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Plate Joinery Part III: by Chuck Ring

In covering the rest of the features and applications for plate joinery and plate joiners, let's go over some of the information previously touched on.

We know that most conventional plate joiners have three common  slot size settings; that of 0, 10 and 20 for the three "conventional" biscuit sizes.  Some of the newer machines have additional settings with the most common being "M". This setting allows the user to set the machine for the Lamello S-6 plate.

Most, if not all of the machines are configured to make optimum use of 3/4" thick material without the aid of the fence or other adjustment features.  With the machine  and material resting flat on a work surface, a slot cut in the work piece will be located at or very near the center of  3/4" material.  It also happens that the bottom edge of the slot is very close to 1/4" away from the bottom surface of the material when the machine is used in this manner.

This 1/4" distance from the surface of the material is generally the minimum distance which should be used. Any slot cut closer to the surface of the material can result in "telegraphing" of the biscuit profile as the biscuit swells in the slot.  When the surface is sanded or otherwise dressed, the profile of the biscuit becomes even more pronounced.

Advantages Of Plate Joinery Over Conventional Methods 
Dowels, keyed splines, conventional mortise and tenons and inserted tenons (also known as loose or slip tenons) all offer strong joinery methods, however none of them offer the ease of machining and degree of adjustment which biscuits offer.

 A common belief among some woodworkers is that plate joinery is suited only for alignment of components and offers little for other types of applications. I and many other woodworkers have successfully used plate joinery for cabinet face frames, door assembly, drawer construction, table assembly, multi-sided column assembly and other applications. As always, care should be taken to not push the limits of the material, either of the work piece or the plates themselves. Testing by the woodworker is the best way to determine the limits and suitability of the methods to be used.  The novice plate joiner user should practice on scrap material until he or she is comfortable with the machine and its idiosyncrasies.

Developing Marking Systems For Components 
If some thought is given to  the development of  a system for marking of the components which will be adaptable to all joinery applications, the flow of the process will be efficient and and less prone to error. Whatever marking process is decided upon, it should be one which is both easy to use and  uncomplicated. One aspect of any marking system which should be considered is the ease of removal of the markings once the components are assembled.

In some cases a "story stick" with index marks can be adapted  for use in plate joinery; especially where the marking of many identical components is concerned.  A good rule-of-thumb for the positioning of biscuits from the end of material is a distance of 2 1/2".  This distance will ensure that there is no "blowout" of the slot in the end of the material, and if for some reason the material must be cut to final dimension after assembly, small increments can be removed from each end without cutting into the biscuits.  The marks if made by pencil can be erased, sanded or better yet, removed with an application of alcohol which dissolves or otherwise removes pencil lead markings.

Preparation Of Stock 
Just as in any other joinery process, care must be taken in the proper preparation of the material to be joined and assembled.  Shortcuts taken in any of the jointing or other dimensioning of the components will reveal themselves in ill fitting or ill looking final assemblies.  Care taken in the preparation of the stock will actually save time when consideration is given  to the subsequent correction of errors or the dressing up of sloppy workmanship.  If a jointer is not available for the machining of edges, there are several methods which can be utilized for the truing of edge joints.  Table saw jigs, router jigs or one of the specialized accessories now available can be used to joint edges and other component features.  The bottom line is that the process should be accomplished with as much accuracy as possible.

Special Application Biscuits And Accessories 
There are several manufacturers or distributors which offer biscuits and accessories for special applications.  Woodhaven and Lamello are two of the companies which have opened up plate joinery for specialized joints and other applications.

Woodhaven has developed two different sizes of proprietary biscuits along with proprietary router bits with which to cut the slots for each biscuit size. The biscuits are made of a compressed hardboard material, while their "premium" biscuits are made from baltic birch plywood.  Their "Regular" biscuit is .955" wide x 1.25" long x .230" thick.  Woodhaven's "Itty Bitty" biscuit measures .590" wide x .812" long x .120" thick.  Each biscuit size requires its own bit in order to cut the proper slot for the biscuits.  In addition to the biscuit material, Woodhaven also markets spline material which can be used in conjunction with the "Regular" biscuit  router bit. Woodhaven  rounds out its biscuit and biscuit accessories offerings with special  jigs for miter, face and edge joints  along with auxiliary fences for the many applications.

I have used both sizes of their biscuits and have found them to be satisfactory.  As there is very little expansion of the biscuit, (due I would surmise from the nature of the biscuit material) the router bits are made to cut the slots to extremely close tolerances.  Ample glue should be used to ensure that all surfaces of the slot are covered just as in conventional plate joinery.

While there are some limitations on joinery applications with the Woodhaven products (most notably, material thickness), woodworkers wishing to use plate joinery can begin with a minimum investment with the use of Woodhaven's products.  As I have previously stated in the second installment of this article, Woodhaven's website does not seem to be fully developed.  However, the site does offer free catalog ordering and some examples of some of  their other products.  Their catalog is well laid out and offers many router accessories, router tables and tops, router bits and some special application tooling and machines.

Lamello is a manufacturer of plate joiners, biscuits, special application hardware and special application machinery.  I have long been a customer of one of the Lamello product distributors, Select Machinery (Hank Koemel, owner) 1-800-789-2323.  Select Machinery offers the full product line of Lamello Plate Joiners along with conventional biscuit sizes and several other sizes or configurations of biscuits.  I have purchased the S-6, H-9 and #11 plates from them over the last several years and have obtained samples of some of their accessory hardware for "knockdown" and other assembly methods.  Additionally some of Woodhaven's products are also featured in the article.

In constructing joints with the "knock down" and other hardware samples acquired from Lamello, I've found that accuracy is a must if the joints are to be properly fitted and operational.  If the accuracy aspect is addressed properly the hardware component provide an extremely strong joint which can be taken apart repeatedly without loss of joint strength.  The hardware components are not inexpensive when purchased in small lots, however their functionality could compensate for the added expense.

Select Machinery has been generous in their providing of new and existing product information and their fulfillment of orders has been timely and accurate.  Try them out if you have need for any of their products and be sure to ask for brochures and other material which they might have.

A Biscuit Joinery Video
While I have no business connection with the producer of a new biscuit joinery video, I have reviewed the video and have found it to contain methods of work which are helpful to the novice AND the experienced biscuit joiner user.  The title of the video is "Biscuit Joinery Techniques With Hank Metz".  The video runs approximate one hour and forty-five minutes and presents basic operation of several plate joiners, basic and advanced techniques, safety precautions and jigs which can be utilized in plate joinery operations.

The prices for the video is $29.50 plus $4.50 shipping and handling.  Orders should be sent to:

Easyway Ventures
PO Box 516
Bin 30
Mundeleen, IL 60060

Mr. Metz' telephone number is 847-949-9044.

This concludes the plate joinery series.  I hope the important aspects of plate joinery have been covered and only useful information has been offered.  As always, any reader is welcome to contact me for additional information via e-mail at cring@concentric.net

Chuck Ring

Editor's note: Chuck Ring runs his own woodworking business, occasionally teaches novices the ins and outs of biscuit joinery and is one of the founders of the WWA. He can be reached at cring@concentric.net

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