Make knock-apart shelves, hinges, latches, books, chairs, cabinets, spice containers, doors, desks, and toolboxes using only wood to hold them together. Almost any wood project can be made without using any metal fasteners or glue. This instructable details the techniques and tools I have successfully used over the years to do this.

So, rather than just showing a single project, I will demonstrate a system of fairly simple woodworking joints that you can use to create your own wood projects. Best of all, all the projects featured here can be entirely made with hand tools (although power tools will make it go faster and easier).

Woodworking without metal or glue is of course nothing new. Colonial Americans, Japanese woodworkers and even the ancient Egyptians and Chinese developed all kinds of ways to fasten wood together using only the wood itself. Sometimes, we can discover our future in the past.

Advantages to all-wood woodworking

1-Using these age old techniques, you can save on the cost of fasteners and expensive power tools.

2-Most projects can be easily taken apart for shipping or transport.

3-All-wood joints and fasteners allow for the wood to move with seasonal shrinkage and expansion. Nails and screws hold the wood fast, allowing little movement which eventually cracks the wood around the metal fastener. The movement of the wood, moisture, and the deterioration of glue will eventually
loosen any glued wood joint.

4-When done properly, projects made entirely of wood, can last as long as the wood, which can be more than a thousand years. If you want to build quickly for yourself, use nails, screws, and glue. If you want to build for your children and grandchildren and beyond--you might try using wood-only joinery.

Below are a few example of things I have made without glue or metal. Read the next few steps to see more project examples and details on how they can be made.

pic 1 shows a cantilevered chair made out of Phillipine mahogany.

Pic 2 is a cabinet of pine and cedar.

Pic 3 is a wood book made of cedar with a walnut hinge.

Pic 4 is a spice rack of cedar and aspen.

Pic 5 is a stool made of walnut and alder.

Step 1: Hand Tools and Power Tools

All of the projects pictured in this instructable were designed and made by me using only hand tools. At the time, my solar-electric powered workshop had not yet been built and I wanted to see if I could learn to use traditional techniques and tools. Since then, I have acquired some very impressive battery powered tools that would have made the process go much faster. The newer battery powered tools have improved tremendously in power and affordability and I would highly recommend them. They are often as good or better than the AC power tools. And they are easily solar powered.

Pic 6- Hand tools necessary to do these projects:

A-Ryobi Japanese hand saw-Useful for rips and crosscuts. An American saw will also work fine.

B-Pencil and marking knife-While a pencil is useful for marking most cuts, a knife (such as an x-acto) is more precise for precision cuts and joinery.

C-Layout square-Almost any square can be used for this, but the Japanese square pictured is thin, light, and elegantly precise.

D-Sandpaper-If you cannot plane it or chisel it, then sandpaper is the only option for a smooth wood surface.

E-Brace and bit and drill bits. Works fine and fast for most holes but a power drill is somewhat faster.

F-For striking a chisel a wooden mallet is best, but almost any hammer will also work.

G-Block Plane- used for planing the edges of boards. If really sharp, it can also be used to plane end grain.

H-Tape measure

I-I prefer a Japanese water stone, but the newer diamond stones work just fine.

J-Clamp for holding down wood while you cut it or chisel it.

K-Set of chisels to cut mortises or smooth edges of wood.

Pic 7- Optional tools that I used to create a better finish:

A-Adze-Useful for rough carving of chair seats.

B-Slightly curved gouge used to clean up flat surfaces, large paring chisel used to bevel edges, and gouge used to clean up around knots where a chisel or plane cannot go.

C-Japanese double curved plane-used to smooth out chair seats and other
concave surfaces after the adze has been used.

D-Coping saw- used for tight curved cuts. A power Jigsaw can replace it.

E-Bow saw or frame saw. This is one I made using an inexpensive saw blade (about $10). Used for cutting chair legs and other curved cuts.

F-Dozuki Japanese saw, used for dovetail and other delicate, precise cuts.

