Occasional Table Class (Hand Tool Build) #22: Cutting the Joinery for Your Table

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by RGtools posted 01-16-2012 03:57 PM 12603 reads 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 21: Laying Out the Joinery For Your Table Part 22 of Occasional Table Class (Hand Tool Build) series Part 23: Shrinkage Buttons, tapers, and glue up checks »

First off since you are working on furniture…clean up your bench. Sweep it off and put the tools away. This may seem odd since you are going to take the tools out again but it’s not, you are going to pound on your work quite a bit during this process. Chips left on your bench get wedged under your work and dent it. Sweep your bench off and keep it clean. I put all my tools away after each joint is made to fit, this speeds things up because you are not fishing for tools you thought to put in one place or another, and it also helps make sure that you don’t knock a tool off of your cluttered bench onto the floor. If you knock a chisel off of your bench let it hit the floor…even if it is a $100 Ray Iles and it snaps on concrete (unlikely) it will be cheaper to replace it then go to the hospital for stitches.

The haunched mortice and tenon has a few differences from a standard mortice & tenon, but it is still a simple joint to work with.

The first major difference that you need to cut two mortices in each leg. I suggest that you pick a leg, and drive the two mortices into that leg, then cut the matching tenons for those mortices. Repeat this order on the other 3 legs.

As to the actual driving and cutting of the joints here is the best way to go about it:

1. Set your chisel to a depth that just licks the interior side of the second mortice that you will cut. (masking tape helps) This is fairly easy to figure out since you can see the final depth from the outside of the joint.

2. Cut out the partial depth mortice, leaving the haunch alone. Check for depth with a square and check that your chisel is vertical often by placing a short ruler against the true face…you should be able to see that the ruler and your chisel are parallel.
3. cut the haunch using a new depth mark, My bevel happened to be just right so I did not need a second piece of tape. Be careful here…I drive the chisel to depth and come back from the mortice side to get under the chips and lift them out, this makes the interior of the joint a bit cleaner. I cut my haunch a tiny bit higher than the table height line (Robert wearing goes all the way to the end), this allows for some adjustment in the assembly.
4. Cut your full depth mortice on the other side (and the haunch too). The joints should meet, barely. By cutting the first mortice at partial depth you allow the second one to be cut while fully supported…this prevents breakout on the interior of the joint and saves valuable glue surface.
5. Cut the second haunch.

Now find the rails that would mate to the two mortices you cut. I like to keep the leg I am working on and one of the rails I am working on atop my bench while I work. The other parts I tend to keep on my saw bench. There are several ways to cut the tenon, I played around with the order quite a bit on a few that I have cut so far to see what works best and I can say that this is the order I think is the most efficient and clean.

1. Cut the cheeks. This is the most critical part of the joint since it contains the long grain to long grain surfaces of the joint (joints have two kinds of strength, glue and mechanical interlock…maximize both wherever you can).
2. Make the rip cuts for the, setback and haunch. Be especially careful on the setback not to cut too deeply, this would show on the outside of the joint.
3. make the cross cut for the haunch.
4. chisel a v groove into the shoulders. Crosscut those (this includes the crosscut for the setback). Take care with your saw not to over cut the joint. You may have to break of the cheek waste piece since the cuts are sometimes made in an arcing motion leaving a hump in the middle of the cut…you will pare this out with a chisel later.
5. First test fit. If you are like me your joint length will not be perfectly designed and will most likely be a hair overlong (short happens too but is less common and should be avoided since it gives you less glue surface). The goal here is to get the joint to bottom out on the interior wall of the mortice (you can see this quite clearly if your mortices meet like they should). Once you hit bottom you should see that the shoulder has a pronounced gap to get to the leg. Measure this gap with playing cards and add one card to the deck, transfer the thickness of the playing cards to your marking gauge and scribe around the end of the tenon. Remove this this from the end of the tenon with a saw (if larger than 1/8th) or a chisel (if smaller than an 8th). Keep the gauge setting since it should be the same for all the joints. Playing cards are handy…the extra card we added gives just enough clearance for the glue to go somewhere.

6. Second test fit. Assemble the joint making sure that the shoulders meet the leg. From the open mortice, scribe a line on the tenon with a chisel. Use the wall of the mortice that is closest to your rail shoulder (the inside of the table) to guide the chisel.
7. With this line you can use a chisel to miter the inside face of the mortice…get the scribe line and the back corner to meet and then take a bit more off the miter to avoid the two miters bottoming each other out. This is great practice with a chisel…your results don’t have to be pretty, but aim for it anyway so you can learn control.
8. Do the other tenon and test fit the leg with both rails in it at once.

Check for square on the joints often and early…Troubleshooting joints that are off is a pain but its worth taking the time to think out your adjustments before you make any cuts. If it takes more than a few tests to get everything fitting right that’s fine, take your time and don’t force things (my first tenon on this table made my bench look like a warzone FYI…the rest have fit pretty well from the saw). If the joint is fat in places when you try to assemble it you will see shiny spots where the grain gets compressed. Remove those lightly…I would rather take a lot of light cuts and get things right than remove to much and have to correct a sloppy fit.

