Need some advice on picking a table top mortiser

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Forum topic by willy66 posted 02-05-2012 06:27 PM 3272 views 0 times favorited 29 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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44 posts in 3574 days

02-05-2012 06:27 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Hey LJ’s,

I was given a lump of money for my birthday to buy new tools. Actually my whole family chipped in for me to by a Bosch GLIDE miter saw. As badly as I WANT that saw, I’m trying to be sensible. I have a very good compound miter saw, which will do for a long time. So I want to focus on things I need more. I was thinking of getting a good table top mortiser, and am not sure what to get. I have a budget around $600, but would like to spread it out as much as possible over a few tools. I have looked at the General, Powermatic, at the higher end, then the lower price range Jet and Delta.

Any advice anyone could give me about these tools would be great. I am a one man working in my shop, doing cabinets and furniture.

What about a the mortising attachment for a drill press? Do they function well?

What do you all think is a good move?

-- -Willy, White Plains, NY

29 replies so far

View jmos's profile


918 posts in 3341 days

#1 posted 02-05-2012 06:57 PM

I’ve never heard anything good about drill press mortising attachments; do your own research, of course, but I would stay away.

I’ve got the Delta benchtop model; overall not a bad machine. I use it on pretty much every project. My biggest gripe with the benchtop mortisers is the work holding. The Delta hold down is pretty weak, as are many of the others. After using it for a while I also wish I had an X-Y table for it; it can be rather tedious when you need to re-position your work, especially if your making a mortise wider than your chisel and have to move the fence because setting the fence exactly where you want it is a bit finicky. I end up with a lot of test cuts before getting the setup where I want it. Unfortunately, I think you have to end up in the floor standing model to get good hold downs and a built in X-Y table. I’m starting to think about upgrading, but ~$1000 hurts. Hoping for some luck on CL.

Whichever you go with plan on tuning up the chisels; out of the box mine didn’t cut great. Not terribly sharp and lots of course milling marks. After tuning they were much improved.

-- John

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 4846 days

#2 posted 02-05-2012 07:08 PM

I have the General 5/8” tilting head mortiser and love it. I look for excuses to use it!

I had a mortising attachment for my drill press (Delta, I think) before I bought the General machine. If you’re patient, you can get the drill press attachment to work, but they are a hassle. Most people hate them. Some people are patient enough to struggle through. I’ve never heard anyone say they were really glad to have one. Having used it a fair amount, I’d say a plunge router is probably better.

I also had a cheap, HF model once upon a time. Again, I’d rather use a plunge router. I’ve never owned a Jet or Delta, but someone was saying just the other day that the Jet hold-downs don’t do the job.

-- -- --

View a1Jim's profile


118153 posts in 4549 days

#3 posted 02-05-2012 07:29 PM

I would stay far away from drill press mortising attachments they are a real pain and do a poor job. It seems that floor model mortisers prices have come way down since I bought mine,it you have the floor space you might look at them.
I’m wondering how much you will use a mortiser,there are a lot of other tools I’d buy first, Do you have a good table saw?


View doncutlip's profile


2832 posts in 4528 days

#4 posted 02-05-2012 07:40 PM

Agree 100% with Jim. I bought a DP mortising attachment from Grizzly and now it collects dust. It aligned so poorly that the quill fell out! And forget about getting the chisel square to the fence. That PM mortiser looks nice.

-- Don, Royersford, PA

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 4040 days

#5 posted 02-05-2012 08:00 PM

I have the Powermatic mortiser and have no complaints so far. It’s a benchtop in name only cause it’s pretty heavy to move around. I’m in the process of building a dedicated roll around stand for it.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View levan's profile


472 posts in 3951 days

#6 posted 02-05-2012 08:15 PM

you might want to consider building youself a slot mortiser. You would have money left over for other tools. Lots of good designs on here.

-- "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right". Henry Ford

View willy66's profile


44 posts in 3574 days

#7 posted 02-05-2012 08:15 PM

a1Jim, Yes I have a Unisaw w/52”fence. I also have an 8” grizzly Jointer, a dewalt thickness planer, a miter-saw. I’m in the process of making a tenoning jig for my supersled. I was thinking about maybe getting a nice router table instead of making one.

What other tools would buy first Jim?

