Should I use"regular" or floating tenons on Mission Furniture

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Forum topic by C_PLUS_Woodworker posted 06-07-2011 12:08 AM 4947 views 0 times favorited 24 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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602 posts in 3469 days

06-07-2011 12:08 AM

Topic tags/keywords: oak joining mission furniture

I am in a quandary as to what direction to take for making M&T joints in the future.

I have made very few M&T joints until now….........using my drill press with a mortising attachment.

I have a real good, full set of hand chisels.

Plans are to start making an entire roomful of Mission-type furniture, including:

4 End Tables
2 Coffee Tables
1 Hall Table
1 Prairie sofa
2 Matching Prairie-type chairs
1 Morris Chair

I am working like crazy to get all the other stuff done so I can start on these projects this Fall-Winter.

Buying a Jet or PowerMatic mortiser and using traditional tenons looks like a nice way to go, but that is 9 cuts per tenon. WOW.

Floating Tenons with a Mortise Pal has lots of advocates.

I want to do a fair number of through tenons.

I have read every comment I could find on LJ’s about this subject

But I would like specific guidance as to M&T work on “Mission Furniture”.

Will the small slats on Mission Furniture work OK with loose tenons? With routed mortises?

Can you make a decent through-mortise with a Router – MortisePal?

My skill set is OK…... and I seem to better my skills fairly quickly….....with practice

I like it when my “tools are better than I am” .......... my eyes and hands and back aren’t what they used to be

I am really looking forward to your responses.

Thanks, Bruce.

24 replies so far

View SPHinTampa's profile


567 posts in 4247 days

#1 posted 06-07-2011 12:47 AM

I have a Mortise Pal and I find it to be a very well made jig that is very easy to use and accurate. The older version had some issues with repeatability because the brass screws that controlled the lateral movement could slip as the jig as moved between pieces but I think the new version has this issue fixed.

I seem to remember from a FWW article that loose M&T joints were not as strong as conventional M&T joints. I think this is relevant has you have a number of chairs/sofa’s listed and you may wish to use conventional joints for the “structural connections” (e.g. leg to apron) vs the decorative joints (e.g. side slats).

-- Shawn, I ask in order to learn

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4209 days

#2 posted 06-07-2011 12:48 AM

You can make through mortises with a router – up to maybe 3.5”
with bits I’ve seen. It’s tedious work to be sure.

The only really fast way to cut through mortises is with a chain mortiser.
If you’re in so. Cal you can come use mine.

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


602 posts in 3469 days

#3 posted 06-07-2011 12:51 AM

Loose tenons seem so much easier…....everything from measuring length to mortise clean-up

But, I was worried about working with small pieces.

So, GarageWorks, thanks for the info. Your jig looks great …. as do all your projects.

The part I am hung up on the most is making the tenons for a traditional M&T joint.

I understand that a good mortiser with good, sharp chisels work real well….so the mortises don’t worry me.

It’s the tenons.

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


602 posts in 3469 days

#4 posted 06-07-2011 12:52 AM

Loren, thanks.

I thank you for your offer of the chain mortiser.

But I think one is not on my horizon.

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


602 posts in 3469 days

#5 posted 06-07-2011 12:54 AM


You make a good point about structural strength.

Gonna have to give that careful consideration. Thanks.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3832 days

#6 posted 06-07-2011 01:27 AM

I have and use my Domino for making lots of Mission style furniture – you can’t get away from that style in CA (I like the style myself….but my favorite is more towards the green and green style). The domino makes a strong joint and is very easy to setup and use…..I have not used the mortise pal myself….but I have heard lots of folks say that is is a great tool.

Loose tenons are very strong….certainly not as strong as the traditional M&T joint….but I have not seen any failures in projects that I have used the Domino on…..This includes some porch swings that I made using loose M&T’s on…..and those swings get alot of abuse including the weather.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 4306 days

#7 posted 06-07-2011 01:32 AM

Bruce, being an Arts and Crafts craftsman, I going to say “you can do it right, or you can do it easy.” You won’t get any sympathy from me, about how many mortises you have to cut. There are other styles of furniture that are easier to build.
I know today’s trend is instant everything. It might take a little longer to cut the mortises and tenons, but they will hold up to the test of time. I use a drill press mortiser, as my compromise. I refuse to cut mortises with a router. I do have a horizontal tenon cutter that I made. It uses a router, but it rarely get used.
Just take it as a therapy session, standing at that mortiser, punching all of those tenons. It’s quicker than using a mallet and chisel. There’s plenty of fake stuff at Walmart, that looks almost real. I think you’ll have more pride in what you build, if you have more sweat and time invested in it.
Just my $0.02.

View pintodeluxe's profile


6016 posts in 3375 days

#8 posted 06-07-2011 01:56 AM

After cutting hundreds of mortise and tenon joints this weekend, I can’t imagine doing it without my mortiser. I prefer the square look of tenons cut with a dado blade. If through-tenons are what you seek, I would recommend a mortiser and a good dado set. I am trying to picture what through-tenons would look like with a loose tenon. I am sure each woodworker has a way that works best for him / her but I sure like traditional mortise and tenon joints. Trough-tenons almost don’t require glue once they are pegged.
Have fun!

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3636 days

#9 posted 06-07-2011 02:00 AM

Mark me down as another Mortise Pal fan. It is my primary method of joinery.

After working with Mortise Pal for a while, I am finding that I often prefer to use the Mortise Pal jig to drill holes with the router for dowel joinery. I know that there are dowel jigs available that are cheaper than the Mortise Pal but I have never seen one that will let me drill a 1/2” hole and I find that a router with 1/2” bit is much more accurate and much quicker than using a drill. A good up-spiral router bit cuts the hole in a couple of seconds.

