This diagram from an article on the Woodworkers Institute website shows how traditional Chinese joinery works
There is a great article on the Woodworkers Institute website which I stumbled upon quite randomly. I was actually researching some information on construction techniques for making dining room extension tables, when “lo and behold” I came across this two part article entitled Poetry in Wood.
“One of the reasons why joints were so complex in China, Japan and Korea was the climate. There are huge changes of temperature and humidity throughout the whole of central and south-east Asia, and many European colonists discovered the furniture they took with them from Europe fell to pieces because the animal glue softened in the high humidity and heat. The woodworkers of those countries found that it was necessary to make interlocking joints which had mechanical strength rather than rely on glued joints. I recall the world-record price 18th-century mirror that I worked on at Sotheby’s, pictured left, which had tiny bamboo dowels joining the 6mm-thick backboards rather than the European equivalent which would be a rubbed joint.
This is not to say that oriental furniture was not glued; it just didn’t rely so heavily upon glue. There is a similarity with 18th-century Continental chairs which tended to be pegged and glued as opposed to British ones which were only glued. One could perhaps argue that Continental colonial furniture stood up to high humidity better than British furniture! One of the roles of the furniture restorer in China was to replace and tighten the dovetail wedges used when the joints in furniture had become loose. One needs to remember that the whole assemblage of a piece of Chinese furniture depends upon the interlocking joints for stability. The top is not glued up, followed by the legs being glued on etc. The frame holds the top boards, the legs then anchor the frame, and the dovetail wedges anchor the whole lot together.”
The article is not bad, though the best part is the excellent diagrams illustrating some of the standard Chinese joinery techniques used in Chinese furniture making.