First attempt at basic mortise and tenon

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Blog entry by Holbs posted 01-21-2013 12:13 AM 2409 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

this is my first attempt at a beginner’s attempt mortise & tenon. some things i have learned that other beginner’s should be aware of.

using a ruler & a pencil to make your markings is not too wise. if you are 1/16” off your markings,, things could get out of whack. i do plan to invest in a mortise marking gauge ASAP and then later on, make a couple of my own.

the tenon: it seems i was about 5degrees off with my cutting stokes on the shoulders with my dovetail saw. my tenon ends up looking like leaning tower of pisa :) i watched youtube videos of how to do this. how they get a perfect 90degree shoulder cut i assume is by experience. also, one end of my shoulder is about 0.030” off from the other end which means one end is a hair too large and the other end is a hair too small. this was due to me using a ruler & pencil to make the measurements.
notice, the tenon is off center. this is a practice run so i was not concerned about dead center as i’m not using dimensional lumber with this poplar piece.

the mortise: this was the easy part. i used my 1/4” chisel and it came out pretty good for a first try. took me about 5 passes to get down past 1/2” depth of the shoulder. i am using dewalt 4piece chisel set fresh out of the store (no grinding as of yet, no sharpening). and i’m using (dont laugh) a rubber mallet as i have yet to have a wooden mallet. i’ll have to go look at youtube videos to see if the bottom of the mortise looks somewhat chewed up or if they flatten it out as much as possible.

either way… this was fun. it doesnt sound impressive but it’s a start for me and a learning experience. anyone else starting out in woodworking i strongly suggest doing trial / practice runs on cheapest and expendable hardwoods at hand.

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter

4 comments so far

View jap's profile


1251 posts in 2054 days

#1 posted 01-21-2013 01:54 PM

keep it up

-- Joel

View chrisstef's profile


17386 posts in 3006 days

#2 posted 01-21-2013 01:58 PM

I wouldnt worry too much about the bottom of the mortise if its a little deep it’ll be an extra pocket for the glue. Im working on hand cut dovetails at the moment and im really enjoying it. Keep at it and sharpen those chisels, a dull tool can be pretty dangerous.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View JesseTutt's profile


854 posts in 2110 days

#3 posted 01-21-2013 02:59 PM

A good first attempt, you will get better with practice. It has been years since I cut one by hand I would probably do about the same. To keep your saw at 90 degrees try holding a small block on the cutting line and lean the saw against it.

-- Jesse, Saint Louis, Missouri

View Holbs's profile


1869 posts in 2029 days

#4 posted 01-22-2013 12:55 AM

ah. small block along cutting line. great idea jesse!
i was wrong. i have a tenon saw, not a dovetail saw. i guess a tenon saw is 8”+ length while the dovetail is 4”+ length.
oh… and after doing my first trial run, i ordered the lee valley varitas mortise gauge (the one with the wheel). should serve my purpose til later when i can build my own versions i have seen here on LJ’s.

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter

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