Here is the video I shot for the process.

Cutting the mortices in the work.

Cutting the tenon took 3 videos.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

14 comments so far

View StumpyNubs's profile


7853 posts in 4013 days

#1 posted 01-16-2012 04:27 PM

This is great! I love to see hand tools in action! Thanks for posting!

-Jim; aka “Stumpy Nubs”
(The greatest woodworking show since the invention of wood is now online!)

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View Brandon's profile


4382 posts in 4164 days

#2 posted 01-16-2012 05:36 PM

Great videos. Loved the card tip and the masking tape on the chisel.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3867 days

#3 posted 01-16-2012 06:59 PM

Hey Stumpy. Glad you are enjoying it. It’s fun to wander around your shop too.

Brandon (I love the new icon by the way). Thanks, I rarely work from plans and since I make so many aesthetic changes on the fly, I needed to figure out ways to make my joinery work out in the end. All in all it takes about as much time as doing a scale drawing and figuring out the math but it gives a bit more versatility.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Hayabusa's profile


173 posts in 4093 days

#4 posted 01-17-2012 12:15 AM

great class Ryan, you know I love this kind of joinery. I have just would go with a bevel haunch, but nevermind it works perfectly. Keep it up !

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3867 days

#5 posted 01-17-2012 05:27 AM

Thanks Julio. The blind haunch is a fun joint to cut, this one will get covered by a table top so it may not be worth the extra effort.

What have you been building on your side of the world? I saw some lovely half blind dovetails of yours.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View mafe's profile


13294 posts in 4302 days

#6 posted 01-18-2012 04:21 PM

Looking good my friend, fine work, spot on.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Sodabowski's profile


2401 posts in 4046 days

#7 posted 01-18-2012 05:39 PM

Do I spy a “I love you my handsome woodworker” note from your wife on picture #2? ;)

> keeps reading and enjoying the series <

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3867 days

#8 posted 01-18-2012 06:57 PM

Hello Mads. Thanks I am glad you are enjoying the series. Your stuff lately has been fascinating.

Sodabowski. My wife occasionaly vandalizes my bench…I love it when she does. Usually after I flatten my bench the crisp blank canvas is too much for her to resist. I did not even notice it was in the picture. Glad you are enjoying the class.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View AnthonyReed's profile


10181 posts in 3653 days

#9 posted 01-19-2012 01:41 AM

Another excellent class.

“A chisel no-no. Working parallel with my vice” ... i thought, what the hell? As you were shifting you work perpendicular to the vise it was clear to me.

I not only learn a lot about your focus subjects i take away a ton of subtle tips as well.

Thanks again Ryan.

-- ~Tony

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3867 days

#10 posted 01-19-2012 03:55 PM

Tony. The little things are the things I hope people pick up from the videos so thank you very much for saying so. Working perpendicular with your vise is a rock solid way to work…but just like anything else it has it’s limitations. If I have to work in parallel with the jaws such as for a resaw it’s a good idea to put a back stop behind you piece.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Brit's profile


8379 posts in 4055 days

#11 posted 01-25-2012 11:09 PM

Loving it Ryan. Keep up the good work. I watched all the vids when you first posted it, but I see I neglected to comment at the time. Thanks for braving the cold for us.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3867 days

#12 posted 01-26-2012 12:38 AM

Thanks Andy,

Soon as I am done with this table I have som insulation to do. I have 10 fluffy rolls of R-13 from a friend just waiting by my bench. I admit I am a bit behind this week, so my next entry should be in about 7-10 days, only five left and we have a table.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View zewood's profile


6 posts in 3527 days

#13 posted 01-26-2012 04:30 AM

I need a basic 101 course starting from Tools and going from there. Been doing as much research online as possible. Going to build a 24×24 on wheels work table (for holding tools and manovering them while working) I don’t even know how to start how do I even keep the wood together without anyone holding the frame up while I put on side rails? Pathetic case I am.

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3867 days

#14 posted 01-26-2012 06:29 AM

Hey Zewood, this class has a pretty decent bit about the tools starting early on. Here is the link the the first bit.

I went into some detail (not comprehensive by any means) about your needed tools and what you may or may not need to look for…hope that is helpful.

As far as the worktable, what kind of work do you plan on doing on it…are you carving and doing small boxes or do you have any full sized cabinets in mind? Think about it and the size of your work before you settle on a size of bench that works for you…I think I am safe to say that a cabinetmakers bench averages out at about 6ft-8ft long, 24” wide at a good height for working. Wheels are good for mobility but if you are thinking about doing any handwork on them I would reconsider them….your bench needs stability to resit moving when you apply the pressure of saws, planes, and chisels to your work. When it comes to assembling the frame take the legs and frame them together two at a time. Then attach those two assemblies together. you can use Jorgensen wooden jawed clamps at the bottom to stabilize the two assemblies while you work.

Clamps are you friends use as many as you need to get things right. If you post a picture of what you are trying to do, we may be able to get more specific…no need for anything fancy you can draw it on a napkin for all I care.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics