Opinions Matter…


We are all entitled to them but are we really? As we should have learned from my introducing a screw to a dovetail joint hidden beneath a tabletop never to be seen in an oak piece I made. A gazillion comments showed hundreds of erroneous opinions that have been passed down for decades via instructors and teachers, craftsmen and craftswomen and then amateur woodworkers and so on too. The wood will split, rust the screws, stain the wood, rot the wood and so on. I went to great lengths to show all of the fallacies in the hundreds of ‘opinions‘ posing as facts but even though I did, these opinions posing as facts will surpass the truth of my reality corrections.

Removing steel screws from a steel hinge set into oak that had been installed 80 or so years before had only the very barest dusting of rust in minor areas proved the reality that if steel screws go into dry oak the screws will last for hundreds of years without any level or serious degradation and the wood and steel will remain good. The rust on the inner corner of the steel hinge is more likely to have come from spillage of some kind. Certainly not from any contact with the oak.

So what am I saying? It is a rare thing for me to post on something I have not fully understood from the reality of day-to-day working with wood, tools, machines, power equipment and all of the rest we woodworkers rely on. I do not read what someone copy-and-pasted from a manufacturer’s blurb or wrote in a tool catalogue and copied from somewhere else. I invest myself in what I write because I believe it is important. That said, I try to keep an open mind when someone comments and I definitely consider what is said.

I believe the correct and original quote for “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.” is cut short by most people. It actually goes like this: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Quite a significant distortion when we only quote the first half.

Of course, this is beech, not oak and the wood is dried down to 7% so no interaction with the steel will take place. But this practice is common and it’s so the artisan can keep working on the piece and keep continuity and keep going in the work

Of course, regarding screws in oak rusting, wood distorting in colour and degradation. These are indeed facts when you add into it other hard facts, the facts of which I speak. One fact is that if the wood is green and not dried, the screws will rust markedly and very quickly because of the tannic acid activating twixt steel and the wood containing the active tannic acid over a long period. In a three-inch outdoor gate stile it is unlikely to ever dry and the screws will rapidly rust and disintegrate. In an indoor door to the living room using dry oak kiln-dried down to 10% you will not have any issues. These facts are critical to truth. We all make the mistake of ‘thinking‘ this or that ‘might‘ happen and all too often will dismiss something that would really result in a good product because of the ifs and buts of being more risk averse than we should be. Had I followed the premises laid down by others I would only have made half of what I have. Make a star-burst table in oak and within a year you will go back to apologise for the serious mistake that split the table into several parts along different joint lines. why? Because the outside expands so fast compared to the pointed centres something has to give. In mesquite, even near green mesquite, the table will remain good. Different wood, different shrinkage realities. In a 6″ wide section of dried oak the width will expand to 6 3/8″ to 6 1/2″. In mesquite it will only expand by 1/32″. How do I know? Fact based on my long-term experience and my experiments. I can think of a dozen other things I have done and will indeed do because it might just be the best solution with minor risk.

It’s good to ask others for their opinions even if they are not necessarily based on facts or are not particular experts. They can have insights you might not have considered. Especially is this so with aesthetics and ideas, thought patterns and so much more. But I like it when someone prefaces an opinion by clearly stating, “Well, and this is just my personal opinion . . .”


  1. Great article Paul.
    In many years of Business Improvement using Lean Methodologies, there are only three things we rely when evaluating a process. Facts, evidence and data. Everything else is just an opinion.
    Your last paragraph epitomises when opinions count.

  2. People should probably state their qualifications to make whatever assertion they’re trying to make especially if it involves claiming that someone with your experience is doing something incorrectly.

    1. Yes… I often watch YouTube films to learn how to play video games, because I’m not smart with them, and it is truly obnoxious to hear, “I’m only 5 hours in, and I don’t know what THIS is, so we’ll just ignore it.” But I clicked in to FIND OUT what THAT is. I can fumble through, hunt and peck without you.

  3. Paul,
    Thanks for your valued insight. You have summed up a key tenet of “wisdom”..the ability to distinguish fact from opinion while still not forfeiting the benefit of seeking many opinions. Thanks for your blog.

  4. Paul
    I think that prepation to achieve is done as you prepare to do something for the first time or based on what has work for you before.
    I have been told it you over think sometime you will not get the thing you are doing complited in a usfull time.

