Biscuit Joiner Alternatives – Can You Get Away Without It?

“biscuit joints are great, even for the playa” by johnclarkemills is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In this quick article, we will discuss some biscuit joiner alternatives. As you might already know, biscuit joints have advantages and disadvantages. Some projects are better suited for them than others. If you are not sure if you can apply biscuit joinery to yours, it’s best to first learn about the other available choices. Or maybe you are still thinking about getting a biscuit joiner. You should ask yourself if you really need it, or if maybe you can get away with other joinery techniques and save some money.

In summary, we are gonna talk about these alternatives to the biscuit joint. Butt joints, such as the dowel joint and the miter joint, dovetail joints, half-lap joints, mortise and tenon joints. Some techniques are more advanced than others, so make sure your skills are up to the task. Additional tools and materials might be required. That should also influence your final decision.

Let’s start with the dowel joint.

Dowel Joint: Similar to the Biscuit Joint, but Way Stronger

This type of butt joint is very similar to the biscuit joint, but it’s definitely stronger. That makes it suitable for more advanced woodworking projects. It doesn’t require a specific tool to be done, a common drill is more than enough. Unlike the biscuit joint, you need to be very precise when cutting the slots, in order to avoid unwanted misalignments. That’s the reason why it’s usually suggested to use a dowel jig, which is a tool specifically designed to guide you while drilling. That way, the holes will always be perfectly aligned and perpendicular to the surface, saving you several headaches. If you feel like it, you could even try building a homemade dowel jig. You will need to be very careful when building it in order to get accurate results.

In my opinion, getting a commercial dowel jig is worth the money. I really like this self-centering dowel jig. It’s made in aluminum and steel, which makes it solid and durable. A variety of drill-hole sizes can be achieved, so you don’t have to get different jigs for different sizes. 3 drill bits and stoppers are included in the package, which is a nice plus.

Using a drill stop is key here. You want to cut at the right depth so that the pin is equally inserted into the wood boards, guaranteeing a balanced joint. If you don’t have a drill stop, check out this paragraph to learn some alternative techniques to cut a hole in wood without going all the way through.

All things considered, the dowel joint is a good alternative to the biscuit joint. The only downside is that is more time-consuming, and you need to be careful to get a nice result.

Other Butt Joint Alternatives

In addition to the dowel joint, there are other butt joint possibilities. Let’s discuss a few of them.

Nailed Joint

If you don’t care about your project having a clean, flush finish, you might just use some nails to join the boards together.

Obviously, it’s not as strong as other types of joint, but it’s still good for certain projects. For additional strength, insert the nails not parallel to each other, but at an angle.

Screwed Joint

Instead of nails, you could use some screws for your butt joint. The advantage here is that you could cut a countersunk portion on top of the hole to hide the screw head, getting a more clean finish. You could also use some wooden plugs for an even nicer finish.

Make sure to use screws of appropriate length to get a solid connection.

Mitered Joint

Another butt joint alternative is the miter joint. Basically, the wood ends are cut at a certain angle and joined together, so you don’t get to see the end grain. This results in a nice and clean look, which makes miter joints perfect for projects like picture frames.

Like all butt joints, strength isn’t really their highlight. Miter joints applied to picture frames are usually held together with glue. Make sure to use high-quality woodworking glue to get the best results. If you need more strength, you can use nails or screws to reinforce the joint. Drive at least two of those into the wooden board, one for each side. For picture frames, you can choose from a variety of reinforcement options, like L-shaped plates to put on the back of the frame, or corner brackets.

To form a perfect 90 degrees angle, the two pieces need to be cut precisely. It’s always better to put them in position and check that everything is fine before using any glue.

Half-Lap Joint

“Half Lap Joint” by Newsy Preservation Paris is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Another joint you can choose is the half-lap joint. It’s not so different from a butt joint. In this case, some material is removed from both the joining ends, that are overlapped. This way, the joint results stronger, especially against shear forces. That’s the main reason you should choose it against butt joints. Plus, it will give your project a more pleasant look.

The half-lap joint requires more skill and time than the joints we talked about before. First, you’ll need a saw to cut the board thickness to the needed depth. Then, you’ll have to remove the material surplus to get a flat contact surface. Ideally, you want to use a table saw for cutting and a router for chiseling.

Some More Biscuit Joiner Alternatives

Finally, I want to talk about a couple of more advanced techniques. These are the strongest joints you can choose from.

Dovetail Joint

This is another traditional woodworking technique that every woodworking enthusiast needs to have in his repertoire. It’s not the most beginner-friendly joint. It requires a good amount of craftmanship. It’s made of pins and tails framed together with glue. If done correctly, it’s technically impossible to pull it apart.

It’s the ideal joint for projects that require strong joints, such as drawers, boxes, cabinets.

Mortise and Tenon Joint

biscuit joiner alternatives
“General Mortise and Tenon Joint” by Newsy Preservation Paris is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Finally, let’s talk about this classic woodworking joint. It’s made of a mortise hole and a tenon which is inserted inside the first one. To work correctly, the tenon must fit perfectly inside the mortise (same as with the dovetail joint). The joined pieces sit at a 90 degrees angle. When finished, the joint is perfectly hidden.

It’s not only one of the most appealing joints out there, but also one of the most difficult to make. There’s little to no room for error. You will see it in use in advanced woodworking projects. It’s usually regarded as one of the stronger joints that you can use in woodworking.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are a lot of alternatives to choose from if you don’t have a biscuit joiner. Some of them are more beginner-friendly, such as the butt joints. Others have a higher skill cap, like dovetail joints. The final result also varies a lot. Some joinery techniques give you a nicer finish than others. Each technique has its pros and cons.

Your choice should depend on these questions’ answers: how much strength does your project require? Do you need it to be aesthetically pleasing or not? What tools do you already possess? What’s your skill level?

All things considered, the dowel joint constitutes a good compromise between strength, look, required tools, and craftmanship level. It’s stronger than a biscuit joint, but it’s still easy enough to make. The only thing you might need to get is a dowel jig. Fortunately, they are inexpensive tools, definitely cheaper than biscuit joiners.