October 22, 2022
If you know what a mortise and tenon joint is, the bridle joint needs no introduction! They are similar joints in terms of construction. Basically, a bridle joint is when you join together two wood pieces with ends that accept and receive one another. Once joined, they form a corner!
In contrast, a mortise and tenon joint involves two wood pieces as well. You cut a tenon, and a mortise on the other. Then you join them together for the full tenon width.
It isn’t a surprise, then, that a corner bridle joint is also called a slot mortise and tenon. Yup, they are that similar! Woodworkers find them handy due to the compression strength and resistance it has to racking. However, mechanical fasteners, pins, and whatnot may also be used to keep it together.
If you prefer to do workbench construction, the bridle joint is quite popular there! You can consider using it then.
Okay, that’s the basic rundown of the bridle joint. Ready to give it more detail? We’ve got you! Read more about the joints below.
More on Bridles: Corner Bridles, T-Bridles, and Dovetails
If you need to shape framing and guarantee joint integrity, you need corner bridles. You can use them to join each frame component. The best thing about it is the material can be removed if needed! You don’t have to sacrifice sound structure either.
If you need something even stronger for joinery, look into the T-bridle. It’s one variation that has one of the best strengths possible – and is great for joining two pieces together! True to its name, you make the T-bridle by joining one end of a wood piece to the middle, effectively making the letter T.
As soon as the bridle is made, you’ll notice how tightly locked they are! The end grain of the tenon, however, is clearly visible. If aesthetics are a big thing for you, the T-bridle may not be as attractive.
Aside from its inherent strength, the locked area can have adhesives as well. You can apply it as you like to make a stronger joint – even stronger than a mortise and tenon!
Bridle and Mortise & Tenon Joints: What Are The Differences?
We keep talking about how bridle and mortise and tenon joints are very similar, but let’s get into the differences now. While both are pretty strong joints to use, they differ in size. Otherwise, strength and aesthetics are all good for both!
The size differs because of the length and depth of the wood pieces! The mortise and tenon joint, for example, can only be as long as the piece it’s being inserted to. The mortise has the entire depth of the timber used.
When to Use Bridle Joints: Applications and Functions
So, bridle joints are great! But when and where do you actually use it?
We have some examples! For one, you always this joint for rails, uprights, and legs. Any type of workbench construction also applies to the bridle joint.
How to Cut Bridle Joints
Cutting and making bridle joints are pretty straightforward! You’re essentially just making a mortise-and-tenon joint. You don’t need any special machines, so you can actually just cut it by hand. Table saws come in handy if you have them!
The first step is to see how you can machine the slot of the joint. You need to match it up with the tenon portion later on to make sure everything fits. Measurements are crucial! Make sure the mortise and tenon are equal to the thickness of the material. At the very least, it should be at least a little more than the thickness, not a little less.
The measurements are a must for strength and rigidity. If it helps, we recommend using table saws, stacked dado sets, and tenon jigs! However, other methods are possible. A hand saw chisel, circular saw, and dado set will work just as well. Electric routers with the appropriate bits, molds, drills, and mortising machines are also great choices! Corner bridles will be a breeze with these tools.
What Are the Advantages & Disadvantages of Bridle Joints?
Bridle joints are great, but they also come with disadvantages. If you need to review how you can use this joint and why we have rounded up the pros and cons for you:
Advantages of Using Bridle Joints
- Easy: There are no fancy machines needed! Table saws and bandsaws, among other common power tools, work just fine. It’s a much simpler alternative compared to making mortise and tenon joints. At the end of the day, it has fewer requirements without sacrificing any of its main features.
- Simple: With no fancy requirements needed, this joint is pretty straightforward. Use it for your rails and narrow frames!
- Strong: Strength is a given! This joint is rigid, thick, and will do the job well.
Disadvantages of Using Bridle Joints
- There’s only one con: aesthetics. Unlike other joints, you can see the end grain of the bridle joint, which doesn’t make it attractive. If aesthetics matter to you, you might consider an alternative or doing something to disguise it.
We consider it worth it, but you may not. Review this factor before using the bridle joint!
Types of Bridle Joints
There are, essentially, two main types: the corner and T-bridle. If you like, you can have the faces of the corner bridle mitered! Meanwhile, the T-bridle can use stops. Remember our concern with aesthetics above? This is where it can come in! You can hide the end grain here.
In general, however, both types are great joining methods for any kind of frame joint configuration.
1) Corner Bridle Joints
Corner bridle joints are one of the most common types. You’ll probably use it one way or the other! If you’d like an alternative for haunched mortise and tenon joints, corner bridle joints are the way to go. You can use it where skinned and covered frames are concerned. Not familiar? Those frames are the ones you use for padded chair seats!
