Downsides to using a mortising attachment in a drill press?

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Forum topic by jonah posted 05-20-2009 12:44 AM 103117 views 1 time favorited 35 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2158 posts in 4513 days

05-20-2009 12:44 AM

Topic tags/keywords: drill press mortising mortiser

I’m curious to hear about the reasons conventional wisdom says it’s generally a “bad thing” to use mortising attachments in drill presses. Is it the torque demands on the drill press? Are the drill press mortising attachments ineffective?

The reason I’m asking is that I have a drill press (a cheap hand-me-down, mind you) but not a dedicated mortiser, and spending $50-$80 on a decent mortising attachment is a lot more palatable than spending $300 for a mortiser, especially considering all the other competing machines that I still need to add to my workshop. My budget is very limited, but I won’t waste money on something cheap because it’s cheap. Am I better off just mortising with a router until I can afford a benchtop mortiser?

Here’s some examples of what I’m looking at:

Any thoughts? Would I regret spending the money on one of those?

35 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


118200 posts in 4791 days

#1 posted 05-20-2009 12:47 AM

Hey Jonah
My experience with a drill press attachment was any thing but good . The mortising attachment would keep coming loose. it takes a fair amount of pressure to mortise and I think it’s difficult for a bolt on attachment to hold up to that. I think I’ve seen Mortisers for around $ 175 at ether or both Harbor Freight or Grizzly . I don’t have experience with either one of those brands but maybe others hear have. Even though there more expensive they work better in my experience.
Welcome to Ljs


View knotscott's profile


8430 posts in 4589 days

#2 posted 05-20-2009 12:47 AM

A mortiser requires a fair amount of leverage from the handle when plunging the chisels into the piece. You can’t get much from a standard DP handle. The mortisers have much longer handles. If you don’t do a lot of mortises, the $100 HF mortiser works pretty well with some mods to the hold down device.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View jonah's profile


2158 posts in 4513 days

#3 posted 05-20-2009 12:58 AM

Thanks for the replies. My brother actually has that Harbor Freight mortiser, and he says he regrets ever buying it. He’s had nothing but problems and hasn’t even used it more than a few times. I generally like to stay away from those kinds of tools.

What about making some kind of clamp-on handle to increase the amount of leverage on the drill press? With a little ingenuity, it shouldn’t be hard.

View a1Jim's profile


118200 posts in 4791 days

#4 posted 05-20-2009 01:01 AM

Hey Jonah
Take a look at Grizzly I have had a lot of there tools(but not the motiser) and they work great . the grizzly is around $225. Some times it’s hard to find good tools inexpensively. Maybe You can find a used one. I have had a delta for years and its worked well and I have a tilting head floor model also. adding leverage is only half the problem, the other half is to have the mortiser stay on the drill press. If you can’t make a real mortiser work in your budget go for the router option.


View TomHintz's profile


207 posts in 4612 days

#5 posted 05-20-2009 08:34 AM

I firmly believe that drill press mortising attachments were put on this earth strictly for those who want to hate themselves for whatever reason. I know there will be someone who likes them or has had success with one. I also know that there is a fellow who (eventually) made a beautiful dresser using only a pocket knife. However, I know of no tool that is so close to universal dislike as is the drill press mortising atachment.

Drill Press Mortising Attachment Review

-- Tom Hintz,

View TheDane's profile


6007 posts in 4877 days

#6 posted 05-20-2009 08:17 PM

I bought a drill press mortising attachment ($80) a couple of years ago … tried it out, and returned it. Couldn’t get enough leverage to cut at 1/2” x 2” deep mortise in red oak, and it was a pain to get it aligned and keep it that way.

I bought a Jet JBM5 on sale ($230), and have been happy with the results. I did find that using a blade lube (e.g. OptiCut XL) on my hollow chisels and augers seems to improve performance.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4862 days

#7 posted 05-20-2009 08:46 PM

if you’re planning on doing lots of mortises and are on a strict budget – stick to the router for now, while keeping an eye on craigslist and ebay – every once in a while you’ll see a Jet or similar mortiser for sale at $100-$200 range.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View jimp's profile


208 posts in 4975 days

#8 posted 05-20-2009 09:37 PM

I have to second TheDane and TomHintz opinions. The guys that I bought my used drill press from threw in his Delta Mortising attachment (I now know why). I have used it on a handful of projects. I hate using it. It is a pain to setup. Since you don’t have a lot of leverage, it is hard to cut a mortise. When I have enough money or a project with a lot of mortises, I’m going to get a real mortiser.

