Furniture is generally expected to be functionally sound, fit for its intended purpose, good to look at, strong enough to withstand applied loads during a useful lifetime, able to accommodate fluctuations in environmental conditions, affordable and reasonably transportable. Except for a few turned or carved items, very few pieces of furniture are able to meet these criteria when formed from a single piece of wood. For example, the most beautiful cuts of wood are frequently the least stable, the least strong and also the rarest and most expensive. They are often more effectively used as veneers. Wood is comparatively weak perpendicular to the grain in both tension and compression. Dimensional change is greater at right-angles to the grain than parallel to it. Hence, over the centuries a seemingly bewildering variety of methods of joining pieces of wood together has evolved in an attempt to optimize the production and performance of wooden structures. New and more complex forms of wood products are constantly being developed and with them new ways of joining pieces together.
It is necessary to understand something of the nature of joined wooden constructions if the conservator is to recognize and reduce potential dangers to wooden structures from use, display, transport etc. An overview of the main types of joints used in cabinetmaking is followed by a review of the critical factors that determine the success of any given joint with a more detailed analysis of some representative joints. This review is illustrative rather than exhaustive, dealing with basic considerations and leaving the reader to apply them to specific situations.
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