For many woodworkers, most joints – edge, rabbet, dado, half lap and others – are easy enough to jump right into.
But whether you’re a “wet-behind-the-ears” rookie or a hardened veteran, you’ll eventually come up against a situation where you’ll want to mock up a joint before incorporating it into a project.
There can be a few different reasons for this. First, you may not know how to create it, and don’t want to mess up the expensive material you’re working with. Practicing the joint beforehand will let you see how difficult it is to create, let you know how well it turns out, and even give you clues as to whether or not you need to purchase a new tool, bit, blade or other woodworking item. If it’s really hard to create, it might even make you consider coming up with another joint to use in your project.
Another reason to mock up a joint before starting a project is to work out some of the details. I may know exactly how to make it, and have all the tooling for it, but things like dimensions, overlap, proportion and other details often have to be seen full-size before I can get a better idea of how the different parts relate to each other.
I’ve also mocked up a joint so I have a real-life example I can refer to once I’m working on the real thing. Occasionally, this helps me get the parts and their mating joints sorted out in my head. I only use this approach for very complex joints.
The last situation (that I can think of at the moment) in which I will mock up a joint is when I want to show a client a detail. Some clients can visualize joints in their heads, but it’s almost always easier and clearer to show someone the joint in real life. Also, if I make it with sanded surfaces, eased edges and a nice finish, it goes a long way to locking down that great job I’m hoping for.
My next project
I’m currently working on a bookcase project for our basement. It’s a simple, clean design, but has a unique joint fixing the front of the shelves to the vertical solid wood members that support the front of each shelf. I knew it would work, and I also knew how to machine it, but the proportions and visuals were a bit muddy in my mind. After mocking it up, I was able to tweak it to look a bit sleeker and allow it to be assembled even more easily. I was also able to show my partner, who liked it. Game on.
I now have the mocked-up joint to help guide me during the project, if needed. This project, and the joint in question, isn’t rocket science, but having the ability to look at the mock-up makes it easier on my mind.
I actually have to adjust the way I machine the joint in the full-sized project, as there’s a large difference between cutting a joint in a 16″ long by 8″ wide part, than cutting that same joint in an 8′ long bookcase shelf. Instead of running the workpiece over the table saw to machine the notch in the plywood shelf, I’ll make a simple jig that will guide my router and template bit. This brings other challenges, but I’ll also likely make another mock-up of the joint just before I start machining the real joints. Having the experience of machining the very first joint gave me a better idea of the challenges I’ll face with the real joints.
It sounds silly, but avoiding mistakes is not only good advice for a new woodworker, but also important for an experienced woodworker. Whether it’s wasted time or wasted materials, there are few things more frustrating in the shop than having to spend even more money on materials, then having to spend even more time re-machining, in order to end up with a strong, functional and beautiful project. Mocking up a joint before jumping into the real thing will often be a good solution to this problem.
And once you’re done with each project you can keep some of these mocked-up joints on hand for the future. Whether it’s for inspiration, or just to decorate your workshop, you’ll look at them with happy thoughts down the road. Once or twice I’ve reached for one of the mocked-up joints I’ve made because I was going to make another project that would be installed directly beside the first one, and I could get all the details off the mock-up.
Easy to See
Once the mock-up was done, I could see how all the details looked. How far the solid wood vertical piece protruded past the shelf, how large of a roundover bit to use on the shelf where it will meet the sides of the vertical piece and determining if tearout would be a problem were things I was focusing on.
All in the Details
Once it's apart, the joint looks quite simple, which it is. It’s only a bit more complex when it's assembled, as the different dimensions and details effect how it looks.