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I'm planning to build some cubbies and drawers based on the design in the picture in a closet in my house.

enter image description here

I'm planning to use plywood for most of it. I've seen some designs use glue and dowel pins to connect the components, others just use glue and finishing nails.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of these two methods?

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Check out this question for more tips. –  Steve Jackson Dec 30 '11 at 22:28
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you are looking for strong, long lasting, high quality work that looks professionally done, then nails are not the solution I'd ever choose for joinery of this sort.

Nails work well between a pair of 2x4s when you are framing a wall, but that is where I stop using them. If you are expecting finishing nails to hold any serious load, don't. That does not say that finishing nails have no purpose. They can work nicely to hold together a joint while the glue dries - no clamps need apply! But even so, butt joints with glue (and a few light nails) are simply not very strong. It won't hold up over a few years. (Yes, I'll admit that I have never UNDER-engineered my work.)

So, the next step up might be rabbet joints, glued and nailed. Again, with nails or not, they simply won't offer strong, long lasting joints. In the right place, a rabbet can be the right joint.

Dado joints (a groove that fully encases the matching wood) will be strong, and will support a serious amount of weight. These offer a good solution, IF you have the tools to cut one, so either a router or a dado blade for a table saw. But a dado joint is not always an option.

Butt joints with dowels can work, but it will be somewhat slow to do. You need to be accurate in lining up the holes, so a good jig will be important, and know how to use it.

Personally, I like biscuit joinery. It helps to have a biscuit joiner to cut the slots, but a router could do the job in a pinch. It is strong, works well enough with plywood, easy enough to do. Biscuits will be far easier to use and install compared to dowels, because they allow for a bit of slop in the slots.

The last option I'll throw out is pocket screw joinery. It creates quite a strong joint, even with plywood. They are easy to line up, since you drill the holes with the wood mated together. The screws draw the mating pieces together tightly, resulting in a good looking joint. You can build very high quality case work with these joints, however, you generally want to be careful to keep the screw heads hidden. The cost is not too high for a screw jig, and then all it takes is an electric drill.

Either of these latter two options would be my preference. They will be significantly faster to do than dowels, but dowels (if done well) can offer a strong, serviceable joint.

The point of all this is it depends on how strong, how professional a job you want to do here. Are you willing to invest a few dollars into a piece of equipment (i.e., dowel jig, biscuit joiner, pocket screw jig?)

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I certainly appreciate the quality and superior workmanship of the joinery you have described. It certainly is better than nails and glue, but that was not the question. However, I bet Shane is looking to build a small light duty organizer and not into spending big bucks on jigs, biscuit jointers and a course on cabinet making. I am not dissing your answer, but unless Shane wants to build a high quality piece of furniture, nails and glue will work fine. –  shirlock homes Dec 30 '11 at 23:13
    
Personally, I'd Dado the shelves, glue and finish nail them. I'd use screw in glides for the drawers. Or maybe go buy a modular kit and get it all done in two hours at probably a lower cost than build from scratch. –  shirlock homes Dec 30 '11 at 23:18
    
Yes, I'm a bit of a perfectionist. But I want to be proud of any piece of work that escapes my shop. Otherwise, I'd just buy something from a big-box store. –  user558 Dec 31 '11 at 0:38
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Glue is good, especially when components are clamped firm until glue dries. Be sure to use a good wood glue like Titebond II.

Now the difference between dowels and finish nails. Dowels are probably stronger for heavy loads, but it can be very difficult to get holes drilled exactly right in both the frame and shelf. If the holes are off even a small amount, installing the shelves can be a bear and they may look unlevel. The advantage is that there are no nail holes to fill as the dowels are hidden. In most cases, especially if you are using plywood and intent to paint the piece, I would prefer finish nails. They are a lot faster and easier, you can exactly align your shelves then nail, and the holes(especially if you use a finish gun) are tiny and easily filled and sanded before priming/painting.

Either way, dowel or nail, be sure to brush on a thin coat of glue on both surfaces and clamp up your work after doweling or nailing until the glue is cured. Good Luck

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Since your basic question is advantages / disadvantages of nails / dowels here's my take.

Nails - Advantages - The finish looks nicer

Nails - Disadvantages - Only good for holding pieces together while glue dries. - Nailing with a hammer bounces the wood around and could move and bounce the wood out of square.

Dowels - Advantages - More wood surface for gluing (the amount of wood surface that is glued makes your joint stronger). - Strength - The finished pieces with the dowels add character.

Dowels - Disadvantages - The dowels have to be aligned perfectly or you can throw your work out of square. 1/16th here and 1/16th there adds up in a hurry.

There's probably more I'm sure they will come up.

Also, do not mark this as an answer. A lot of what I have on here is from @woodchips and @shirlock homes already had in their answers. However if you want to give me a +1 I won't argue.

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