  5. Paul you are spot on. I’ve been an active woodworker for 76 of my 80 years and I’m heir to 4 previuos generations of cabinetmakers, and have yet to see any problems from steel screws in oak (or any other wood, for that matter). I live in Florida now and we experience high humidity. For wood that will be outdoors or subject to areas of extreme humidity, I use stainless steel screws just to be safe, but in most instances plain or plated screws and brads suffice. On brass hardware I use brass screws, but that is for cosmetics only.

    Keep up your fantastic work.

  6. Isn’t it odd that people can kick up such a fuss over nothing?
    I have restored hundreds of pieces of furniture, and dismantled even more to salvage the wood. I have a huge tin and several boxes full of all the steel screws I’ve salvaged, and most came from oak or mahogany items. I’ve seen them tucked away in joints, and then hidden by tops on tables and chests of drawers in particular, as an extra strengthening more times than I care to remember. It’s obviously been a practice for as long as screws have been a reasonably cheap and mass produced item. The steel into oak ‘problem’ is hardly ever such a thing. The times I’ve usually seen steel reacting and visibly staining oak, has been when an inexpert nail has been used in a repair.
    Keep on sharing your ’empirical’ knowledge Paul, I’ve never found it to be wrong.

  7. BTW:

    ” In a 6″ wide section of dried oak the width will expand to 6 3/8″ to 6 1/2″

    Although correct, I’ve never seen it expressed that way.. Typically Oak shrinks 3/4″ to the foot across its width in plain sawed boards from green to approximately 6% moisture content.

    1. Arvin,

      Good to know. I wonder, do you (or Paul or anyone else, I’m refering to you since you replied and clearly have knowledge!) know of a good book for this type of information? For example, if I can determine that the moisture levels in my area are known to a degree (for example, ranging from 7% in summer, 18% in winter), then I can determine the shrinkage or expansion of different types of wood? Most of my knowledge comes from experience (the difference between my garage and house is significant, for example, but I couldn’t say what those differences are in percentage terms), and from anecdote from comments and such like. Most of those are place-specific. However, it strikes me that if you know how much a wood expands between x and y %age moisture then you can determine to a reasonable degree what it will do in your own range. Experience is useful, of course, but a hobbyist like me then gets a lot of projects that shift on them after the hard work!

      1. I can’t think of any good books off-hand. However, I do know that the US Forest Service has information which will be helpful.

        BTW, I think you have your moisture contents backwards. Moisture content is higher in the summer (in most areas of the US) exceptions possibly being in desert climates like Arizona. Here in Central Florida typical moisture contents average about 13% in our very humid summers and roughly 8% in the winter. That is indoors, of course, with moderate heating and air conditioning. If you really want to take the guesswork out of it, get a moisture meter. I just bought a new one on sale from Woodcraft Supply for around $50.

        Air dried wood moves slightly more than kiln dried wood due to the cells being more shrunken in a hot dry kiln. Also plain sawed wood moves more than quartersawn wood. A lot can be learned by experimentation. Take a piece of wood and measure the moisture content. Then draw 2 sharp lines exactly 6 inches apart. From time to time remeasure the moisture content and the distance between the 2 lines.

      2. “Understanding Wood” by R Bruce Hoadley has a complete chapter on water and wood which has a wealth of information on how wood behaves in different atmospheric conditions and may well have the answers you seek

  8. Modern screws are typically coated to resist corrosion. Sometimes it’s a thin electro-plated zinc, those tend to look gold. Others have a heavier plating. All weather screws, as one vendor calls them, are designed for exterior decking and have a mystery coating. All that to merely agree with Paul on this issue. I’ve pulled mild steel screws from decades old furniture stored in unheated areas, they were just fine. I don’t always agree with Paul, I do on this. My experience in woodworking is less than Paul’s, my experience in remodel work, new home building, probably far greater. When I began my career in the building trade, we did it all. Concrete foundations, slabs, framing, drywall, even floor covering. then my favorite, the finish work. Let’s not forget plumbing and wiring, then roofing. Over 45 years of doing those things well enough to get paid for them and build a loyal clientele. So yes, experience does bring knowledge. Remember, facts can change, truth does not. At one time the facts said the sun rotated around the earth, at one time the earth was flat, a resurgence of that belief is reviving, with all of their “facts” proving their point. Screws are fine, just fine.

  9. The expression I’ve heard was “Opinions are like @rseholes, everyone has got one.”
    A friend of mine bought a beautiful demi lune hall table heated from an antique shop. In great condition in spite of being over 150 years old, made of an unspecified dark wood and beautifully veneered. Held together with handmade joints and four ancient screws underneath. We’ll worth the £80 she paid for it.