Pic 8- Power tools that are very useful:

A-Random Orbit sander-used for final sanding finish.

B-Battery powered jigsaw-Can be used for cutting mortises and curved chair legs. With the 4-3/8" blade shown, I have successfully cut curves on 4" thick beams.

C-Belt sander for rough smoothing.

D-Circular saw for straight cuts. The 18 volt and up saws are quite powerful.

E-Battery powered drill for holes of all sizes.

F-Router-(not pictured)good for sliding dovetails and mortises.

Good Sources for woodworking hand tools:


I found this instructable really inspiring! Thanks! I made this bookshelf using only your instructions, a couple of chisels, a mallet, a handsaw and a lot of sandpaper. No power tools!
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<p>I know this is old, but I just saw it. There is a TON of useful information here and some beautifully made pieces. Thank you for taking the time to make this XXL ible!</p>
<p>This kind of woodworking is really the only woodworking. Soon there will be no glue, or nails or screws. Then real woodworkers will shine because they'll be the only ones building furniture. So it seems to make sense to start building furniture and other things without glue or fasteners now so the right thinking and habits will be in practice already when the time comes...</p>
<p>can you make a big table using this systems?</p>
<p>Yes.</p><p>Trestle tables were made in the Colonial days and later, using wood wedges to hold the structure together. </p><p>You could do it too.</p>
<p>but how would one attach the table top?</p>
<p>You could scale up the cabinet door in pic2 above and make the table top like that. Then, you just extend the dowels long enough to go through a horizontal piece that is attached to the legs.</p><p>Wedges then hold the dowels in place to attach the top.</p>
I(ll but this instructable in my &quot;best&quot; list !!!&hellip; <br> <br>thank yo again. <br> <br>One question though, any particular instruction for making the seasoning vials / pots ?
I made the spice vials out of dead standing aspen that still had bark on it that was pealing off. This age of dead tree gives it a varied patina that looks like glazed ceramic. <br> <br>The vials were cut to length and then hand drilled with a brace and bit. Melted beeswax was then poured into the cavity and then poured right out. This left a thin waterproof coating on the inside of the container. <br> <br>I used corks or stoppers made of juniper branches that were beveled to fit with a chisel. Two coats of tung oil finished the container.
Thank you so much for answering !
Super cool work, I hope one day be able to build something using the only wood technique. A couple of weeks ago, a neighbor gave me some antique wooden textile tools and to my surprise, they were assembled by wooden nails and screws...
Wow. Seriously just wow. So impressed and inspired by this.
Great instructable. I smiled the entire way through it at the simplicity of the art joinery used.
Love it. Really inspiring in every way and excellent information too. I have been sitting staring at the back of an Anatolian cupboard, which must become a second front (the real front is beautifully (and primitively) carved and finally see how I can add doors without being invasive. <br><br>Someone has told me to use rice oil to treat it. I haven't t researched exactly what it is yet. I wonder if you've heard of it? (this is a different world. so probably not...)<br><br>Thank you very, very much for this Instructable...!
Wow, that is very interesting, it opens a whole new world of posibilityes, i want to learn not to need electricity to make things and this is one of the important subjects to learn, Does anyone know of ''the book to have'' on this subject?? that would be amazing!! Thancks, regards
i know the post is a little old, but there's a book my dad used to have called &quot;Back to Basics&quot;. it had a good amount of information on primitive woodworking, construction techniques, and lots of information on living off grid. <br>
Hey, great book, thancks for the info, let me know if you discver any more, regards
Very nice work and ideas.<br /> Do you have detailed pics/diagrams on the construction of the German style clamp? What kind of mechanism stops the movable jaw from sliding back when the lever is applied?<br /> thanks.<br />
The mortise in the movable jaw contacts the bar in two places and the leverage locks it in place.<br /> <br /> Sorry, I am too busy working on new projects to have time to photograph and explain in detail all of them.<br />
