Floating Tenon Joinery on Chairs?

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Forum topic by FrankLad posted 09-11-2009 09:41 PM 4606 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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273 posts in 4643 days

09-11-2009 09:41 PM

Topic tags/keywords: floating tenon joinery mt mortise tenon chairs dowel butt butted joint chair question strength freeform free form flowing log limbs

Have any of you guys ever used floating tenon joinery on pieces that might see lots of racking/use/wear-n-tear… like on chairs or other types of furniture?

Not long ago I did some basic tests wherby I cut and sanded two pieces (some 3” round pine pieces that had been air-drying for a few months) each at an angle so that they would meet up flush. I then clamped them together and drilled a couple of spaced-apart holes through each one to receive some 3/4” dowels. I took them out of clamps, glued the joining faces, clamped back up, hammered in the dowells, and let it sit a couple days.

Lastly, I used an angle grinder and sander to make the two pieces flow together.

I wasn’t aiming for any specific design – just joined the two pieces such that they formed a “V”.

The goal was to see how “strong” the joint was. Nothing scientific – I simply tried to break it by putting my weight down on it (there was no brace in the middle, between the “V”, so picture me trying to squish the “V” together). As the limbs themselves were long, they flexed a little, but the joint itself seemed really sturdy.

What I do like about this, as opposed to the M&T drawbore joinery I was doing on some red oak pieces, is that first… well, it’s easier. But in that way it seems to allow quite a bit of freedom, particularly for freeform type furniture.

How often is this type of joinery used on chairs or other structural furniture pieces as opposed to standard M&T joinery?

-- Frank, Mississippi, Original Bentwood Rings -

14 replies so far

View gerrym526's profile


331 posts in 5142 days

#1 posted 09-11-2009 09:57 PM

Chairs are going to be my next winter woodworking challenge. I’m reading Jeff Miller’s book on making chairs, and he points out (correctly) that many commercial chairs that take years of wear, have dowels used in their joinery. I got rid of an old (50yr+) dining room set that had doweled chair joints.
Floating tenons would even be stronger than the dowels given the amount of exposed gluing surface in the mortise and the tenon.
Not sure what you mean by “freeform” furniture, but if Maloof style rockers are an example, you’re better off with the Maloof joint-a modification of the bridal joint.

-- Gerry

View FrankLad's profile


273 posts in 4643 days

#2 posted 09-11-2009 10:10 PM

Hi, Gerry! Thank you for that information! It gives me some reassurance that these types of joints should work fine. (I guess the concern was that anything less than good ol’ M&T on chairs wouldn’t be acceptable.)

The Maloof style is indeed what I had in mind… the flowing curves and such, how the members seem to run together smoothly.

Can you fill me in on the modified bridal joint? I’m interested in that!



-- Frank, Mississippi, Original Bentwood Rings -

View AaronK's profile


1512 posts in 4798 days

#3 posted 09-11-2009 10:30 PM

i’m also interested in this. i know your original question was about floating tenons, less about dowels, but… i like dowels. krenov once wrote something about how they free you up a bit when it comes to design and placement/orientation of parts.

frank – i’m also interested in the type of designs you had in mind. could you post sketches or examples? or maybe some more work on yours in the projects section. something besides those amazing rings? ;-)

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1530 posts in 5459 days

#4 posted 09-11-2009 11:37 PM

I’ve got a chair I used a Domino for the joints on. I had a problem in that for several of the joints I did a dry fit, and then couldn’t get the Dominos out, so those joints are only partially glued.

It’s my office chair, and I rock back on this thing and subject it to all sorts of abuse (do all of those things that my parents used to tell me to not do at the dining room table…) and the only thing that’s happened is that one of those partially glued joints started to work loose (butt glue joints aren’t that strong, go figure), so I squeezed some glue in it, re-clamped it, and it’s been rock-solid since.

The thing I’d do different next time is… uh… make sure I got glue in all the mortices. Yeah, floating tenons work spectacularly for chairs.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View FrankLad's profile


273 posts in 4643 days

#5 posted 09-12-2009 05:25 AM

AaronK: Actually, dowels are what I have in mind (and what I used on the first test). I just refer to them as “floating tenons”, although that may not be the best term… as I guess more appropriately floating tenons are the wide pieces with – as Gerry points out – more gluing surface.

Dowels work better for me as I don’t really use anything other than basic hand tools for joinery so simply drilling the “mortises” to receive the dowels fits my workflow a lot better.

I’m hoping to post some non-ring stuff fairly soon. :) Thanks!