Good luck.

-- - Jim, Carroll, OH

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22118 posts in 4890 days

#9 posted 05-21-2009 05:20 AM

Skarp, thanks for the link. That guy is good :-)) strainght to the point, not trying to be a comedian when he isn’t funny.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View woodbutcher's profile


592 posts in 5380 days

#10 posted 05-21-2009 06:23 AM

I have used the delta mortising attachment on a delta drill press before and it worked fine. You do have to spend a little time setting it up. My Delta drill press is a large floor model and it did provide the necessary leverage needed for this attachment. All the tools I use in the shop require set up however and constant checking for precisionm however. I have recently purchased a dedicated mortising machine however, because I do a lot of mortising and wanted a dedicated machine. It takes just about as much time to set my dedicated mortising machine up for all the different size and depth of mortises as it does to set up the delta attachment on a drill press. If you have a drill press that is capable of handling the necessary leverage required for the attachment they will work fine. I used mine for years until I could justify getting a dedicated machine which does the same job. Both get the job done equally well once you start pulling the handle. I’m not sure that this helps much, but it is my best observations after having done this both ways.

Ken McGinnis

-- woodbutcher north carolina

View jonah's profile


2158 posts in 4513 days

#11 posted 05-23-2009 01:30 PM

Thanks everyone for the information. I think I will wait and save my money for a decent mortiser. I don’t cut enough of them to really be bothered by doing it with the router, and I could use the excuse to come up with a jig for holding pieces to easily rout out mortises.

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 4958 days

#12 posted 05-23-2009 05:26 PM

Jonah, I have a floor model, 1 hp drill press that I made into a dedicated mortiser about 10 years ago. I added a sliding vise, which holds the wood and is easily adjustable. I also took the handles off and installed one 3/8” all thread rod, with a 1/2” copper pipe over it. This gives me plenty of leverage. I had looked at mortisers a few years ago and it was cheaper to buy another floor model drill press, so I did that. I like the ability to mortise into any thickness of material, I can even punch square holes in the end of 42” pieces of stock. I can control the drill speed also with this machine. I use this set up all of the time and have punched 1,000’s of mortises with it. You may do better with a mortiser, but I believe they can be just as fussy as a drill press for set up. That’s my $0.02 worth.

View jonah's profile


2158 posts in 4513 days

#13 posted 05-25-2009 01:03 PM

That drill press is a heck of a lot beefier than my benchtop POS, though. Nice to hear someone has had some success though.

View Burle's profile


1 post in 3557 days

#14 posted 12-26-2011 09:11 PM

Jonah. Were it not for the fact that the chuck head of my drill press keeps falling off, and the morticing attachment I have is not as “Universal” as they claim, I’d be happily morticing myself into oblivion right now. The clamp of the attachment is just long enough that I cant engage the drill bit into the chuck, and when I make allowances for that, the chuck head keeps falling off the drill press shaft. All I have managed to accomplish in the last 2 hours is discovering a strong desire to drink. Im going to check out the Grizzly site that A1Jim has suggested, as under 300 bucks is the cheapest Ive seen them so far. Like you, I dont do alot of morticing but when I do I like them to be crisp and square. Perhaps a dedicated morticer is the way to go, even though its a pricey item. Maybe checking eBay or Amazon for used ones is an option as well.

View Jim55's profile


196 posts in 3280 days

#15 posted 09-28-2012 08:51 PM

Ok, I am brand new here. But I have this to contribute.

I see on this and other topics and sites people denigrating HF while extolling the virtues of Grizzly & other lower/mid grade machines. You all need to start looking closer at what you’re paying for.

I just recently purchased a 14” bandsaw for $199. The Grizzly saw sells for $369 or some near such.
They are one and the same machine! The only difference from the one at HF was the stand and that the switch was located in different places.

I have found this to be true of many different machines and brands, up to and including “Jet.” Many times, people are paying to or three times the price for a machine that rolled out of the same Chinese factory as Harbor Freight’s. Usually only paint colors and a few minor cosmetic differences Differentiate.
The best thing about HF machines is to buy cheap and add a few upgrades to make the equal of better machines for less cost.

Obviously, that is not true of all machines and some machines from HF are crap. Like any other significant purchases, research will pay dividends.

Does all this mean I buy only HF? No. I research what is available to find what will best suit my needs and then find the best source/price.
Just my .oh2

In keeping with this topic, I have a floor standing drill press but, from what I’m reading, it would not be a good candidate for a mortising attachment. So, considering I don’t do many right now, I will stick with ye olde chisel.

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