
    now push the dowel joint together and count to 10, thats how long the glue needs to start griping because the joint is tight and accurate as all woodwork joints should be. If a student/novice came to me asking to recomend basic tools to make simple joints to get started with would you say-Morticer-Tenener-Dovetail jig inc Router-Biscuiter-Domino jointer. Now think of the cost of each or all items, now add the cost of all the cramps and sash clamps he will need- Do you think we have destroid his chances to start and enjoy our art. A shop saw, a dowel jig,a drill and some PVA and he can make a simple coffee table inside an hour, what bliss and he/she can now start to learn the tecnical stuff as and when reqired. I have not mentioned the dowel jointer of my choice yet, Joint genie 8mm professional kit. Fanastic, wour biscuit jointer will become a home for spiders in no time- judge for yourself

  • Rockler Blog Team
    Rockler Blog Team December 23, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for registering your opinions, Steve. There's no mistaking where you stand in the debate!

  • SP Fix

    I just completed a 4 poster bed using biscuits instead of dowels (used them previously on a similar project), and I've had to re-glue 2 of the sides thus far. If I had it to do over I'd use dowels.

  • I've done a bit of research into this. And the best research I have is my own personal, I just finished building a dining room table 50 inches square. For the top I used strictly biscuit joiners, the base uses screws. I recently put my 45 pound dog on the table to take pictures. It didn't even flinch I've also use them for a frame that is 4 foot by 5 foot. They are holding extremely strong.

  • Oberon

    Since acquiring the same self-centering doweling jig that you have pictured above, my biscuit jointer hasn't been out of it's carrying case.

    I am thinking it will be on the table for an upcoming garage sale since I see no need to use it ever again.

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