A scissor joint in timber framing, also known as double-faced halved rabbeted oblique scarf splice, is a 2-way interlocking type of a scarf joint. The method of assembling the wood pieces not only guarantees the strength of the joint, but also makes the joint stand out aesthetically. The scissors joint can be used vertically or horizontally and is used both for decorative purposes as well as an element for stronger structural applications and supporting purposes.
There are a few ways how to make a scissor joint. Depending on the size of the workpiece multiple tools can be used. These tools typically are, a circular saw, a table saw, a hand saw, a hand plane or a chisel. These options or any combination thereof will provide the desired result.
In my case to make the scissor joint, as you will see in this article, I used a Japanese saw together with a chisel. Although a scissor joint is one of the basic wood framing joints and is one of the easier woodworking joints to make precision and accuracy are very important so that the two pieces fit together exactly. That is why Japanese saws (a ryoba saw, or a dozuki saw) are one the best hand saws for cutting the joint. They are versatile, sharp, thin, and easy to operate and they will provide the desired result.
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*Safety is your responsibility. Make sure you know what you’re doing and take all necessary safety precautions while working with power tools. Safety comes first!
Always be cautious and careful when using any power tool.
What you'll need to make a Scissors Joint
For the Scissors Joint:
2x Spruce wood – 3,9cm x 2,9cm x 15,5cm (1.5 x 1,15 x 6.1″)
Hand Plane (optional)
Additionally, what you might need is a dozuki saw, a marking gauge, a square, a marking pen, and perhaps a few clamps.
What is a scissor joint used for?
A scissor joint is used when joining two members in woodworking and is primarily used in interior fittings and carpentry. The joint is used both for structural support and decorative purposes. It is mainly used when structural elements are needed in longer lengths or when replacing an old beam with a new one.
There are a few variants to the scissor joint: a single-faced splice, a double-faced splice, or a triple-faced splice. All variants can be used with or without a key. The key does not have any structural function, it mainly serves to hold the splice together making sure the joint will not get pulled apart.
The length of the splice affects the use of the scissor joint. Longer splices are used for decorative purposes as opposed to shorter splices which are mainly used for structural purposes. The longer the splice the weaker the joint.
When used as a decorative element the length of the splice typically equals twice the size of the cross-section whereas when used as a structural element the length of the splice typically equals the size of the cross-section. Generally, the splice joint is at least twice the thickness of the wood.
Which is better a scissor joint or a scarf joint?
A scissor joint is a type of scarf joint. These timber frame joints are used in interior fittings and carpentry and can be used both for support and decorative purposes.
Although there are a few variants to the scissor joint, the range of scarf joints is much wider, and therefore the possibilities of use and strength of the joints are more extensive.
There are two main categories of scarf – a plain scarf and an interlocking scarf. A plain scarf joins two flat planes at an angle. An interlocking scarf is additionally enriched with other elements such as hooks or keys, which make the joint stronger.
Both types of joints are usually dependent on additional mechanical fastening or adhesives to ensure joint strength.
When starting with the project, you should consider what will be the joint used for, how much pressure should it take, and if it will be used for structural or decorative purposes. That will determine the thickness of the material and the length of the splice (joint). Remember, the longer the splice the weaker the joint.
When making a scissor joint, wood pieces of different sizes (thicknesses) can be used. Regardless of the size, the procedure is the same.
After finishing the joint additional mechanical fasteners or adhesives are used to ensure the strength of the joint and to keep the joint closed.
Timber Frame Scissor Joint Step by Step
Step 1: Mark the wood pieces
For the scissor joint, I am using a piece of spruce wood 4x3x15,5cm. The wood pieces have a cross-section of 4x3cm and the length of the splice is 8cm.
Mark the joint using a square, a marking gauge, and a sharp pencil.
First, mark the length of the joint, then the diagonal cuts, and then the centerline on the top and bottom sides of the splice. Once finished, mark all the parts to be cut.
NOTE: The diagonal cuts are opposed to each other creating a “scissor” shape.
Mark the second opposite piece in the same way as the first one. Both pieces are exactly the same and will be cut in the same way.
Once finished with all four sides you should end up with a pattern as seen in the picture below.
Step 2: Cut the Scissor Joint
Start with the cuts. To cut the scissor joint I am using a Japanese saw – ryoba saw.
The first cut goes vertically along the centerline to about halfway through the splice. The second cut is made on the opposite side of the wood piece to the same depth.
TIP: Make the cut on the inner side of the line. Fine cleaning will be done with a chisel.
Next, turn the workpiece to the left and make a diagonal cut halfway through the workpiece until the marked triangle is cut off. Repeat the same process on the opposite side of the joint.
The counterpiece is made exactly in the same way as the first piece.
You should end up with two pieces that look like this.
NOTE: After making all the cuts if there is still wood “between the scissors”, you can easily cut it off with a saw. This residual thin layer of wood is usually caused by making the cuts further from the centerline during the first cut. The farther the cut is made from the centerline, the thicker this residual layer of wood will be.
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Step 3: Clean the splice
For precise cleaning of the cuts, I am using a chisel. A hand plane is also a good option though.
Make sure all the cuts are made up to the marked lines.
TIP: You can use a reference piece of wood that serves as a guide for the chisel. Align the edge of the reference wood piece with the drawn line and cut off the wood excess on the joint with a chisel.
Step 4: Assemble the wood pieces
The scissor joint consists of two identical pieces of wood that fit exactly into each other and overlap one another on an even plane.
Once all the pieces are cut, you can easily assemble the joint. Slide one piece into the other and press both pieces together with force. If done well you will get a really nice snug fit.
Additionally, to ensure the strength of the joint and to keep the joint closed use mechanical fasteners or adhesive.
Now you have a scissor joint.
This double-faced halved rabbeted oblique scarf splice without a key is the basic type of a scissor joint. There are also other types such as the single-faced, the double-faced or the triple-faced halved rabbeted oblique scarf splice. All of them can be used with or without a key.
It is important to take into account the type of pressure to which the joint will be exposed and the visibility of the joint. These factors will determine the length of the splice.
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So, this is the double-faced halved rabbeted oblique scarf splice, or as more widely known, the scissor joint. It is one of the basic timber frame joints and quite easy to make, although precision in creation is required to end up with a nice flush fit. So, if you are planning to start with Japanese joinery this is a good adept to start with.
If you are interested in other woodworking joints check out this beautiful 3-way joint – the castle joint.