Entertainment Center #7: Sidebar - Mortise and Tenon Part 1

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Blog entry by Dano posted 07-13-2007 03:41 AM 1680 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Back in the Saddle Part 7 of Entertainment Center series Part 8: Mortise and Tenon - Part 2 »

Mortise and tenon joints just scare the dickens out of me, the fit requires perfection. Joinery is the epitome of craftsmanship, at least in my book, oh sure down the road with more experience I will probably determine something else to hold in such high esteem but for now, from an inexperience point of view perfect joinery separates the master from the apprentice. With this in mind I try to muster the my spirit to give it a go, just to get started scared me, no formal training, never having seen the process except on TV, I was getting ready to cut on lumber that I had spent a great deal of time on just to get square, now there was the possibility of ruining the work to this point which would put me back to square one! Having used pocket hole joinery before with success I considered the option here but that would not contribute to me learning a new skill, no, I had to push on.

The mortises were first, the glued up legs would require more work to remanufacture than the rails so I decided to begin with them and then make the tenons fit them. From what I have seen and read I think this is where most start. I want to reach the point where I can cut the mortise with chisel and hammer but not at this early stage of my wood working career. Prior to the actual cutting of the mortises I carefully laid each one out, 16 in all, Each leg getting two at the top and two at the bottom. I set each leg in its relative position to ensure I had laid them out on the correct face and all were oriented correctly. Not wanting to buy a dedicated mortiser I elect to buy the Delta mortising attachment for the Delta drill press I have. It seems to work well for me but I’d hoped for a smoother cut, realize I have nothing to compare the mortise too other than my expectations but I convince myself that they where adequate even with the slightly irregular striations running parallel to the mortise. I did try to use my chisels to clean them up some but soon discovered that chisels need to be sharp to work as they should. I think I’ll work on sharpening technique this week.


Mortises done, cleaned with dull chisels, I breathe a sigh of relief; half of the joints are milled – on to the tenons. My relief is short lived, I begin to believe that the tenon is the key to this joint. The mortising attachment is somewhat fool proof but the tenon is wrought with multiple errors; to thick and they won’t fit, to thin and they are weak and subject to fail. No, the tenon is the hard part, the perfect fit the quest, but how to proceed that is the question? Should I use the router, the table saw, the band saw, which one? I eliminate the band saw because mine is a small bench-top model and I am not proficient in its use, one down. The router could be used in the table – possible, or I could make or buy a jig to use a freehand router but…that requires a good vice to hold the wood working workpiece which I don’t have. I thought about using the router table with the appropriate jig but I wasn’t satisfied with the information I had found to that point so I decided to go with the table saw, after all “Norm” does it – right! For the sake of expediency I decide to buy a tenoning jig, perhaps the Delta but then…in my search I see something suspect, one of the woodworking forums mentions something about the Delta jig and Craftsman saws (what I have) well it seems that Sears decided to make the miter gauge slots undersize from what most manufactures use such as the Delta, and I guess most, tenon jigs use a full three-quarters of an inch wide miter gauge slot bar so they won’t fit. DANG (not what I actually thought but you get the idea) now what to do? Build my own, that’s what I could do. More research, hours spent searching the web looking for the jig to build, finally I decided to build the one I found on the “Plans Now” website but not being one to leave well enough alone I decide to replace the phenolic miter gauge slots bars with UHMW plastic. I spend several days looking for it locally and finally find some. Materials in hand and one Saturday spent I have the jig mostly complete, I just decide to add a toggle clamp to hold the work piece, another change to the plan, and I am done.

More later.

-- Dan in Central Oklahoma, Able to turn good wood into saw dust in the blink of an eye!

4 comments so far

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1823 posts in 5306 days

#1 posted 07-13-2007 04:15 AM

Keep at it Dan. I was nervous with my chair but the doing has raised my confidence a lot. I cut my mortices much the same as you. The tenons I did on my bandsaw (slightly large) and then crept up on the fit. I was surprised they came out so well.

-- Bob

View gizmodyne's profile


1785 posts in 5310 days

#2 posted 07-14-2007 04:35 PM

I am a fan of the dado set and a sled to cut the tenons. Whatever method you might consider keeping them a little thick and investing in a rabbet or shoulder plane to trim them to perfect fit. Keep up the good work.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Dano's profile


222 posts in 5252 days

#3 posted 07-14-2007 07:12 PM

John, I saw what I think you talking about on the Dewalt web site, does the sled register off of the side of the router table? That is the only one I saw but would defiantly be interested in seeing a picture of one.

-- Dan in Central Oklahoma, Able to turn good wood into saw dust in the blink of an eye!

View mot's profile


4928 posts in 5257 days

#4 posted 07-16-2007 08:18 PM

The dado set for tenons with your mitre gauge. Stacked dado’s tend to cut a nice flat bottom and really work well. The other thing that works really well is a tenoning jig for the tablesaw. I’ve done the bandsaw, tablesaw jig and dado method. I’ve also cut them by hand, but never when I have to do a ton of them. Bob did great with the bandsaw. That works good for roughing them, but my problem with the bandsaw, from personal experience only (no comments on the quality and skill of others work) is it’s not for me. 8 cuts…all of them wrong. Keep forging ahead, they are coming out great!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

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