LJ Challenge: Mortise and Tenon Joinery (Deadline June 24, 2014)

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Blog entry by Cricket posted 06-10-2014 06:46 PM 3264 reads 0 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hendrik Varju is a well known furniture designer/craftsman who operates “Passion for Wood” near Toronto, Canada. He also offers woodworking courses and seminars and has been widely published in woodworking magazines in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. In 2007, Hendrik started producing DVD courses and he has offered to provide some of them as prizes in Lumberjocks contests. You can see the full list of all of Hendrik’s DVD courses here: .

This week, the prize is Hendrik’s eleventh DVD course called ”Mortise and Tenon Joinery”. It is almost 11 hours long and focuses on making mortise and tenon joinery using a combination of power and hand tools. As is common in Hendrik’s techniques, he uses machines to cut the bulk of the joinery but then uses chisels and hand planes to sneak up on a perfect fit. A long and detailed bonus section covers sharpening of hollow chisel mortising bits and demonstrates the steps required to make beautiful through wedged mortise and tenon joints. You can read more about this 5-DVD set here: It is valued at Cdn. $94.95 + taxes and shipping.

To enter to win this contest, just post a comment giving your answer to this question: ”When faced with multiple ways to achieve a given type of joinery, what determines the methods you use most often? What factors do you consider is settling on your own personal “best method”?” Post a comment before June 24, 2014 and Hendrik will choose his favourite answer. Then we’ll let you know how to claim your prize. Hendrik will ship it directly to your home at no cost to you.

-- "Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it, not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours."

18 comments so far

View bhacksaw's profile


162 posts in 1542 days

#1 posted 06-10-2014 07:01 PM

What affects my approach the most is availability of tools. Without a mortise machine, most of my mortises are done by table saw or router table. When the setup of these tools (especially indexing marks for mortises on the router table) is too long to be of use, I go to hand tools.

View Pete Tevonian's profile

Pete Tevonian

78 posts in 2635 days

#2 posted 06-10-2014 07:04 PM

For me, the non-professional woodworker, I try to make my woodworking decisions based on Joy. The things we create should provide joy—first for others, but also for ourselves. A utilitarian stool can result in joy if it lets us do things we couldn’t do before. A small box, created beautifully with precision and creativity, can turn an otherwise mundane activity, like storing some jewelry, into a little moment of joy. And building something in a new, challenging way, can provide joy to a builder, even if that joy is hidden to the people using the piece.

So, in the pursuit of joy, my individual woodworking decisions usually have three facets: Strength, Aesthetics and Challenge

If the piece requires strength and durability, due to its intended function, then strength of the joint takes precedence. Doesn’t matter how beautiful it is, or how much fun it was to create, if it breaks when the piece is used. So if strength matters, and one method is stronger, that’s where you have to start.

If strength is equal, or non-critical, then make it beautiful. Make it surprising. Take the time to make it in a way that inspires people to take a moment and stare and smile.

And if strength is equal, and the joint won’t be seen, then at least do something interesting. Do something that helps you hone your craft, expand your skills, or just challenge your brain.

With all that being said, I also have to acknowledge that sometimes it’s okay to just glue it and screw it, so you can move on to the OTHER opportunities to create Joy!

-- Pete in Wilmette, IL

View jacob34's profile


465 posts in 1981 days

#3 posted 06-10-2014 08:18 PM

What determines my method usually falls into one of three categories 1. I am comfortable with the method and tools (using say hand saws for tenons followed by shoulder plane) 2. I see a new technique and want to try it (using a sharp butter knife for the tenon) 3. I get a wild hair up my rear (using the bandsaw for tenons). In reality it starts with planing and designing the piece and its functionality. If for example I am building a piece for my wife I will probably opt for the hand tools to be close to the wood and feel like I have more control, versus if I am making shop furniture in which a quick and easy bandsaw is most likely employed. More often than not I will want to go as much hand tool as I can.

-- so a bear and a rabbit are sitting on a log

View TheFridge's profile


7458 posts in 1203 days

#4 posted 06-10-2014 08:50 PM

The amount of time I have, how the joint fits in with the bigger picture of the piece, and the strength required for the joint determines what I use for a particular project . There are so many ways to create the joint I need, and if I don’t have a particular power tool designed for that purpose (specifically a mortising machine and a box joint jig), I will learn how to do it a different way to achieve the look I want strength necessary for durability. Whether it’s end mills and a cross slide vise, a hand cut mortise, a forstner bit in a drill press, or calipers screwed to a crosscut sled to make finger joints, I choose the joint and then the method based on the time I can spend on the project. I typically use a combination of power and hand tools to achieve the results I want.

