A Tenuous Grasp
"Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers."
-Alfred Lord Tennyson
As you may know, I have mortised. Can mortise be used as a verb? Obviously it can, though I am sure my 7th grade English teacher is rolling over in her grave. Actually, I don't know if she is dead, probably just wishful thinking on my part. I digress.
What is a mortise without a tenon? It is sad. It is lonely. It is unfulfilled. It is ying without yang, peanut butter without jelly, Simon without Garfield. Ok that last one wasn't a good example, as Paul Simon has done pretty well solo. Apparently I am still digressing.
After my 3 practice mortises and 4 real mortises, I realized it was time to create a verb out of tenon. I have read all sorts of interesting articles giving techniques and jigs one can use to cut tenons on the router table or table saw. I have neither yet. In a fit of impulse buying I had purchased a lovely coping saw a few weeks earlier. A Robert Larson saw made in Germany. I reasoned that with all the Germans have had to cope with in the last 100 years; they probably know a thing or two about this type of saw.
I find my coping saw to be quite wonderful. It cuts nicely, but alas it is not the tool for tenoning. I know this now. I am still very pleased to have it in my tool collection. I decided to try my Marples Japanese hand saw. I had not really used it in earnest before. It has two distinct types of teeth on it. This seemed to me to be significant and I reasoned that I should find out what each set of teeth was designed to do.
I wondered over to finewoodworking.com, where I gladly pay $4.95 per month to be a member. I figured I could find something about Japanese hand saws, and while I was looking I saw an article, "Guide for Cambering a Jack Plane Blade". I don't know what 'Cambering' is. I am equally uniformed as to what a 'Jack Plane' does. I assume it flattens large blocks of cheese. Not wanting to get distracted I passed on this article.
I found a wonderful article which had a diagram, which was vastly superior to the one I have here. Now I just needed to find a definition of 'rip' and 'crosscut', and I would be set.
I meticulously marked the board, took my saw to the basement, and clamped my bit 'o' hard maple into the vice. I decided I would cut off the short blocks on the end of the tenon first. This didn't take long at all. I then sawed the long bits off. I now had a tenon with four shoulders that were grotesquely uneven. Not to worry. I grabbed my trusty Black and Decker mouse sander and went to work. This was an abysmal failure. I now had shoulders that were smooth but not flat. Wisdom gained.
Never being one to get too stressed about failure, I decided I would take my mallet and see about gently inserting the tenon into the mortise. By gently I mean hammering it like Thor. This worked nicely, and though there was only one side of the combination that looked reasonable, it was so solid I couldn't pull it apart.
I have since learned that that first mortise tenon combo was too tight. It seems that when glue is applied the tenon will swell a bit. Though I didn't know that the joint was too tight at the time, I did know that it looked dreadful. So I brutally unjoined my joint and set the two pieces on the table. It was apparent that my grasp of tenon cutting was tenuous at best. I decided to sleep on it.
The next day I thought about it some more. It would be best to approach the cut differently. I would draw a box around the piece of wood, where the shoulders are supposed to be, and cut that first. It worked slightly better than my first method. Then as I was comparing the two, I had an 'ah ha' moment. I bet that the Master Woodworkers, clean up their tenons with their chisels!
With the speed of an Indy car driver, I grabbed my chisel and sheared off a bit of the shoulder. This was fun, and appeared to be helping. I spent a good deal of time chiseling off tiny bits here and there, occasionally setting my chisel on the shoulder and using it to see how close I was to flat, and then I learned a valuable lesson. If you are chiseling across a shoulder and coming up on the end of the board, it is best to stop and chisel back into the board. I learned this when I shaved the slightest bit off the shoulder and took a huge chunk out of the side.
Before I tackled the last two I looked up the best way to start a cut with a Japanese handsaw. I also drew a secondary box 1/32 below the 1st one. This made thing easier. I cut to the 1st box and chiseled to the 2nd one. It was also brought to my attention that one should hold the saw near the end of the handle, not apply too much downward pressure, and to just let the saw cut. Apparently these types of saws like to cut in straight lines. I am not sure that my saw is aware of this, but it does a pretty good job. A good enough job that I am planning on upgrading to a better saw. Any ideas or suggestions from the peanut gallery would be greatly appreciated. In fact, here are three questions I would love to have answered.
1. What is the best Japanese handsaw for cutting tenons or dovetails?
2. How do you get clean and flat shoulders on your tenons? (if you cut them by hand)
3. What is your favorite land mammal?
With my newly acquired knowledge I was able to improve the tenons marginally. I would give my tenons a c+, but only because the class is graded on the curve, and I intentionally signed up for woodworking for toddlers. Those 3 year olds with their barely developed motor skills, they make me laugh. In all seriousness though, I would imagine that just like in all other aspects of woodworking, practice goes a long ways towards perfection. So I am going to keep at it.
"The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions."
-Alfred Lord Tennyson