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So at school we are doing a bunch of different joints and biscuit was one of them. But as I was working I came down with the question of what makes them so good. There are other joints that I think work better, mainly being dowel because it is a similar idea. I also think that dowels are stronger, and here are my reasons. Dowels fit tightly, while a biscuit is rather loose, and seems to need glue filled in more or less. Unless I am wrong. And the other main reason is you can have the dowel deeper in the wood than a biscuit.

So otherwise I truly do not know much about biscuit joinery and would love to know more about it. What are advantages, disadvantages to using this method. And really just anything on it would be great!

  • FWIW I just purchased a Fine WoodWorking book on cabinetry and there's a whole section on using biscuits in the positive manner. – Dano0430 Feb 21 '17 at 14:22
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What is so great with biscuit joinery?

It's fast.

That's all I've got, because other than that I don't think it's a good joinery method, for finer work especially.

So at school we are doing a bunch of different joints and biscuit was one of them.

Biscuits aren't a joint per se as they're a reinforcement or alignment aid. Many butt joints can be reinforced with biscuits, including mitres, standard 90° butts and edge joints. Arguably the first two are rightly called "biscuit joints", but in the third the biscuits are there as an aid to alignment during the glue-up (and therefore have little real value, they certainly don't add strength as some believe and can in fact undermine the joint in the long term, also see reference to telegraphing in this previous Answer.).

I also think that dowels are stronger, and here are my reasons. Dowels fit tightly, while a biscuit is rather lose

Dowels can be stronger, but it's all about the specifics. The diameter of the dowelling used, their overall length and how deeply they are seated in both workpieces are all significant factors. And it goes without saying that the species of wood used for the dowel is important.

Re. the loose fit of biscuits, they're supposed to only be that way when first inserted. They're made of compressed wood (beech usually AFAIK) and they are intended to swell to a tight fit after the glue is applied. This is why biscuits are supposed to be carefully stored to keep them dry. It's also why you have to be mindful of the glue used, any glue that doesn't contain water is not as good a choice as one that does.

seems to need glue filled in more or less

For most woodworking you should never think of glue as a filling material or gap-filler. Most common glues are truly terrible gap-fillers, relying instead of very close fitting of components to make a strong joint (the thinner the glue line the better, as odd as that might seem).

In addition to this general point you should be careful not to over-fill a biscuit pocket with glue. Apart from the waste in glue — most will simply slop out as the biscuit is pushed home — if you make the pockets overly wet you can get localised swelling, which is a problem more than a few users have discovered the hard way.

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    Finally an answer that mentions the swelling aspect of "how they work." Admittedly I do not own nor particularly want a biscuit joiner, but they should swell to fit the slot... – Ecnerwal Mar 4 '17 at 4:20
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    They definitely swell to a very tight fit. I cut a #10 biscuit slot the other day, but accidentally put a #0 biscuit in it. Realized it quickly, but couldn't get a grip on it with bare fingers. I continued to put the last 3 biscuits in - maybe 2 minutes - before getting a pliers. At that point I couldn't remove it with a lineman's pliers. The PVA glue was still wet. – CoAstroGeek Apr 23 at 16:15
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This won't be an absolutely complete list, but here's a few reasons I like biscuits:

  • they are pretty strong, especially with respect to pull-apart strength, within reason

  • they make alignment and glue-up much easier

  • easy to do, compared to pretty much everything except a butt joint

On the downside, I wouldn't build furniture with it because of strength.

Regarding biscuits being loose, my experience is that there's a tiny bit of slop, but that it isn't generally an issue. You can push-pull your joint into appropriate alignment and then glue or pin it.

Having said that, there's a place for dowels (long, so stronger in some joints), traditional mortise and tenon (classic and strong), Dominos (dowels on steroids), pocket screws (great for face frames, where you don't need a ton of strength), laps of all kinds (easy), dovetails/box joints (beautiful, hard to do)... I've probably missed a few obvious joints.

Hopefully, someone less lazy than me will find a comprehensive strength test between the various joints.

  • Biscuits are great for aligning parts and they are easy to do accurately using a biscuit joiner, which is a relatively inexpensive and user friendly tool. Dowels are much more difficult to drill for accurately and require much more complicated tooling or jigs to pull off repeatedly and with the accuracy necessary for correct alignment. – Jacob Edmond Feb 21 '17 at 15:46

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