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Cope & Stick or Mortise & Tenon ?

Willie's picture

Will appreciate opinions from the joinery specialists....

I'm building a French cabinet, 40" wide and 8' tall. The bottom sides will be raised panels 16" x 3' tall and will provide part of the strength in the casework. I won't be using face frames, so the base will be supported by these side panels, a top and bottom frame and a fixed center shelf.

So this is my question, will cope & stick be good enough, or should I rather go with traditional mortise and tenon for the raised side panels?

JeffHeath's picture

(post #106383, reply #1 of 5)

A cope and stick glue joint by itself is not strong enough to resist the racking forces of a cabinet that size.  A mortise and tenon joint, or haunched tenon, would be preferred to add the strength necessary to keep your cabinet square over the long haul.  I would even consider pinning the tenon.  You can let it show from the outside with a contrasting wood for a design feature, or do it from the inside if you don't want it to show.


A distinguished graduate of the School of Hard Knocks
oldusty's picture

(post #106383, reply #2 of 5)

 Hi Willie ,

              First off I'm not positive by what you mean by a French cabinet , is it an Armoire ?

    40" X 96" is a good sized box for a free standing piece , will there be a back? how about doors ? how thick are the frame members going to be .IMO that's rather tall for no face on a free standing unit regardless of the type of joinery.

      What will keep the sides parallel the whole ht ?

   The strength is derived from the frame regardless of the panel type in theory since the panel floats .

  There will not be much argument as to which joint is stronger , but rather the application that it is being used .

                    good      luck         dusty

Willie's picture

(post #106383, reply #4 of 5)

Thanks everyone, I will stick to pinned M&T and not take any short cuts.

Dusty, I have done one of these before and the side panels only with fixed shelves and top and bottom frames provides a pretty rigid structure. Makes things simple and building quick.

Attached a picture explains your questions, the back is only thin ply, while the front are doors.

PICT0027.JPG31.49 KB
Steve50's picture

(post #106383, reply #3 of 5)

The criteria I apply to my projects for these choices are pretty simple:

  1. If building furniture, use M&T (built to last for generations and maybe someday would be a heirloom)

  2. If building cabinets, use cope & stick (likely to be replaced within a 12-15 year period)


RickL's picture

(post #106383, reply #5 of 5)

Cope and stick joints can easily be strengthened with dowels or loose tenons. We do this all the time.