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The Best Woodworking Joint I Have Ever Made

When we think of woodworking, we always refer to joints as the most common way to connect two pieces. Joints can be very different; the most known is the tenon and mortise. Others are more complex and a distinguished sign of craftsmanship when applied in the appropriate context.

I made one of them, and I will tell you how in this post. It's called the Maloof's joint.


poster of the article the best woodworking joint I have ever made

In this article, I will guide you through the steps I followed to make this joint during the construction of my lounge chair; I will share with you the way I learned it and why it's easier than you think.


Here are the steps we will discuss today:

  1. WHO WAS SAM MALOOF

  2. THE ELEMENTS OF A MALOOF JOINT

  3. THE ROUTER BITS FOR A MALOOF JOINT

1. WHO WAS SAM MALOOF


If you mention the name of Sam Maloof in the woodworking community, you will immediately notice the seriousness and respect coming up in the discussion participants. And this is for a good reason.

"his career spanned for over sixty years"

Sam Maloof heavily influenced the community of designers and woodworkers for decades and will certainly impact the generations to come.


During his long career, which spanned over sixty years, he was a prolific designer and woodworker, and his furniture is now part of the most beautiful houses. Personalities like Jimmy Carter and Stevie Wonder used wonderful words praising his work.


Today his legacy is alive and kicking! Reproducing one of his popular rocking chairs is a remarkable achievement for every woodworker; it's proof of having honed some proper woodworking skills.


You can say it...It's like being part of an exclusive club.


So it's not by chance that a wood joint is named after him because he invented it for his chairs, which became a sign of distinguished craftsmanship.


It's the Maloof Joint.


If you want to know more about Sam Maloof's life, you can watch this short documentary about his life.


2. THE ELEMENTS OF A MALOOF JOINT

A lounge chair featuring a Maloof joint
This lounge chair features a Maloof joint, connecting the back legs to the seat.

When I was asked to make this lounge chair, I thought about how I wanted the single parts connected. It's interesting when I reflect on it; a piece of furniture can be made of several pieces that connect, and I had only seven with this chair. Yet, it was a complicated matter regarding shaping and curved transitions.


I already knew who Sam Maloof was; I was an avid reader of FineWoodworking, and, in the past years, I read several articles about him and his notorious skills.


So I had no doubts...I wanted to challenge myself and make a chair with a Maloof's joint!

"the Maloof joint is a crossed half lap joint"

The first thing I did was full immersion in studying the joint, how is a Maloof joint made, the different variations and what tools and jigs I would need to make a Maloof joint.


In the following description, I will show you the chair during the construction phases and give you some details of how I achieved each stage.


If you want to have a deeper understanding of how to make a Maloof joint, I recommend watching a YouTube video made by Paul Lemiski of Canadian Woodworks.

This is the video I watched endless times, and it gave me a clear explanation of how to make the joint.


Now..let's talk about the elements of this joint.


It's essentially a crossed half-lap joint that connects a leg of the chair to the seat, and, depending if it's positioned on the front or on the back, it has small variations. But it's still a half-lap joint (at its best version!).

A Maloof joint is basically a half lap joint with a large gluing surface
A Maloof joint is basically a half lap joint with a large gluing surface

The chair's seat has a notch that is initially cut with a jig and then "half lapped" with a router bit.


The leg has the rabbet that will be home for the notch. The rabbet can be cut on the table saw, preferably with a dado blade. Since I don't have it, I made it with a normal blade with just more passes.


Make a mock-up first! It's important that you understand the joint before you cut it for your piece. My chair had a mockup that I used to experiment and see what I was doing. Any mistake wouldn't affect me much because I worked on cheap pine.




3. THE ROUTER BITS FOR A MALOOF JOINT


Making a Maloof joint requires specific bits because both the leg and the seat have curves with a radius that must match. Being this a unique set of router bits, not every manufacturer has them in production; I found mine in Uk from routercutter.co.uk, which sells bits produced by Whiteside Machine Company


Whatever brand you choose, make sure that the bits are made for this kind of joint and that they come in pairs.

a set of router bits for the Maloof joint
A Maloof joint requires a specific set of router bits

Both bits are used on the router table to guarantee stable support when they contact the wood. Once the setup is done, the joint becomes easy to do, provided the correct sequence is followed.


First, I had to cut out the recess in the seat, and for this, I built a simple jig that allowed me to sit the handheld router on the piece and have a consistent and precise cut.

Once the jig is done, it can be used for all future joints, and it took me no more than 1 hour to build it.

Two different views of the jig to make a Maloof joint . This jig is made to cut the slot in the seat
Two different views of the jig to make a Maloof joint . This jig is made to cut the slot in the seat

As you can see from the picture above, the jig is made of plywood (18mm is a good choice).


To remove the majority of the material, it is recommended to use a bandsaw to make several cuts and use a chisel to remove the bulk. The router alone would be put under stress and be more difficult to control, turning a simple and enjoyable procedure into a mess.

So, use the router to remove only the remaining material and have a clean cut.


The hand held router mounts a collar to follow the pattern on the jig and give consistent and precise results
The hand held router mounts a collar to follow the pattern on the jig and give consistent and precise results

The next step is cutting the notch on the router table with the rabbeting bit. With this bit, I created the tongue that goes into the mortise that is cut in the leg.

At this point, the mortise in the leg is still not done, so the thickness of the notch is not critical.

"cut the joint on the seat first, then do the leg"

As a good practice, I divided the thickness of the seat into thirds to guarantee enough strength.


Once I made the rabbet, I measured its thickness with a veneer caliper to know the exact width of the mortise I had to cut on the leg. As mentioned above, I cut the mortise on a table saw, making several passes. To ensure the joint would fit perfectly, I removed very little material every time and constantly tested the fit.


The last step is creating the round over on the leg to complete the joint and have a perfectly fitting and elegant joint.

a detail of a Maloof joint on the mockup of a chair
In this example I tested on the mockup, you can see how the function of the roundover bit is to create a curve with the radius that perfectly matches the curve on the seat.

So far, as you see from the pictures, the leg is still a big block of wood, as it is important to have it squared on all four sides to make the cuts for the joinery. Having a leg to its final shape before cutting the joints would make the operation impossible


Once the joint was cut and fit tested, it was time to shape the leg. This was an operation that I made using the bandsaw to remove the bulk of the material and the rasp to give the curves the final shape


After cutting a Maloof joint on a square piece, most of the material is removed at the bandsaw
After cutting a Maloof joint on a square piece, most of the material is removed at the bandsaw

Once the leg is completely shaped, the last step of the joint is to insert a screw and cover it with a wood plug. This has the function of reinforcing a connection between the two components. I made mine in walnut to contrast the chair's oak.


A maloof joint is reinforced with a screw that gives the joint even more strength
The last step that completes a Maloof joint is the insertion of a screw that gives more strength to the whole structure

A ryoba saw cutting the excess of a wood plug on a Maloof joint
After inserting the wood plug I cut the excess with a Ryoba saw and sanded.

A detail of the Maloof joint after applying the finish
A detail of the Maloof joint after applying the finish

CONCLUSION


The Maloof joint is very elegant and pleases the eyes of the observer. It gives a chair personality and is a sign of fine craftsmanship. It might seem daunting at first sight, and it requires little effort to be understood in its construction process. But, once the correct sequence is applied, it is straightforward and rewards the maker with great satisfaction.


 

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