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Mortise and tenon easier than half-lap?

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Forum topic by Travis posted 03-26-2019 07:02 AM 756 views 0 times favorited 38 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Travis

221 posts in 94 days


03-26-2019 07:02 AM

Hi all,

I’m planning my first table build and looking at various designs. I’ve been considering what kind of joinery to use for legs and supporting pieces and I keep coming back to half-lap and mortise and tenon joints. I know M&T is a staple of woodworking, but honestly it has scared me because it seems like you have to be able to saw and chisel with exactness and/or use tools I don’t have (e.g., drill press with large bits) or fancy jigs for the table saw and router, and there are many more steps involved. Half-lap, on the other hand, I think I can simply make on my table saw.

In comparing the two, I found this thread where many people said they found m&t joints easier to make than half-laps. So I’m wondering, what am I missing? Do you agree, and if so, why? I’m not trying to start another thread about which is better, just which is easier for you to make?

-- Extra screws left over are just evidence I found a better way to put it together.


38 replies so far

View BlueRidgeDog's profile

BlueRidgeDog

472 posts in 107 days


#1 posted 03-26-2019 11:20 AM

I make great tenons on the table saw without a jig and you can make a mortise with nothing more than a chisel.

If you cut your mortise first, you only need to make the cut square, and you don’t need to be too fussy with the edge as it will be covered, so if you bruise it somewhat, nobody will know. From there you size your tenon to match. When laying out a mortise, I typically come in from the edge of the mating part equally, so the cheek cuts of the tenon on the table saw are all done at once.

Lots of folks use other tools to speed up the mortise (router, drill, drill press) but they are not essential. Other than strength, MT joints are fantastic in that most of the working area is hidden so you have a very clean joint, especially if you make clean shoulder cuts on the tenon using a table saw.

View ChefHDAN's profile

ChefHDAN

1364 posts in 3177 days


#2 posted 03-26-2019 11:24 AM



MT joints are fantastic in that most of the working area is hidden so you have a very clean joint, especially if you make clean shoulder cuts on the tenon using a table saw.
- BlueRidgeDog

Agreed, a sloppy HL will mostly always be visible, the tenon & mortise can be shaved/shimmed to work, but if you miss on part of a HL you’re looking at starting over…

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

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BlueRidgeDog

472 posts in 107 days


#3 posted 03-26-2019 11:28 AM

...you can also pin and/or draw pin a MT joint for added strength, and the ability to assemble large items without clamps.

View EarlS's profile

EarlS

2651 posts in 2675 days


#4 posted 03-26-2019 11:41 AM

+1 on M/T. I’m not sure I would use half lap joints on table legs.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View HorizontalMike's profile

HorizontalMike

7781 posts in 3241 days


#5 posted 03-26-2019 12:27 PM

Half lap joints are easy, AND easy to strengthen. Drill and place dowels thru each joint works well. Plus, IMO they make a very attractive joint. I would probably choose a larger dowel size for table legs, matched with the selected drill bit.

NOTE: If you insist on M&T joints, may I suggest using “floating tenons”, where both pieces to be joined have mortises cut into them and a piece is cut in the size of desired tenon to fit. The tenon is then glued into both adjoining pieces and clamped to dry. These are easier to fit perfectly, in that you can make them slightly loose and let the glue take up the space.

Horizontal Mortising Machine

OR JUST PUT A DOWEL ON THE LEG END as I did below:

https://www.lumberjocks.com/projects/90000

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View bondogaposis's profile

bondogaposis

5323 posts in 2679 days


#6 posted 03-26-2019 01:31 PM

M & T joints are the bread and butter of furniture making. My recommendation is to acquire the tooling you need to make this everyday joint. The tenons are easily made on the table saw, the mortises can be made simply with a drill press and a chisel. An alternative to the the drill press is a plunge router. You don’t need large bits as 1/4” is standard mortise size for for 3/4” stock. I often make 1/4” mortises with my Bosch Colt trim router. One advantage the M & T joints have over half laps is the that the entire joint is hidden, so precision is not as critical and any errors are easily fixed.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View SMP's profile

SMP

595 posts in 233 days


#7 posted 03-26-2019 01:56 PM

With hand tools, you don’t have to “saw and chisel to exactness”, you have to saw somewhat close and then pare down to the line. Its more about having patience and taking it slow. Unless you are on an assembly line making 250 tables or something. But if you are making a single table, take your time and enjoy the process.