At this point in time, I am still trying different joints for different applications so I have more confidence when doing something similar on the next project.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View Buckethead's profile


3192 posts in 1586 days

#5 posted 06-10-2014 09:22 PM

Those are big questions. So open ended and vague that one can’t honestly reply with anything remotely adequate.

Like huge gaps in the joinery.

Gaps are bad, unless you’re using loose tenons.

Did I win?

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

View Bob Kassmeyer's profile

Bob Kassmeyer

198 posts in 2642 days

#6 posted 06-10-2014 11:04 PM

It depends on the day I don’t think it takes a whole lot longer for me to do joinery by hand then machine. Sometimes the results are more predictable when I use machines but I like doing it by hand sometimes. I believe my best method is mortising on the router table and using a tenoning fixture on the table saw.

-- Bob Kassmeyer, Nebraska

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2192 days

#7 posted 06-10-2014 11:56 PM

To me the joinery is conditioned to the aesthetic of the piece. Sometimes the joinery adds a visual effect that is pleasant, sometimes it is best hidden. In all cases it should be a joint that will make the piece sturdy and practical.

There are really no best methods, unless you are doing production work. You can do a mortise and tenon with a chisel and a hammer a la Paul Sellers, or you can use the tool of your choice e.i. router, dado blade, mortising machine etc. The “best” method is that one which produces accurate and well fitting joints. For this there as many methods as there are woodworkers.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View Julian's profile


1188 posts in 2407 days

#8 posted 06-11-2014 02:36 PM

The method I used most for joinery is based on what I feel is the strongest joint for the specific project I am making. Aesthetics also matters to me. On a decorative box I like to show off hand cut dovetails. For something like a work bench or chair, it’s the strongest joint; mortise and tenon. The size of the joint also determines how I will cut the wood; whether by hand, jig, or table saw.

-- Julian

View Rick M's profile

Rick M

9911 posts in 2097 days

#9 posted 06-11-2014 02:53 PM

I cut joinery using the most expeditious method available to me.


View cdaniels's profile


1320 posts in 1218 days

#10 posted 06-12-2014 05:41 AM

When presented with the proposed situation I like to turn to tried and true methods. If it’s a type of joint that I don’t normally use I like to research the way that it’s been done the longest and how the joint was invented. As I normally only use hand tools and I’m in a wheelchair I also have to take into consideration on how difficult it will be for me to use a method that i’m trying also. If it’s going to be more time consuming than it’s worth or I can’t do it simply because of my disability than I find another way that it will work. Always try, and try again and eventually with enough scraps and sweat I can get it done!

Iron Sides

-- Jesus was a carpenter... I'm just saying

View Roger's profile


20871 posts in 2521 days

#11 posted 06-12-2014 12:19 PM

Still being the rookie that I am, I think a project with joinery should be thought out like this: the strength of the joint, the looks and/or beauty of the joint (if visible), the size/s of the joint/s, and most importantly, what you, as the builder, would like it to be as an observer.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View George_SA's profile


310 posts in 1930 days

#12 posted 06-15-2014 10:15 AM

My twopence contribution:
The project is `n big factor in deciding. Does it need strength or is it more decorative? Must it just be functional or must be an display also? Further time is a large factor. How many will need to made. Available tools. And also my skill level. If it is a once off and I am not pressed for time, I will try a new technique to improve my skill level. Past experience and success also contributes. Something that still want to try is dovetail joints on a project and not just on test pieces. In the end it is a very subjective decision for me which is sometimes based more on feeling than on any practical consideration. All of the above goes into the cooking pot And the outcome can only be determined when the project is on the way.

-- There are some things that money can't buy - Manners, morals and integrity

View Nickdarr's profile


69 posts in 1748 days

#13 posted 06-18-2014 05:29 AM

I look at tool avilability and safety given the ptions in my shop. Next I look at ease of competion and effect on appearance and function. As a hobbiest, I may not have hours to hand cut dovetails for a dresser for my kids room and may find box joints as easier to accomplish in a timely manner. My chosen method comes down to enjoyment and safety while still challenging my abilities. Best is tricky as each different project may have a best way and my chosen way. Again, best may be a through tenon, but my way may be another joint, like a domino maybe.

-- Darren... Hmmmm, I got nothin.

View cdaniels's profile


1320 posts in 1218 days

#14 posted 06-25-2014 07:29 AM

When does the winner get announced?

-- Jesus was a carpenter... I'm just saying

View Buckethead's profile


3192 posts in 1586 days

#15 posted 06-25-2014 09:35 AM

I’m sure I won.

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

showing 1 through 15 of 18 comments

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