I know it's been awhile since you put this up, but great info. I just wanted to second what zyon asked about the German style clamp. I've looked all over the place for specific designs for the one you have but haven't found anything. Would be great if you could put something up on it. Thanks!
nice projects youve done there although i counted 4 screws 0n pics 29 an 30 lol some good ideas for me to try out cheers
Very Very nice! was looking for a little joinery info and got a lot quickly and clearly!
Awesome. Thanks for sharing. One thing that I was wondering about: you mentioned the orbital power sander for finishing work. I was under the impression that the orbital sander was better for more of the earlier prep, as it is more important to sand with the grain of the wood as the project progresses...?
If you are using a belt sander or hand sanding it is generally better to sand with the grain. A random orbital sander ( Like the Makita sander in the picture) sands in all directions but for a very short stroke. At the same time it spins like a rotating disk sander. So part of the time it sands against the grain and the rest of the time it sands with the grain. You can achieve a very fine finish (good enough for everyone but the ultra purists) using this as the last sander. If I have to take off a lot of wood to flatten or flush up joints I first use a belt sander with 80 grit going more or less with the grain. Then I sand with a random orbital sander at 150 grit followed by 220 grit and this gives a beautiful finish after three coats of tung oil. That said, the ultimate smoothness on wood is usually achieved using a finely tuned hand plane with a very sharp blade or a hand scraper or a power thickness planer with a new blade. These tools slice through the wood leaving the smoothest possible surface.
Hey mikey77: Love the concept of wood only projects! Do you know of any good books (with pictures/drawings) about woodworking without glue, nails, and hardware? Thanks. craftykarla
Nice spice rack. very authentic and classic, great for Huts, Wood Cabins, and outland houses. Nice post
Absolutely brilliant 'ibble!!&nbsp;Incredibly usefull and very well written, 10 out of 10 from me. Thank you very much.<br />
You, sir, kick arse.&nbsp; Thank you very much for this instructable.&nbsp; Quite an impressive array of techniques.<br />
Joinery w/o metal pieces nor glue is the holy grail of woodworkers...<br /> <br /> The technique shown in picture 44 (step 11) is totally new to me. Great!<br /> <br /> Thanks.<br />
This is cool looks like some one is taking notes from the Yankee Wood Shop show on PBS !&nbsp; and for the record yes I do like the show. &nbsp; <br />
Thank you for writing this instructable, it has inspired my next college project. Cant wait to try some of these out!<br />
Wow. 5*. Was nice to see some examples of how the joints are used rather than just showing how to do them. Thanks!<br />
Incredibly informative and inspiring. &nbsp;Thank you
&nbsp;this is very informative and helpful<br /> greatly apreciated
&nbsp;Or if you want to be scientific the title of this instructable should be &quot;Joinery Basics&quot;
I really like the Devil's Wedge.<br />
isnt this chair designed originally by Nakashima?
very good Instructable, very informative, two thumbs up
"We must overcome the wisdom to achieve simplicity" You succeeded!! good job
Fantastic!! Thanks for the Instructable!! I have been thinking of doing this, now I can!
Wonderful designs, beautiful work. Thanks
Wow, some serious skill. I think you should make an instructable on one of the projects.
I LOVE stuff like this! I keep surfing, hoping to find a pattern or piece that I saw on television once: a knock down/knock apart bookcase (but never find). As often as I move furniture and rearrange (making up for when we had a blind dog and COULDN'T move the furniture!), it would be nice if the pieces were portable! My DH doesn't like to move stuff around, so I do it when he isn't home. Now if only I could make the piano knock-down...
I have added some plans to step 12 on making easy to build knock-apart/knock-down shelves. Maybe you will find it useful.
Hey, nice. Thanks!
Great resource, inspirational.
This is a wonderful collection of photos and information. It is very inspiring for those interested in woodworking, but who are relatively young in the craft (like me). Thank you!
I'm very impressed with your work. Will you make a detailed instructable of one of your projects? Specially your chairs look very interesting. /Thomas

About This Instructable




Bio: I believe that the purpose of life is to learn how to do our best and not give in to the weaker way.
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