Top 10 Assembly Tips

With all the hard work that goes into breakout and joinery, you certainly don't want things to go wrong during the assembly stage. Here are a few tips to ensure a smooth transition to finishing.

By Rob Brown
Photos by Rob Brown

1. Joints Can Help With Location

Joints and fasteners that allow no movement between mating parts (dowels, Dominos, tenons, etc.) can locate workpieces very accurately and ease the assembly process. Biscuits work well in one direction but allow a bit of play side-to-side. This can be a good or bad thing. While they can be very strong, simple edge joints are very poor when it comes to locating the two parts together precisely. Consider what you will need during assembly and incorporate it into the piece.

2. Sand Before Assembly When Needed

Getting at certain surfaces once the parts have been assembled can be nearly impossible. Sanding before assembly can make life easier in the long run.

3. Prefinish Some Parts

Small parts in an intricate assembly can be very hard to finish. Taping exposed joinery surfaces and applying a finish before assembly can be a great approach, resulting in a nicer finished product.

4. Subassemblies

There are times when it’s absolutely impossible to apply glue and assemble all the joints in one project before the glue sets up. Making subassemblies is a great way to get around this. I’ve used upwards of eight subassemblies to bring together certain pieces of furniture before. It might take longer, but there’s a much lower chance of ruining the entire piece.

5. Don’t Wait Too Long

Wood expands, contracts and warps with time. Though it’s rare, perfect joinery one day can be impossible joinery a month down the road. Assemble your project as soon as possible after machining joinery.

6. Be Prepared

Clamps, glue, brushes, cauls, workpieces, etc., all need to be accounted for and located nearby. I even go the extra step of adjusting clamp heads so they’re at approximately the right length before applying any glue. Taping cauls to a workpiece is another way to make the assembly process run smoother.

7. Practice

Be sure you know in what order you’re going to bring the parts together, and whether or not your approach will actually work. A complete run-through will point out any major problems in your approach.

8. Time The Run-Through

Glue can be left open for only so long, then it starts to dry and creates joints that are not as strong as they otherwise could be. Time your dry assembly, then add some time for applying glue to see if you are going to be quick enough.

9. Consider a Different Adhesive

If your run-through took too long, consider using another adhesive. Epoxy is very good for open time but can be harder to work with.

10. Get Some Help

Another set of hands can save the day. Just be patient with your helper, teach them exactly what needs to be done, and have them do a run-through if it’s at all complicated. Just remember, what might be second nature to you may be foreign to them, so don’t assume they’ll know enough to help you out properly.

What other corner joints have you used?

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