How Do You Space Mortices Equally?

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Forum topic by Tim Pursell posted 03-03-2008 12:01 AM 2163 views 1 time favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Tim Pursell

499 posts in 4323 days

03-03-2008 12:01 AM

Topic tags/keywords: jig milling arts and crafts greene and greene shaker tip question joining morticer

I do mostly Arts and Crafts style furniture and have come to hate the layout time to make equally spaced mortices so my spindles line up perfectly. The first few I did I carefully measured & laid out the places I needed to put the mortice, then had a DUH! moment and came up with this system:

I start by cutting spacer blocks that equal the distance from one spindle to the next. Not the space between them , but the space plus the spindle thickness. I only have to mark one place to start a mortice. If I use an uneven number of spindles the mark is in the center of the workpiece, if an even number of spindles are used then I have to start the first mortice 1/2 the size of the spacer off the center of the workpiece I’m using and start the first mortice there. Put half as many spacers as you need against the end of the workpiece and fix a stopblock to your fence. Then move the workpiece away from the stop & add as many spacers as you need (the number of spaces in your design, not the number of spindles—-don’t ask). This photo shows the setup ready to start. I used 1” spacers in this design.


After each plunge of the morticer, remove one spacer and plunge again. Here’s a little more than half way done:


Here’s a batch ready for sanding & final fitup. Behind the parts is one side of the set of tables I’m working on. The stack of spindles in between is not even all the ones I need for this project. I sure wish I would remember how much work these are to build when I sit down & design.


Anybody have other methods to speed up this task?


14 replies so far

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 4285 days

#1 posted 03-03-2008 12:15 AM

This is very ingenious,Tim. Obviously, the time you’ve saved punching mortises gives you more time to think up stuff like this. I like it. I use a dedicated drill press with a sliding cross vise for my mortise drilling, so this wouldn’t work for me. I have a couple of different size spacers that I use for layout almost the same way, but I have to actually mark it on the stock.
Tell me you have a one step method for cutting the tenons on all those spindles ;]

View cheller's profile


254 posts in 4650 days

#2 posted 03-03-2008 12:53 AM

On my side table the spindles were done by cutting a groove the width of the spindles and spacers from “extra” spindle stock. The spindles do not have tenons, they just float in the groove.

-- Chelle

View Tim Pursell's profile

Tim Pursell

499 posts in 4323 days

#3 posted 03-03-2008 02:14 AM

tenontim, I got your one word, one step answer—————Sublet.

I wish! I use several methods, none of which is quick or easy.

cheller, I’ve used that method, just was never satisfied with the outcome, although,I looked at your project photos & it looks good! This is on reason why I’ll never get rich making furniture. Too much of a perfectionest.


View oakdust's profile


177 posts in 4356 days

#4 posted 03-03-2008 02:36 AM

I have duh moments all the time but never seem to come up with anything clever. I don’t have a dedicated morticer but now I have an excuse to buy one.

-- Bob, Rockford IL,

View motthunter's profile


2141 posts in 4340 days

#5 posted 03-03-2008 03:13 AM

great system. I prefer memory sticks, measurement blocks and the like to a ruler.

-- making sawdust....

View TampaTom's profile


74 posts in 4294 days

#6 posted 03-03-2008 04:58 AM

Takes out any errors with measurement… Now THAT’S a great idea…

-- Tom's Workbench -

View Karson's profile


35207 posts in 4941 days

#7 posted 03-03-2008 05:29 AM

I use story sticks. but It’s slower than what you use.

See my blog on Buffet Hutch creation. I hope to get back on it in the next week. I use the Story sticks to layout the mortises in the legs.

-- 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 Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4538 days

#8 posted 03-03-2008 06:38 AM

Anybody have other methods to speed up this task?

Nope – but I probably have several that’ll slow you down. I know – not funny.

I can relate with the lay out time and think your spacer block idea is probably one of the most efficient ways to do what you’re doing. I’ve seen a similar technique used to cut dovetails on the table saw.

Beats marking it all out! Which is what I’ve done…but, I don’t build this stuff on a daily basis like you do.

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

View sandhill's profile


2128 posts in 4465 days

#9 posted 03-03-2008 06:46 AM

Thank you! I have been putting off building a bed because of just that problem (Lay out) I think the bed has about 70 spindles. Now I don’t have an excuse, Thanks buddy!
LOL just kidding

View Grumpy's profile


25788 posts in 4392 days

#10 posted 03-03-2008 10:12 AM

Well described Tim. Thanks for sharing.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View cajunpen's profile


14578 posts in 4607 days

#11 posted 03-03-2008 11:14 AM

That is an ingenious method. I don’t have a dedicated mortiser – but I have been toying with the idea of getting one – this may just push me over the edge to buy yet another tool.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View niki's profile


426 posts in 4621 days

#12 posted 03-03-2008 12:21 PM

Hi Tim

Your idea is not one of the best ideas but, it’s THE best idea for equal and precise spacing…

It takes 3 minutes (or less) to cut the spacers on the TS and it saves all the time of measuring, marking and guess work…reminds me the Metabo logo “Work, don’t play”...

I used it a few times for spacing dowel holes that I drilled on the router table and require very high precision, works like a charm especially on “mass production” like you did.

I don’t know what you are building there but, it looks beautiful.

Very well done


View JLYoung's profile


32 posts in 4322 days

#13 posted 03-03-2008 01:59 PM

Wow Tim, I wish I had thought of that when I built my arts n crafts headboard. I taped a measuring tape to top of the rail and marked off every 3/4” increment. 3/4” space, 3/4” spindle. 46 spindles, 2 ends per spindle, 4 holes per end with the morticing attachment on my drill press = 2 full days of drilling holes and cleaning them out with a chisel. I wish I could tell you a better way but I can’t.

I’ve tried the method of cutting a groove on the table saw and then cutting a bunch of little spacers and was also dipleased with the results. For some reason, I can’t get the walls of the groove perfectyl vertical so that when I stick the spacers in there’s always a vivible gap.

View Tim Pursell's profile

Tim Pursell

499 posts in 4323 days

#14 posted 03-03-2008 02:23 PM

Karson, thanks for the post about the story stick & how you count the leg faces. Cutting all those mortices & making sure you have them all in the right places still scares the heck out of me. If it’s possible, I usually make at least 1 extra leg, ”just in case” . I’m forever checking & re-checking to make sure I don’t mess up. Ill try your method on the next job. But I think I’ll still make an extra leg just in case of an oops! lol.


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