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Wood Joinery with a Finger or Box Joint

A Strong, Simple Alternative to Cutting Dovetail Joints Using a Table Saw Jig

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Box or Finger Joint

This article was updated on 09/30/18.
Make drawers, cabinets, and more with box joint (finger joint) wood joinery. Learn how to make a table saw jig to make accurate joints. Cut, dry fit, glue up, clamp, sand, and you’re done!

This is a strong, simple alternative to cutting dovetail joints using a table saw jig.

The Art of Wood Joinery

As every carpenter or cabinetmaker knows, the secret to a strong wood joints in a woodworking project is maximizing the contact surface area of the open grain of the wood. This is especially important with wood projects where you’re making drawers or other components that sustain repeated movement.

While cutting dovetail joints by hand or with a jig might be intimidating to a DIYer that’s just easing into furniture making, wood joinery with a box joint is a good place to start.

This is a good technique to have in your “skill set toolbox” if you’re remodeling vintage kitchen cabinets or restoring antique furniture.

There's two ways of making your joints, by hand or using a jig. If you have a lot of joints to cut, like if you're making a lot of drawers, it would pay to find a commercial jig at Rockler Woodworking and Hardware .

History of the Box Joint

There was a time before cardboard and plastic, believe it or not, and farmers needed a way to package their fruits and vegetables to get them to market. Boxes were the method of choice because pine was cheap and abundant.

But the box corners had to be strong. Dovetail joints were the perfect solution except… they were time consuming, and required more expensive cutting heads. Enter the box or finger joint.

A box joint is based on the dovetail except there is no “flare”. Rather than a socket side and a tail side, there are merely straight fingers and opposing slots.

To visualize this, just interlace your fingers at a 90 degree angle. Or, head on down to your local antique shop and look at one of those old pine boxes. They are very trendy.

Cutting a Box Joint on Your Table Saw

One of the good things about a box joint as opposed to a dovetail joint, is that you use a dado head rather than an expensive dovetail woodworking jig or router bit. Use the dado on your table saw with enough chippers between the blades to make sure you end up with the desired finger width.

To do this, you’ll need to make a layout on one of your boards to determine how thick the fingers and slots need to be to make it “work out”.

Set the dado head to 1/16” thicker than your stock. This will give you something to sand off after the glue sets. It’s all about being a good craftsman, isn’t it?

Make a Box Joint Jig for Your Table Saw

The jig can be made out of a chunk of 3/4” plywood that you will attach to your miter gauge. The plywood should be about 4” high and the length at least 8” past the dado head.

You’ll need to attach a “guide pin” to it, which is the same thickness as the finger of the joint and not quite as tall as the slot depth. Attach it just offset from the centerline of the plywood.

When you attach the jig to the gauge, put a spacer block between the head and the guide pin. It should be exactly the same thickness as the guide pin so that it will give you equal spacing when you cut the slots that accept the fingers.

Cut the Finger Joints

Your first slot will be between the guide pin and the dado head. For the next slot just set the first slot over the guide pin. See how you get equal spacing?

To cut the slots in the board that will match up to the one you just slotted, hold the first board with its first slot straddling the guide pin. Now butt the second board up to it snug to the plywood and make the cut. Then continue the leapfrog cutting that you have been doing.

When done, all that’s left to do is fit test, glue up, and clamp. You will be surprised at how strong your project’s joinery is.

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