View Dustin's profile

Dustin

683 posts in 1068 days


#8 posted 03-26-2019 02:18 PM

+1 on Mike’s suggestion to use floating tenons. Yeah, there are expensive jigs and tools for this (panto-routers and the Domino come to mind), but you can also make your own jig on the cheap. It looks like the free plans I used are now only available to subscribers at Woodcraft, but you can find these all over the place, and they can be as simple or complex as you want. If you have a decent router (I have the Bosch 1617) with plunge capability, these are pretty simple to make and use, and are now my preferable joinery method for tables.

-- "Ladies, if your husband says he'll get to it, he'll get to it. No need to remind him about it every 6 months."

View EarlS's profile

EarlS

2651 posts in 2675 days


#9 posted 03-26-2019 02:58 PM

IMO – loose tenons are twice as much work since you have to make 2 mortises and then make the loose tenon to fit. There is a place for loose tenons just like there is for traditional M&T and half lap. For that matter, you could dowel it, or use pocket hole joinery, just to name a few ways to go.

It really comes down to your preference.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View Travis's profile

Travis

221 posts in 94 days


#10 posted 03-26-2019 03:09 PM

I appreciate all of the feedback guys. I’m sure once I get a little practice with M&T they will quickly become a favorite. They just seem so much more complicated than half-lap. But I see what you are saying about mistakes being more costly with a half-lap. I do have a plunge router, just need the appropriate bit and some sharp chisels, which shouldn’t be too hard to acquire.

-- Extra screws left over are just evidence I found a better way to put it together.

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Travis

221 posts in 94 days


#11 posted 03-26-2019 03:11 PM

By the way, love the pictures Mike!

-- Extra screws left over are just evidence I found a better way to put it together.

View bandit571's profile

bandit571

22562 posts in 3011 days


#12 posted 03-26-2019 03:17 PM

Afraid I do things backwards….I do tenons first, sized to the chisel I will use to make the mortises….for me, there was too good of a chance I’d make the tenons too skinny…for the already made mortise….Now, I make the tenon, and size the mortise to fit…using the tenon to do the mortise layout…

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Travis's profile

Travis

221 posts in 94 days


#13 posted 03-26-2019 03:35 PM



Afraid I do things backwards….I do tenons first, sized to the chisel I will use to make the mortises….for me, there was too good of a chance I d make the tenons too skinny…for the already made mortise….Now, I make the tenon, and size the mortise to fit…using the tenon to do the mortise layout…

- bandit571

I can see myself messing it up either way. Do the mortise first and make the tenon too skinny. Do the tenon first and make the mortise too big… :/

-- Extra screws left over are just evidence I found a better way to put it together.

View BlueRidgeDog's profile

BlueRidgeDog

472 posts in 107 days


#14 posted 03-26-2019 03:39 PM

When cutting tenons on the table saw, I find it easy to sneak up on a fit when I have a mortise to test against. Don’t shoot for perfect on the first cut, and use a test piece. Once your test piece is fitting but tight you are there.

Learning MT joiner is probably the best basic step you can undertake as it is the mother of all joints and will serve you well in many many applications. Strong, hidden, simple to make and easy to adjust.

View Rich's profile

Rich

4260 posts in 917 days


#15 posted 03-26-2019 03:53 PM

Bridle joints have twice the glue area as half lap, plus the joint looks the same front and back. That might matter for something like a door where the stiles should go fully top to bottom.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

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