-- -Willy, White Plains, NY

View Zulu55's profile


72 posts in 3289 days

#8 posted 02-05-2012 08:21 PM

I have this General Mortiser:

Click Here

I love it. Its solid, very heavy and holds my workpieces quite well. It does not tilt but I have not yet needed that function and I can’t foresee me personally needing it. I got it on sale for $350. This would allow you extra money $ (even if it’s not on sale) to purchase some high quality mortising chisels. It came with a set of four chisels and, as recommended, I bought cone sharpeners to sharpen them before use. After they were sharpened, they worked pretty good (before they would have been horrible!). I bent one of the tips on the 1/2” hollow chisel while working some Jatoba and upgraded to the premium 1/2” hollow chisel that LV sells. I was so happy with the performance of my new 1/2” hollow chisel that I bought 3 more.

So, I guess my 2 cents would be that when you invest in a benchtop mortiser, invest in a good set of chisels too or you will not be happy with your mortiser’s performance IMO.

-- Adam - Langley, British Columbia (Canada)

View willy66's profile


44 posts in 3574 days

#9 posted 02-05-2012 08:28 PM

Levan, that is not a bad option. Im sure like many others, I have a list of things to make FOR the shop, that is as long, (if not longer), than the list of things that I want to be produced OUT OF the shop. Not sure I want to add anything to it..ya know?

-- -Willy, White Plains, NY

View Loren's profile


10934 posts in 4620 days

#10 posted 02-05-2012 08:31 PM

I have a chisel mortiser, a floor model. I bought it used and it came
with a whole bunch of tooling so it was a very good buy. I always
recommend buying used machinery if you can find a machine that
meets your general criteria… unless you are tied as some people are
to buying on credit.

That said, how are you going to make your tenons?

I ask because unless you are doing a certain style of work, the
slot mortiser is a sensible investment because with one you
can do loose tenon joinery.

View willy66's profile


44 posts in 3574 days

#11 posted 02-05-2012 08:37 PM


I will be doing my tenons on my table saw, or by hand (depending on how many I am making). I like to do hand work whenever possible, and a deadline is not an issue.

Actually I’m torn between a mortiser and a pair of carcase saw from Grammercy Tools (which i have been dying to get since i tried them out). But as far as need, I think mortiser comes first.

-- -Willy, White Plains, NY

View a1Jim's profile


118153 posts in 4549 days

#12 posted 02-05-2012 09:14 PM

I’m not saying a mortiser is not a good tool to have if you have other basics. As most folks know I’m a router nut because routers are so versatile. I have a multi router and it’s great for mortises but way beyond the budget your working with.
but I made a shop made one I used for years that worked just fine and it would do a lot more than mortises . It’s a rough looking machine but could be made to look better. I think the parts cost a little more than $600. If this is not your cup of tea I would make a good shop made router table with a good router and lift. All said and done you know what tools you use most and what you would like to make your projects easier and better made.


View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 4046 days

#13 posted 02-05-2012 09:15 PM

I own the Jet bench top mortising machine. I find its hold down feature to be virtually worthless. Others have expressed the same opinion about this machine.

In fact, I have an X-Y vise on order. I’ll have to do some rigging to get the vice in the right position relative to the mortising machine but, when it is done, I should have my hold down problem solved.

In retrospect, I wish I had bought the Powermatic machine. It appears to have a much better hold-down provision.

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

View DIYaholic's profile


19921 posts in 3647 days

#14 posted 02-05-2012 09:53 PM

There is a thread entitled Going deep with a router, in which NBeener posted several links regarding an X-Y table for bench top mortises (post #27). I have the same mortiser refered to in this link, Jet JBM-5 Mod/Upgrade, and I plan on doing this upgrade in the near future.
Just thought I’d pass this on.

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View JAAune's profile


1917 posts in 3289 days

#15 posted 02-05-2012 09:53 PM

Hmm. To be perfectly honest, I’d only recommend a mortising machine for two types of mortising: through tenons that need square corners and pegged tenons. Hidden mortises are easier to do with routers and rounding off the corners of tenons cut on the table saw is quick and easy.

I don’t have a wide range of experience with mortisers but the benchtop model I used was a Multico. It worked fine but my complaint about it was the same as the one Richgreer has about his Jet. The hold down was a hassle and only semi-effective. I did get a chance to use an old industrial machine and it was pretty nice. The hold down was a screw clamp and the table had x-y-z adjustment. We sold it for about $600.00 though. It just didn’t contribute to productivity like the slot mortiser and Domino did.

If you still wish to buy a mortiser be sure to get one with an acceptable hold down. It’ll save a lot of trouble.

-- See my work at

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