Do Nails Really Help?

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Every once in a while I take some flak for not using nails or screws in my joinery, and for using pocket holes to join face frames. Let’s debunk a few myths.

Today’s glues are stronger than the wood you’re putting together, provided the joinery is good. When you have good joinery, meaning no slop or gaps between the mating parts, you’re going to get an incredibly strong joint. Let’s look specifically at cabinet construction; dadoes, rabbets and face frames.

Pocket holes have been used on face frames for a long time. Long time use doesn’t necessarily prove that something is a good method. But in this case, it is. Pocket holes, coupled with glue in the joint, make a VERY strong face frame.

The Science Experiment

We did destructive testing in this video. The test cabinet is 8” x 18” x 28”, and was built using very typical construction methods. Dado and rabbet joinery, pocket holes on the face frame, no mechanical fasteners anywhere, except for the pocket holes.

The test? See what it takes to fracture the cabinet. You may be surprised by just how much force is required. After the cabinet is in pieces we look at forensics. Where did the fractures happen? This tells us about the strength of the joint, versus the strength of the material.

If You Need More Proof…

I’ve done a gazillion edge to edge glue ups, and often get questions about adding biscuits, dowels, or other devices to these joints to add strength. Watch our edge-to-edge glue joint test and you’ll see that, again, the wood fractures before the joint.

Go Build Cabinets!

Now that we’ve increased your confidence in the strength of standard case joints, you’ll be ready to dive in and start building cabinets in your shop.

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5 Responses to “Do Nails Really Help?”
  1. Ken F

    You mentioned at the end that if yiu use nothing but good glue joints, it will “stand the test of time”. Given that some “heirloom” projects are intended to last a long long time

  2. Ken F

    How do you know the good quality glue (used without nails or screws) won’t deteriorate in time (eg. become brittle & crack after 40 years or so)?
    What evidence is there regarding longevity of these new types of glues?
    Many projects are intended to become “heirloom” items, but they won’t last if the glue eventually deteriorates in decades from now & there’s no backup support (nails or screws).

  3. Mark E

    I have been a woodworker for forty plus years and have always heard glue is the strength of the joint, nails are the clamps to hold the joint till the glue dries. I have done your test myself with the same results. Glues have just gotten easier and better to use with great strength.

  4. Barry

    Ticket 20279 What about using just glue on MDF? Don’t you also need to use some kind of fasteners because MDF is just sawdust and resins?

    • Customer Service

      Dear Barry,

      Thank you for your patience. In regards to your question-

      MDF works well with wood glue and offers a good bond, so you don’t need to add fasteners for strength.


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