Using loose tenons in building furnture

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Forum topic by Betsy posted 09-27-2007 06:20 AM 2767 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3394 posts in 4956 days

09-27-2007 06:20 AM

I have my eyes set on making a few living room tables. The plans call for traditional mortise and tenon joints. The loose tenon ideas sound good to me, if for no other reason than they eliminate the problem of any miscut tenons. With that said, do any of you know what the faiilure rate for loose tenon versus traditional mortise and tenon joints? i am thinking I want to give them a try, but wanted to see what your thoughts are on it.


-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

11 replies so far

View mot's profile


4928 posts in 5096 days

#1 posted 09-27-2007 07:19 AM

Hey Betsy,

There have been quite a few torture tests lately. They are a real plough to read. My basic statement is that I really don’t care if it takes the weight of 3 grown men or 3 1/2, to dance a fandango on my table to break it. Loose tenon joinery is, for all intents and purposes, just as strong as traditional M and T. Some will even say stronger as longer fibers are supported with long grain to long grain glue. I dunno, I use alot of loose tenon joinery with my Domino, as well as traditional M and T…I havn’t experienced a failure in either.

That being said, don’t choose one type of joinery over another for fear of making a mistake. Just my opinion.

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

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 5057 days

#2 posted 09-27-2007 09:08 AM

Yeah – you can always cut another tenon to fit right! So long as you’ve milled up plenty of extra stock!

Like Tom said – the loose tenons are roughly as strong as the m&t joint, given the right fit and plenty of glue surface…

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Fingersleft's profile


71 posts in 4956 days

#3 posted 09-27-2007 02:22 PM

Hi Betsy -

I use loose tenon’s in a lot of my furniture. Some purists call it “cheating”. Well if it is, David Marks is guilty of it also. As long as the tenon is the right size – comparable to the traditional tenon, and it’s well glued, the failure rate should be about the same. Anyway, what load do you intend putting on the table???

Oh, by the way (and I’m sure you already know this) keep the orientation of the grain for the loose tenon the same as a conventional tenon.

Would love to see some of the work as it comes together.

-- Bob

View Betsy's profile


3394 posts in 4956 days

#4 posted 09-27-2007 07:19 PM

I’m going to give the loose tenon a try on a new table project. Unfortunately, it will be a while before that happens. I’ve “slipped” a disc in my back and am on meds === so not safe to be in the shop right now.

Thanks for all your advise.


-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View cabinetman's profile


144 posts in 5203 days

#5 posted 09-27-2007 08:27 PM

If the fit is good, think of a loose tenon as a M&T with one loose end. In theory an M&T should be stronger just because of that, but a great fit cuts the odds.

View Mark Mazzo's profile

Mark Mazzo

352 posts in 4972 days

#6 posted 09-27-2007 09:27 PM


As others have said, Loose Tenons are basically as strong as a traditional mortise & tenon if done accurately. I just wrote about how I do them (inexpensively) with a plunge router, edge guide and a simple jig on my blog. Look here for the post.

P.S. I had a comment on the blog from a “Betsy” and that may have been you…so you may have already read the post. If you try the technique that I describe, please let me know if you have any other questions.

-- Mark, Webster New York, Visit my website at

View Karson's profile


35271 posts in 5460 days

#7 posted 09-27-2007 10:36 PM

Another thing about loose tenon, if you are joining some softer woods you can make the tenon out of something harder like maple or beech. That way you have provided all of the extra strength that you can.

I use loose tenons in cabinet doors in addition to the regular router bits cuts for doors. There is not a lot of end grain holding and I want to give it an extra boost.

I also used loose tenons on the baby cradle that I made because I wanted all of the extra strength to the standard router bit cutting.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View MaroonGoon's profile


282 posts in 3018 days

#8 posted 08-09-2013 11:25 PM

Mark that’s a good article you wrote. I just finished reading it and am excited about trying it out myself. Thanks for the info.

-- "Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone." -- Pablo Picasso

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 4029 days

#9 posted 08-09-2013 11:36 PM

Over the last six months I’ve used more loose tenons than ever, finding them quicker and more accurate than traditional m&t joints for panel frame and door construction. I don’t have any concerns of the strength of them compared to m&t. They’re not for every job, but more than adequate for non load bearing applications. Just look at kitchen doors made with a scribe set, very little glue surface but they hold up.

View Loren's profile


11158 posts in 4708 days

#10 posted 08-09-2013 11:48 PM

In table legs the thing to watch out for is how the
tenons intersect or overlap (if needed) inside the
table legs. Smaller cross-section table legs are
traditionally made with the mortises meeting up
inside to increase tenon depth.

View bandit's profile


25 posts in 3336 days

#11 posted 08-09-2013 11:49 PM

I have a Festool Domino and it works quite well.

-- Michael Garrett

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