Loose tenons do not work well for through mortises, but you can always fake it (i.e. glue a piece on the outside of the joint that looks like it is a through mortise.

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

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


602 posts in 3469 days

#10 posted 06-07-2011 02:47 AM

Reg, Tim, Rich, GW, thanks so much for your comments.

I don’t want to fake the through tenons, hence my original quandary.

Through mortises seem easier with a mortiser using a backer board…........than squaring off a routered mortise.

But the non-through mortises ….and especially the tenons seem LOTS easier with loose joinery.

Pinto, I know it is a function of how close the cut, but do you find you have much clean-up on the dado’d tenons?

As I said above, it’s all the tenon work that has me a little worried. And I would definitely be using my T/S for tenons cuz my bandsaw is an old Crapsman that I just use for rough work.

NOTE: I think a lot of my trepidation is born out of ignorance. I just don’t have that much experience with M&T joinery. But, I am sure once I started doing a bunch, my skill and comfort levels would go way up …... no matter what method I was using.

So, I am kinda stuck here in analysis paralysis.

I wonder if I am going to end up with a mortiser and a MortisePal. (not really…..too much $$$)

View DLCW's profile


530 posts in 3216 days

#11 posted 06-07-2011 03:58 AM

Having built many, many mission style pieces, I land on the side of traditional M&T, not loose M&T. In most everything else I do, I use loose M&T.

Going back to what Tim said, mission style is not for the craftsman who wants to rush through getting the job done. True arts & craft (mission) style features integral M&T with lots of thru tenons that are chamfered at 45 degrees where they exit the mating piece. I don’t even cheat on the spindles. All have a small tenon that go in to a small mortise in the rails.

You can go the other route of quick but it won’t hold true to the style. As always it is your personal choice and preference which way you want to go. If time is the top priority, then finding faster ways to put the pieces together is job one.

I use a JET benchtop mortiser and the table saw. It’s not the fastest but it does a great job. I cut all the mortises first then rough cut the tenons on the table saw and fine tune the fit with a shoulder plane. But this is my preference and the preference of my customers. I’ve never had a customer that opted for a cheaper version of the style. They’ve all wanted the real thing.

So it comes down to one thing – your preference, not what other people think you should do with it. Either choice will result in a functional piece of mission style furniture.

Just my $.02.

-- Don, Diamond Lake Custom Woodworks - - "If you make something idiot proof, all they do is make a better idiot"

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 4306 days

#12 posted 06-07-2011 04:04 AM

Garage, most of the furniture in my house is made with minimum power tools, max hand tools. Can’t make it pay on the business side. Folks willing to pay for that are hard to find.

View rcs47's profile


210 posts in 3691 days

#13 posted 06-07-2011 06:42 AM


About a year ago I picked up a MortisePal and wish I’d done it a long time ago. I have the drill press attachment, but found I could make clean mortises as fast using Forester bits and chisels. I’ve also used a router with various jigs, but the MortisePal is a lot easier. It’s accurate, fast, doesn’t take up floor space, and if you’re working with a long rail, you bring the tool to the work for a loose tenon.

I use the MortisePal for with loose tenons, but I also use it to cut long mortises (just slide the jig down and keep routing) that I then cut a traditional tendon to fit. You don’t have to use a loose tenon for every mortise you cut with the MortisePal.

As far as a through mortise, I’ve seen a video (maybe Fine Woodworking?) where they cut most of the way through from one side with the router. They drill a hole just large enough to fit a flush trim router bit, and use that to complete the through mortise. From that point, you can square up the corners with a chisel. You can cut your tenon using the method of your choice.

For the slats you talk about, it depends on the size of the slats. I would use the MortisePal to cut mortises, allowing for at least a 1/8” shoulder. Then cut a tenon on each slat, rounding the corners of the tenon to fit the mortises. If they are thick enough for a 1/4” mortise, then I might use loose tenons, but it depends on the overall size. If you look at the mission furniture projects, my slats are small (1/2” x 1/2”). I used a 1/4” dowel, but I drilled (mortised?) the holes using the MortisePal because it was accurate.

Good Luck,


-- Doug - As my Dad taught me, you're not a cabinet maker until you can hide your mistakes.

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


602 posts in 3469 days

#14 posted 06-07-2011 06:59 AM

Doug, that is as great response. Thanks so much.

I really admire the work you have done….and hope I can come close to emulating some of it.

Thanks again.

View vicrider's profile


179 posts in 3460 days

#15 posted 06-07-2011 04:18 PM

Hi C+,

For non-thru mortises, and with time and effort savings in mind, I think the Mortise Pal and loose tenons would be ok, dependent on the size limitaitions of the slats and keeping an eye on the indexing of the parts. I know that isn’t the purist approach, and I don’t use loose tenons myself, but the strength of the joint would be acceptable. I make lots of tables and I just feel better about solid tenons.

But, especially for thru mortises, where the end of the tenon is visible, I have to go with a mortising setup on the drill press (or a dedicated mortiser) and a tenoning jig on the table saw. I cut the mortises first, then make tenons to fit. It seems that there is always some play in whatever mortising technique you use. Even the most accurate mortiser requires some chisel cleanup, and with bushings and long spiral bits in the router I still get some play in the mortise.

After several attempts at making a tenon jig (there must me 20 different plans out there), I purchased an import jig. It was less expensive than the Delta, and I did have to spend some time making sure the jig was accurate and true to the table saw blade. That said, once it’s fettled, it is easy to make minor adjustments and I get good replication, very clean shoulders, and neatly fitting tenons.

The jig also makes it easier to get the shoulder to shoulder measurement that is so critical to fit up. Just raise or lower the saw blade, and then adjust tenon length to size.

My 2 cents,


-- vicrider

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