Dan: Thanks for that info! It’s great to hear of how sturdy your chair turned out. I like the design of your chair! I also checked out your blog series – thanks for sharing that info!

I appreciate all the responses, guys!

-- Frank, Mississippi, Original Bentwood Rings -

View AaronK's profile


1512 posts in 4798 days

#6 posted 09-12-2009 04:29 PM

can someone point to the recommended number of dowels to use per joint? something like a #/square inch? looking at the dowelmax examples, they seem to use kind of a lot, and i think that’s the key to strength – using more than you might initially expect to.

frank – do you have a doweling jig? if so, what kind, and could you give a mini review? I just picked up the Wolfcraft dowel-pro, but havent used it yet.

View FrankLad's profile


273 posts in 4643 days

#7 posted 09-12-2009 06:37 PM

Aaron: When doing edge-to-edge stuff, like on our kitchen cabinets, I used nothing more than the inexpensive (but very handy) dowel centers.

I was looking pretty hard at that Dowelmax at one point. The strength tests on their site are pretty impressive.

But the stuff I’m doing would be joined with larger dowells (3/4” and more). That, plus the nature of not using milled pieces, kinda rules out the dowel jigs I’m familiar with.

For me it’s a lot easier to just butt the pieces together, hold them there (clamp, strap, etc.) and drill through to ensure the dowels line up perfectly. I actually like seeing the pegs and plan to use that as an accent.

I started sketching out a rustic chair design last night, based on the seasoned wood pieces I have on hand. Looking forward to putting something together. :)

-- Frank, Mississippi, Original Bentwood Rings -

View AaronK's profile


1512 posts in 4798 days

#8 posted 09-12-2009 06:58 PM

gotcha. yeah, that’s pretty cool.

i’m pretty sure the dowelmax attains such high strength just because of the shear number of dowels they use per joint. from the factory made furniture i’ve seen, a chair will have 2 dowels per joint, but the dowelmax advertises 4 or 6. it’s no wonder really.

View DaneJ's profile


56 posts in 4542 days

#9 posted 09-13-2009 07:00 AM

there is a video series on FWW for a chair with floating tenons:

-- Dane, Fairview Pk, OH. The large print giveth and the small print taketh away... Tom Waits

View BeeJay's profile


71 posts in 4522 days

#10 posted 09-14-2009 03:22 AM

I use Floating (integral) tenons and dowels in almost everything. Dowel was the choice of the vast majority of chair makers in the recent past and only the cheapies seem to have any problems. Just make sure you use plenty of stock with both dowels and loose(there’s another name for them) tenons.

-- If you try to fail and succeed, what have you done?

View FrankLad's profile


273 posts in 4643 days

#11 posted 09-14-2009 05:02 PM

Thanks for the link, DaneJ!

BeeJay: I’d heard “loose tenons” but not “integral” so far. Thanks! That may help when searching for more info on this.

-- Frank, Mississippi, Original Bentwood Rings -

View Domer's profile


252 posts in 4700 days

#12 posted 09-22-2009 04:32 AM

I have been reading about the dowels vs tenons on several blogs. I have always thought that mortise and tenons are the strongest joints. But I have read a lot lately that dowels are actually pretty strong.

The worst problem I ever had with dowels is that it is very difficult to have very many and get the joints together as you really need to be very precise.

I own a Domino which I use for as many joints as I can. It is very accurate and easy to use and saves a huge amount of time. Maybe I am wrong, but I can’t see how a doweled joint would be as strong and I know the Domino is easier to use.

Just my 2 cents worth.

View BeeJay's profile


71 posts in 4522 days

#13 posted 09-25-2009 01:48 PM

Domer, you are dead right. The domino is truly accurate and if you are a little less confident you can set it for loose joints and use an expanding glue. I don’t have one, mother won’t let me spend that sort of money $1500 in Aus. My son uses one at work and I tried it one day and was amazed at the simplicity and accuracy. As far as dowels go, if you can use more than 1 per joint you can emulate a tenon.

-- If you try to fail and succeed, what have you done?

View rhett's profile


743 posts in 5001 days

#14 posted 09-25-2009 03:02 PM

Another vote for floating tenons. As BeeJay said, the plus over a dowel is that a floater makes it mechanically impossible for pieces to twist should glue begin to fail. Any joint that may twist would need two dowels. Thats twice the work for each joint. The domino can take even the most modest woodworker and allow them to construct pieces nicer and faster then they ever could. It also excells at angled joinery, such as a seat frame that narrows as it goes back.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

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