This history on the development of the plate joiner system was originally posted to rec.woodworking on February 12, 1988 in response to a discussion comparing the strength of biscuits to dowels. The author is Sherman Whipple, who has graciously allowed the republication of his exposition on the development of the plate joiner system.
There is an elderly gentleman by the name of Herman Stiener who lives in Switzerland. He would probably get the greatest kick from reading all the threads about biscuits vs. dowels, tenons, etc. You see it was Herman Steiner who started this whole thread back in 1955, two years before there even was an Internet and after 43 years, it is still going on; he's the guy who invented the things.
He also adapted a right-angle grinder to invent the first gadget to index the slots, as well. He also made a neat clamping system, defect patcher, and quite a number of other woodworking devices and techniques. Mr. Steiner was by profession an engineer, and from what I have been told was quite good at it. Cabinetmaking for him, as for most of us, was just a hobby. He invented it in his home workshop.
The design of the joining plate and the secret of its strength are based upon very sound engineering. For example, wood's greatest strength is against the bias. We all know it is weakest with the grain, but most of us assume that it would be strongest across the grain: wrong. It is strongest with the grain angled 45 degrees and beech is one of the strongest in this orientation. One would also imagine that a rectangular plate would add greater strength than the football shape. In dealing with wood, however, if the base of the slot were square, as in a long spline with the grain, the wood would be weakened. The elliptical slots prevent splitting. Basically the design of the plate provides the maximum spreading of the load and a better glue surface. The addition of the compression and swelling properties and the tread pattern to open the wood fibers all came later.
It is my understanding that when Herman began to share his invention he was met with considerable disbelief from the local cabinetmakers. To prove it, he would have them make a couple of simple "T" joints. One with the technique they thought would be strongest and one with his "lamellae" which means thin plate. After the glue had set he would challenge them to break the joint. Every time, the plates won the challenge. Every cabinetmaker became a customer and he started a business to make plates called Steiner Lamello. Soon after he introduced the indexing base and then the first dedicated plate-joining machine.
The first Lamello machines did not begin to appear in the US until the mid-to- late 1960's, but it was not until about 1977 that they started to see wide acceptance. This was mostly in industrial applications. The rest of course, is history. We don't know who invented the wheel, or figured out how to cut the first dovetail, but we do know who made the joining plate, biscuit, lemon spline, or Lamello. It was a guy just like us by the name of Herman Steiner.
Whipple, Sargent & Associates Strategic Services
37 Derby Street, Suite 7B Hingham, MA 02043
Phone: 781-740-4025 Fax: 781-749-9474
For more information about biscuit joinery see: http://www.ameritech.net/users/hankm/wme.htm
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