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Mortise techniques

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  • Mortise techniques

    Given light use and limited budget, what is the best way to cut mortises?

    I have blisters from hand chiseling 16 mortises, but they came out good. The time and blisters don't make me happy.

    The reviews I have read about mortise adapters on a drill press aren't too great - I don't want to spend $50-100 on something that is time consuming to set up and/or a pain to use. (I already own those chisels and a sharpening setup, so I already have a painful solution without spending money).

    The dedicated mortise tools sound neat, but at $200+ are they a luxury, or are they something that you can't believe you could have lived without (like nail guns and biscuit cutters)?

  • #2
    How about using a router to cut the mortises? Something to consider. Dave


    • #3
      I thought of the Router option after I posted, but have never seen that recommended (Norm Abrams doesn't do it ) It seems like it might take a pretty fancy jig to control things.

      When I was earning the latest set of blisters, I wasn't sure how a router would be better than just drilling out the center (as I do) and then squaring off with a chisel. Have you tried it - or seen any articles on tricks and tips?


      • #4
        I have used a router (bought a Craftsman jig made for the purpose) which worked great. If you took the time to measure and set up correctly, the mortise and tenons fit great. My issues - set up was not that intuitive in that you had to set it up and "trust it" as opposed to marking and cutting. Working with red oak as much as I do, it also required several passes to cut each mortise in order to avoid melting the bit (I did snap one bit and it was not pretty).

        I have a mortise bit for my drill press, but find myself much more often going back to the forstner bit and chisel, at least until I can upgrade my drill press from bench top to the new Ridgid (hey Jake, what's taking so long?).

        One thought that I have found to save time, and is actually a bit easier than squaring the mortises, is to round the tenons. Just make a shoulder cut with a sharp utility knife and then use the chisel to take off the corners.


        • #5
          You might like Pat Warner's router mortising jig: .



          • #6
            I haven't tried using the router yet. I have seen Norm do them on a router table though [img]smile.gif[/img] Also have seen the Canadian guys on their router show cut them using a jig. So it can be done! Dave


            • #7
              Charlie, a hand-held router works well for mortising, and a jig isn't essential for it, either.

              Mostly I've mortised legs for aprons and rails, and I gang the legs together, using long clamps both to hold the legs in correct position and to serve as stops for the router, thus determining the length of the mortise. I use cutoffs from the legs to locate the router with respect to the long axis of the mortise. Then, with one done, I can remove a cutoff and be automatically correct for the next mortise.

              I use a plunge router for this, and have only used a conventional straight bit. I plan to get a spiral (all carbide) bit for my next go-round.

              This isn't a real fast production setup, but it sure has worked accurately for me.

              Good luck.



              • #8
                Actually Charlie, I have seen Norm use a router for mortices many times. Norm pretty much uses whatever tool his sponsor is interested in promoting


                • #9
                  Thanks for all the help. Here is my progress report:

                  I have now seen Norm use the router - on some of his older shows, although he sure seems to be in love with the dedicated mortise machine on the newer shows.

                  I didn't want to buy some of the commercial jigs, some of which cost more than a dedicated mortise machine. So I made my own jigs. And proved that I should not be a jig maker. It worked fine, but was hard to use.

                  Then I tried using my conventional (non-plunge) router mounted in a home-made router table. Marks on the guide showed me where to plunge the wood and stop the cut. After the first cut was done on all the legs, I moved the guide to cut the other side of the mortise.

                  I had a spiral router bit from a previous "special need." I would recommend it to lift some of the cuttings out of the mortise while it is being cut.

                  I am split on the decision to square out the mortises with a chisel or to round off the tenon to fit the router-cut mortise. Guess that will depend on my mood for each project.

                  In summary, the router with a spiral bit on a simple (home made) table has taken the pain away - I have stopped looking for alternatives, and recommend this approach as a starting point.


                  • #10
                    Glad to see it all worked out! Dave [img]smile.gif[/img]


                    • #11
                      Hi Charlie

                      Have you tried the Beadlock loose tenon system? All you need is a drill. Here's a Woodshop Demo showing you how to use it. It only costs about $47 for a combination kit (3/8" & 1/2") which is quite reasonable. In addition, loose tenons are just as strong as regular tenons.

                      I tried the Beadlock system after seeing one of John's Woodshop Demos where he used it making a chair. The angles on the chair strechers were not 90 degrees making it a tough cut with regular tenons. Now that I've used the jig for a while, 90% of my tenon work is with the Beadlock system. Comes in real handy for bed rails. Can you imagine cutting the tenon on a table saw tenon jig when the stock is 6'-7' tall? It's a snap with the Beadlock system.

                      There are two things to watch out for. File the sight hole as indicated in the Demo to get a cleaner view of the sight line. Second, the jig is small so make sure it's clamped properly so it doesn't move when drilling the holes. I use the clamp from my Kreg 2000 jig and it works great. Others use two regular clamps to make sure there is no movement. With those caveats in mind, it's simple, inexpensive and strong.

                      Try it, I think you'll like it .