However, this time around, corner bridle joints fused together to create corners. This is in contrast to other joints that form in the middle!
Use corner bridle joints when you know forces might be downward or twisting. The latter case usually applies to tables and chairs. They’re stationary but always have to deal with downward forces – especially when used.
Following this logic, you should not be using bridle joints if you’re going for constant movement with your projects! Instead of strengthening the frame, they might become weak and fail. Time will do its number on them!
2) T-Bridle Joints
If you need an alternative to mortise and tenon joints or halving joints – strong and nice joinery methods! – go for T-bridle joints.
Like corner bridle joints, these joints are also great for downward forces! Instead of falling weak to gravity, this joint handles twisting and downward forces and increases stability. The horizontal and vertical timbers gain strength!
And just like corner bridle joints, you shouldn’t use the T-bridle for anything requiring constant movement. It’ll just make everything weak over time.
The best application for T-bridle joints applies to leg-to-rail connections, table bases, and bases. Learn these projects, and we can guarantee you’ll use a T-bridle joint at least once! It’s quite helpful, and you’ll know how to make it better.
3) Mitred Corner Bridle Joints
Do your projects need molding and grooves? Rebates and mirror frames also benefit from this kind of bridle joint! The mitered corner bridle joint is a lot stronger than its halving joint counterpart. You can miter either side of the socket – it’s all up to your wishes.
We can compare a mitered bridle joint to open mortise and tenon joints. The structure and construction are mostly the same! Get one piece, put a slot into it, and there has to be a matching tenon for it. Then, you have to make sure each wood piece is mitered. That way, you have a lot of surface area for glue!
There’s not much that distinguishes the mitered corner bridle joints aside from the 45-degree angle. In contrast, most bridle joints are formed at 90 degrees, either horizontally or vertically. This joint works for structures and aesthetic concerns.
It can resist vertical and twisting forces! Plus, if you do the joints properly, they’re practically invisible once installed. Furniture benefits a lot from these bridle joints. For ultimate success, try to get a snug fit. It involves a lot of measurements, but you can apply different techniques. In that manner, you can also use tenoning jigs if you’ve got a table saw. It makes things easier!
4) Dovetailed Bridle Joints
Joints can always be pulled in one direction or other. To keep projects stable despite all these outward forces, use dovetailed bridle joints!
They’re easy enough to do. You just need to make sure you do some paring to create a tight fit. You don’t need play or open joints after! Lightly drive the pieces together and you’ll find a perfect square on the inside, too. It’s best if you apply a light coating of glue as well. Drive them together, then sandpaper and square as necessary.
How Complete Your Bridle Joint
You’ll always encounter some of these problems when doing bridle joints. For a complete, perfect fit, here are some ways to fit timbers together easily!
Method #1: Screw Them Together
You can do this if aesthetics are not a concern. If the bridle joint is for practicality and efficiency, you don’t need the visual aspect of bridle joints! Remember to measure and mark accordingly. Then, find the right drill and do pilot holes. You can use a countersink for the screws to sink properly into the wood’s surface. Check if everything is square!
Method #2: Use a Dowel
Heads up, woodworkers – this is more advanced as a fixing method! You need to get the joints together in the right position before drilling a hole through both sections. Get a dowel rod and push it through the hole.
Ideally, you should choose a dowel rod that is slightly bigger for a snug fit! If this isn’t possible, compensate by adding glue or adhesives. It will make it stronger!
If you’re using dowels and adding glues and adhesives, you can apply them to different kinds of furniture. Adding dowels will reinforce the furniture and stabilize it against constant movement. So, if there’s going to be a lot of movement going on, use dowels! Furthermore, you can use dowel jig for making accurate dowel quickly.
Method #3: Go Traditional and Glue Everything Together
You’ve got wood glue lying around! We know it. Even if it isn’t glued per se, you can use construction adhesives as well. Make a trip to the hardware store!
Apply a coat for the internal faces of the wood. When you push them together, there might be an excess that squeezes out. Make sure you have something you can wipe it all off with, then let the mixture cure. As much as possible, it’s best if the joint is fully square, so you can use a clamp to let it get there. Clamps will prevent any further movement!
Now, let it cure. It’ll be as strong as possible once dry.
Keep in mind that this technique doesn’t have to be used alone. If you go with screwing or dowels, it’s also a good idea to apply some glue.
That’s a wrap on bridle joints! We hope we helped you out. They’re handy, come in different variations, and have different kinds of methods possible. Are you going to try the bridle joint out? Let us know!
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker, carpenter and author who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.