The walnut Six Drawer Dresser #1: Mortising by hand

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Blog entry by CottageWorkshop posted 12-15-2009 09:52 PM 2684 reads 1 time favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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This blog post is from my Cottage Workshop blog. to see my previous entries you can visit that site. I will try to upload to both sites in the future. I am about a quarter of the way into building a six drawer dresser for my youngest son, Ryan. I have decided to favor hand tools for most of the joinery for my own education as well as, hopefully, the education of anyone else interested in using hand tools. Enjoy!

Moving onward, I come to yet another opportunity to connect with the Luddites of the past. I need to create twelve mortises in the drawer dividers to house the drawer supports. It’s December in Indiana and it’s cold. Sure, it could be in the 60’s tomorrow followed by a blizzard but for now, I’m not going to spend any time working in the barn if I don’t have to. I have all I need in the warm cottage: a mallet, marking gauge, clamps and a 1/4” mortise chisel.
As usual, I’ve scoured the internet to learn what I could about mortising by hand. Of all that I found I found these videos the most helpful. Both are of Frank Klausz , a master cabinetmaker originally from Hungary. He really seems to be a great teacher so I must plan on obtaining some of his videos.

This one is from It even shows how he allows for a haunched tenon…

This one is from a Woodworking in America demonstration and is just cool. You can see everything that happens under the surface when you chop a mortise. You can even hear Roy Underhill talking in the background! The fact the Mr. Klausz completes the mortise without breaking the glass makes this not only a woodworking demo but a pretty good magic trick.

I did read a post from Tom Fidgen about mortising just recently. He’s working on a sharpening station for his workshop.

Well, here’s how I did…

First, I set my mortising gauge to the width of my chisel.

After centering the gauge on the back of the drawer divider I marked the areas for the mortises including their lengths. I’m sure there are many ways to clamp a piece like this but this is how I did it…

Using a hand screw with a holdfast was very adequate and I was able to clamp pieces into position very quickly. The chisel is positioned between the lines and held square to the sides of the piece. This is easier to do when you position yourself like I am here. I followed the same chopping sequence performed by Frank Klausz in the video and took care to make a shallow initial pass first to define the mortise. Be sure to leave the ends alone until you’re almost done. After that I whacked the heck out of it until I reached my depth of 3/4” to 1”. I finished by defining the ends of the mortise, making sure they were square to the edge.

Making one mortise took about 3 to 5 minutes. This is just a bit longer than it would have taken using my mortiser. Not too bad. My experience with this is consistent with my other findings. With sharp tools and the right techniques working by hand is much easier and faster than you think. It’s definitely warmer.


-- Visit me in the Cottage Workshop!

3 comments so far

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3641 days

#1 posted 12-15-2009 11:01 PM

Going to be a nice blog.

View Jimi_C's profile


507 posts in 3203 days

#2 posted 12-16-2009 12:25 AM

Very cool. I did not understand what exactly the difference was between a regular beveled chisel and a mortising chisel, but now I do. Unfortunately, now I’m going to have to start shopping around for mortising chisels, and coming up with excuses for my wife to allow me to buy them…

-- The difference between being defeated and admitting defeat is what makes all the difference in the world - Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle"

View CottageWorkshop's profile


12 posts in 3068 days

#3 posted 12-16-2009 07:53 PM

I’m pretty happy with the whole mortise chisel thing. Don’t worry about getting more than one at first. I saw a couple at the antique mall today and was excited about it until I noticed they were bent and beat to hell!

-- Visit me in the Cottage Workshop!

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