  10. I cannot see anything wrong with adding the odd screw especially when it probably will never be seen, usually it’s to speed up assembly avoiding waiting for glue to dry or something like that. It does not affect the overall design and only you will ever probably know it’s there. I do it, it’s my decision and I would not expect anybody’s criticism whatsoever, and if they felt like criticising me then they could go a head, I wouldn’t loose any sleep over it.

    Regards, Paul

  11. As Paul says, actual experience, both of the screws, the timber, and the environment, is everything. On the question of screws and rusting, I once replaced the rusty, steel, screws in a piece on which we were working, with zinc-plated steel screws. Within 10 years, they were red rusty again, with the rust staining running along the grain.
    Conclusion: Plain steel – plated or not – is no good in pine >> in a damp church <<!

  12. There are times when a smile and a nod is the most appropriate response. Over the years I have learned to say, “I’ve never considered that.” Not once has a cross word come forth on either side afterwards. This approach sure has made my life more fulfilling.
    The snarkiest comment is not the winner despite what the culture indicates.

  13. Paul, great article. There are too many people in my country (US) that spout their opinion while totally ignoring the facts. All I can say is that there is no cure for stupidity.

  14. I love to use dowels when I work with wood. Would using a dowel in a dovetail do the same job as a screw or does a screw have certain advantages that a dowel doesn’t have? Thanks for your help.

    1. Well, personally, I have never used a dowel in my work and most likely never would. There is no pulling power with a dowel either and so there would be no value in using one.It’s not semantics to say that a draw-bore pin is not a dowel; dowels uniting parts at 90º angles in place of traditional joinery is a very different animal. The screw is not actually necessary in the joint it just simply enabled me to keep on working without waiting for the glue to dry and at the same time serves to pull the joint solidly into its seating as well as serving as a clamp and second level of security.

  15. Great article Paul, full of common sense. Too many people put forward their opinions as facts, and some put falsehoods forward as “alternate facts”. We have an inherited 17th century oak chest which has iron screws and nut and bolt fastenings. None of them are rusty as they have always been kept dry. Put simply, the metallurgy is that rust is hydrated iron oxide, and requires both oxygen from the air and water to form. Without water, over time you get an oxide layer forming which gives iron and steel the dark grey “patina” which collectors value.

  16. I couldn’t find any other way of contacting Paul, but thought he might find this interesting if he hasn’t seen it yet. A 1/2 million year old woodworking artifact has been discovered in Zambia. It appears to be the first primitive mortise and tenon. Must have been Paul’s great, great, … great grandfather (or all of ours for that matter). Here is the link: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-66846772

  17. Hi Paul,
    I agree with you whole heartedly. You needed a way to accomplish your objective. Experience, daily interaction with your woodworking over years allows you and others to come up with solutions to keep working and making. Your comments about others getting their information from dubious sources is accurate. As a guy going on 71 and working since 17 for pay, I over the years have had comments as to why I do or did something the way I did. Usually those comments come from folks who just don’t know, but some how believe they are experts. I have made mistakes over the years but usually correct them and learn from them. Trying to convince some of these naysayers is oftentimes fruitless.
    Thank you Paul

  18. Hi Paul, I have to say I was surprised to see a screw in one of your joints not because it is frowned upon nor through any delusional belief that it’s a NO! NO! I am what at best might be described as a competent DIYer, I took woodwork at school during the 70’s and have worked in various wood working jobs. Two jobs I had were for companies making Long Case Clocks which I have the delight of owning a Granddaughter Clock in Mahogany which I made and assembled. The top door has a removeable bottom rail so that the glass can be replaced if need be. This rail is of course held in place by two small steel screws. The clock is 43yrs old and is in perfect order so one has to concede the precise point you’ve made.

  19. Good afternoon, Paul.

    Please forgive me if I missed it, however what is the purpose of adding the screw to the dovetail? I was under the assumption that a dovetail, in and of itself, adds an incredible amount of strength to the joint, so would you please elaborate?

    Kindest regards…

    1. It’s simple really. I wanted to keep working and not risk the joint by handling it while i worked on other parts so a screw through the dovetail does it. It will not be seen in the next two hundred years because the top covers it permanently. It also serves as a clamp.

      1. Awesome! Thank you. For those critics that were stating that the screw would rust, I can’t imagine that happening, because the top wouldn’t be glued down anyway due to movement. You would probably use some sort of clip to hold the top down, right?

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *