loose tenon vs fixed

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Forum topic by agallant posted 04-27-2011 04:26 PM 9369 views 1 time favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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551 posts in 3528 days

04-27-2011 04:26 PM

I keep on researching this and keep finding conflicting info. I am making a door and want to know what is better loose tenon or fixed? What has your actual expearence been with this?

19 replies so far

View DonH's profile


495 posts in 3459 days

#1 posted 04-27-2011 04:38 PM

Loose tenons and fixed tenons are about equal in performance given a proper fit. I just wonder why bother as it is easier to cut a tenon than a mortise and (in my view) there is more flexibility in layout with a real tenon for various joinery challenges.

Just me maybe


-- DonH Orleans Ontario

View TJU's profile


72 posts in 3298 days

#2 posted 04-27-2011 04:57 PM

I’m not sure that you will ever notice the difference. Both are good joints. I used floating tennons in 6 chairs I made 2 years ago and haven’t had any problems. I find it easier to get a good tight fit with loose tenons and it is easier to get clean shoulders.

-- Although the voices aren't real they have some pretty good ideas.

View drewnahant's profile


222 posts in 3730 days

#3 posted 04-27-2011 05:01 PM

Don, I prefer real tennons, just because i am set up for it already. but I certainly see the benefit of loose tennons.
- You dont have to figure for the length of your tennon when cutting lengths.
- You can lay out your pieces and check for fit even before cutting the joints, since the pieces wont overlap.
-You dont have to worry about getting a perfect tennon shoulder, which was the hardest part for me to learn. it is just a flat cut!
-Mortising may be the more difficult process, or at least the one requiring specialized machines, or a lot of chisel work. but if you have the machine, it is still only one process to set up. One hard process is still easier than a hard one plus an easier one.

Agallant, since you are asking, I assume you have not tried either method, and probably do not have a hollow chisel mortiser, or loose tennon mortiser, or tennoning jig for the TS. A loose tennon setup will be cheaper than both mortise and tennon, but if you dont have real plans of doing a lot of m+t in the future, I would suggest hand cutting mortises and tennons, you probably already have a saw, drill press and chisels. I have been doing it for years when I dont have access to my buddy’s mortiser. I really enjoy the chisel work, and once you do a few, it really becomes a quick process.

I drill a line of holes with a forstener bit for my mortise, then chisel it out. Tennons, I just cut the shoulder on my TS, then split off the bulk and shave it down with a sharp chisel. done! For a beginner at this, I like to remind that hardly any of it is visible. As long as your shoulder is flat, and you cut your tennon a bit short so it doesnt bottom out, it will look perfect. and as long as you use a good glue, you can really fill a loose joint and get plenty of strength for most applications.

Plus, I find that learning to hand cut any joint, even if you plan on using jigs and power tools in the future, teaches you a lot about how it works, which surfaces really matter to the fit, and how to troubleshoot fitting it later when you set up your machines.

In the end, I think it depends mostly on what tools you have, or want to purchase. Either way, your joints will be just as strong.

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


602 posts in 3549 days

#4 posted 04-27-2011 05:34 PM

drew…...........what a great post. Thanks.

View TJU's profile


72 posts in 3298 days

#5 posted 04-27-2011 05:38 PM

Drew is right. It takes some practice, and it can be very rewarding. It is a much easier set up to start out using floating tenons because all you need is a shop made jig and a plung router. You can mill up all of your tenons out of one piece of wood and round over the edges with your router to fit the mortise. When I’m in a hurry or have a lot of joints I usually use floating tenons. I just made a morris bed out of cherry and used both kinds. Sometimes it depends what mood I’m in.


-- Although the voices aren't real they have some pretty good ideas.

View spunwood's profile


1202 posts in 3477 days

#6 posted 04-27-2011 05:54 PM

Very interesting stuff fella’s. Can’t wait to try my hand at some more tenon work. By the way, do you consider it cheating to use a TS to cut the tenons? I do it with a sled. I guess it is a bit more time consuming.

-- I came, I was conquered, I was born again. ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3928 days

#7 posted 04-27-2011 11:52 PM

spunwood, if that is cheating, then using any power tool for any reason is cheating!
I guess it depends on what you are being loyal to.


View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3625 days

#8 posted 04-28-2011 03:43 PM

Some very good points to be made here, and there have been some great responses to your question. The first thing that came to me was what type of door will this be for? Another question would be what is the thickness of your rails and styles?

The loose tenons require making an extra mortise, where as the fixed tenon would eliminate the need for the extra mortise. If you are using 3/4” thickness the extra mortise might be problematic in end grain as opposed to the fixed tenon. Another option when using thinner thickness’s would be to use dowels instead of loose tenons, where by you are drilling for the dowels instead of cutting mortises making it easier and quicker.

These are all good joints, it comes down to what is your method of preference and the tools you have to work with. If tooling is the reason for choosing fixed or loose tenons, doweling may be the way to go as a drill and dowel centers are the main tools used to accomplish the task.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View TomHintz's profile


207 posts in 4039 days

#9 posted 04-28-2011 04:18 PM

I think this loose vs integral tenon thing is mostly up to what you like or trust. I have made them both ways and can’t see a big advantage to the loose tenon. I feel like I can make the integral tenons just as fast and don’t need another piece of wood that has to be formed.
I have a buddy who loves the loose tenons and so far we haven’t assaulted each other or anything and neither has had projects fall apart so I consider this a wash. Do what you like doing and don’t worry about arguments one way or the other.

-- Tom Hintz,

View agallant's profile


551 posts in 3528 days

#10 posted 04-28-2011 04:22 PM

This will be for the front door to my house which I will be using 8/4 oak. after planing I expect that It will be somewhere around 1&7/8 thick.

View rance's profile


4271 posts in 3802 days

#11 posted 04-28-2011 05:25 PM

agallant, it really would be good if you’d give more information. The fact that it is on a front door tells me a lot, but what tools do you have (Hand tools vs power tools)? What do you ‘want’ to do, and why? How good are you at your current method? Have you tried M&T before? Are you willing to ‘Tool Up’ to a method you don’t already have equipment? Are you cheap like me or can you afford the perfect tool for the job?

Based on your answers to the above questions, for a ‘general application’, either hand tools or power tools could be appropriate for you.

I strongly agree with DonH, but notice he appropriately mentions “given a proper fit”. That could be a big gotcha. I too prefer fixed tennons for more versatility in placement, and from the fact that I’m a power tool guy. Tennons entirely on the TS is a no brainer for me, with no extra expensive equipment(see, I told you I was cheap).

drewnahant makes a LOT of good points too. However, I disagree on the strength issue. Having an original wood connection with a fixed tenon is(and I’m going out on a limb here saying this publicly) almost ALWAYS stronger than a loose tenon. The only thing that could make a loose tenon’s glue joint stronger is the fact that when you glue it in place, the glue actually seeps into the wood at the joint and sorta ‘hardens’ the surrounding wood. And I believe this last statement only applies where the grain of the loose tenon is parallel with the wood in the mortise.

Having said all that about strength, MOST of my woodworking joints are so overkill(if ‘given a proper fit’) that it doesn’t make a difference. With an exterior door though, I’d make an exception, these joints could have a lot more strain on them than say face frames on kitchen cabinets. And over time, you’ll multiply that strain significantly. Those diagonal steel rods on wooden screen doors comes to mind. So that being a significant factor in your specific application alone, I’d strongly suggest Solid tenons. If the ‘look’ allows for it, I would also pin them with dowels, but make the pin hole in the tenon offset just slightly so as to forever pull on the joint. There is a name of this method, but it escapes me right now.

spunwood, YES, it is cheating! And cheating in woodworking, is ALWAYS acceptable, as long as it is ‘reasonably safe’. :)

BTW, a very good question, and a lot of very good feedback. Ms. Debbie/Martin/Escalate, this kind of thread deserves a ‘Sticky’. The ‘Sticky’ feature would be a great addition to LJ.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View agallant's profile


551 posts in 3528 days

#12 posted 04-28-2011 05:31 PM

I have always done fixed M&T which I have down to an art. I am lazy and use power tools for everything. Since the door is going to have panneles in it I am going to run a 3/4 wide by 1 inch deep dado down each of the rails then I will use the dado to cut the tennon in to the cross peaces. I was just wondering what the advantages of using loose was over fixed. The cross peaces are going to be 6 inches wide which all of the 6 inches will be used for the tennon, then from there for good measure I was going to cut some plugs in to the rails and further secure the cross peaces with some 3.5 inch deck screws. I don’t wand this door to sag.

View rance's profile


4271 posts in 3802 days

#13 posted 04-28-2011 05:39 PM

The WIDE 6” rails with full width tenons will help you a LOT to prevent sagging. I’m assuming you have a dedicated mortiser? Oh, and it is called ‘resourceful’, not ‘lazy’. :)

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3716 days

#14 posted 04-29-2011 03:24 PM

I use the Mortise Pal jig to cut the mortises for loose tenons. I’m very happy with how quick and easy it is to use and I consistently get very good joints.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View dbray45's profile


3348 posts in 3418 days

#15 posted 04-29-2011 03:56 PM

If you are doing an outside entry panel door, I would recommend the Freud door router bits. They would save you a lot of time and fit well together.

For mortises and tenons – I tried the TS, tried the mortising bits for the drill press. Now I do them by hand using a hand saw and mortising chisels. This requires a little more work – good layout, choosing grain, a sharp saw, sharp chisels, and practice. Did I mention practice? This is not a production method but the more I do, the better it gets. When you are done (if it comes together the way you want) life is good, if not – you have fire wood or plenty of examples of what not to do (I stopped long ago keeping these, not enough space).

The hardest thing in mortise and tenons is keeping thing straight. If the joints are not perfect, a twist will prevail in the pieces.

-- David in Palm Bay, FL

showing 1 through 15 of 19 replies

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