The art of glue-less joinery . . . by Daniel Dunbar
My brother bought an armoire when he was living in France a few years ago and had it delivered to his house. The piece arrived in pieces. Literally, they delivered him a pile of wood stacked on the floor and said, “There you go.”
In the old days of building, furniture was built without glue for two very fundamental reasons: Glue wasn’t very reliable, and big pieces couldn’t fit through small doors.
Until recent times, glue was a paste made from animal fat or plants that served more to fill in holes, not as an adhesive. You had to peg every mortise and tennon joint to make sure it couldn’t back out over time. When joining two boards on the long grain to make a beam, scarf joints were always pinned. It was also common practice everywhere to build large pieces that could be dissembled easily in order to fit through small doorways. Working from my small wood-shop, I have always had to build this way, else I create a piece so large, it can’t be moved at all.
In my way of thinking, I find this kind of building most intriguing because it demands cooperation of the wood. The long-term demands placed on the joinery are so high, it forces itself on the design. The way the piece is built then becomes observable, and part of its presence. Each separate component is identifiable as part of the whole and I find this to be a delight to the mind and a comfort to the eye. It is the long way to build, and takes lots of time. But in the end, you have a piece of furniture that can be taken apart and carried through generations of doorways.