A little ancient history from our own resources.
Please note the concepts of grain direction and the relieved
"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
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
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:
Thos. J. Watson - Cabinetmaker