New Yankee Blanket Chest #3: My first Mortise & Tenon!

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Blog entry by HungryTermite posted 02-09-2010 07:17 AM 3969 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Rough cutting Part 3 of New Yankee Blanket Chest series Part 4: It all comes together for a test fit »

Well, after taking all my rough cut boards and ripping them to final width and crosscutting them to final length on the tablesaw, and spending what seemed like hours (because it probably was) laying out all the cuts on all the pieces …
Final Dimenions

I fired up my new mortising router jig …
Router Jig

And cut my first mortises in all the stiles of the chest!
1st Mortise

I then went over to the tablesaw with a Dado head and started to mill my 1st tenons and all the grooves for the solid panels:

Things went well although not as well as I was hoping, but that’s one of the reasons I picked this project. It was a chance to learn some new joinery in cheaper material. I managed to leave all the tenons a little thick so all I had to do was sand them down a touch to get a nice tight fit into the mortises. I also used a chamfer on the cheeks of the tenons to help control the fit into the mortises since the mortises had rounded ends from the router bit.

Here is a funny aside: I just finished reading “Hand Tool Essentials” and learned I had been trying to use my chisel upside down! I got a cheap buck bros 1 inch wide chisel years ago but never got very far with it even though it was sharp. I got it out even though it is now covered in rust and chipped and turned it over and it was so easy to use I think I will have to clean it up and regrind it. Who knew!??

Anyway, my main problem with the mortise & tenons and the tounge & groove joints for this project was poor tablesaw technique. From the results I am pretty sure several things were happening. First, I havent built a crosscut sled for my saw yet so I was just using the miter gauge to make the tenons. I am pretty sure the pieces slid along the miter gauge as I made the cuts because the shoulders on some tenons were angled and on some they were at different heights (so it is nice and tight on one side but a gap on the other). I did use a stop block on the rip fence to line up the cuts but I suspect movement. The “angled” shoulders were stepped, not really angled, so I think the piece was slipping as opposed to the miter gauge not being at 90° to the blade.

Second, I had inconsistent groove depth and tenon thickness. I am pretty sure that was a result of uneven pressure applied above the dado as I made the cuts. I guess it’s time to make the auxilliary fence that I purchased wood for but never bothered to make so I can mount a featherboard or other hold down above the cut for next time.

Third, my wood was not a consistent thickness. So I have nice even coplanar faces on one side and a step on the other. I have started aquiring/asking for hand planes in an effort to learn how to fix this before I do the joinery on my next project. I quite like the idea of using hand planes and hand tools in general, so I hope it doesnt take me too long to figure out. I’ve used low angle block planes before but there is not much to them. I am enamored with the idea of learning hand cut dovetails.

So next step is to get everything test fit and then measure and cut the panels and start the glue up…

-- Good Judgement Comes From Experience. Experience Comes From Bad Judgement.

8 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117061 posts in 3541 days

#1 posted 02-09-2010 07:23 AM

Good progross.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3298 days

#2 posted 02-09-2010 12:06 PM

It’s coming along very well. Be grateful for the imperfections, they lead to even better work in the future. I do wonder if you are spending too much time laying out your stock. One of the main advantages of a jig is that you only have to lay out the first piece of multiples and the jig positions the rest of them correctly after that. Not a criticism, just a thought. It is the result that counts and not how we get there. I hope you will blog through to the finish with this project. Thanks for posting.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jason's profile


659 posts in 3472 days

#3 posted 02-09-2010 05:37 PM

When I built this project I assumed the wood was 3/4” thick because that is what the label said at Home Depot. After cutting the tenons I noticed that they weren’t the proper size and the mortises weren’t exactly centered. I measured the wood and it was closer to 11/16”.

Needless to say there was a lot of sanding where the rails and stiles met.

Keep up the good work.

-- Jason - Colorado Springs

View HungryTermite's profile


90 posts in 3013 days

#4 posted 02-09-2010 06:02 PM

The mortise jig was more or less only designed to hold the router centered on the wood. It doesnt really automate the legth of the cuts at all. The main reason I spent so much time laying out all the parts is that I am notorious for getting confused between left/right/top/bottom/front/back when parts are duplicates and mirrors of each other. Even with a jig, I still need to know which direction to feed the stock. So I spent a little more time laying out dimensions for this project than I typically do. For the 1st time, I had no problem telling which groove went where and which tenons had all 4 shoulders cut and which had 3.

My only problem was that I still managed to get the layout on one of the stiles backwards and put the groove for the mating stile on the wrong side so I had to remake that one stile. I did cut where I told myself to cut I just told myself to cut in the wrong spot :)

-- Good Judgement Comes From Experience. Experience Comes From Bad Judgement.

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3298 days

#5 posted 02-09-2010 09:12 PM

I hear you HT. I’ve done the same myself countless times. A good compromise I’ve found through the years is to mark the stock with orientation and side symbols instead of laying out over and over. I understand your problem with the mortise lengths not being controlled by stops in this case. Like I said before it doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you are comfortable with the process and enjoying yourself. I guess I just don’t like repetitive layout work probably because for me it’s just another opportunity to make more mistakes lol.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 3692 days

#6 posted 02-09-2010 10:18 PM

so far your process is very similar to mine. I cut my mortises on a $30 craftsman router table instead of using a router jig. It worked ok, but I couldn’t tell where my layout lines were so I’d just creep up on my lines by 1/8th of an inch at a time knowing that if it wasn’t perfect, it wouldn’t be visible. Looking back, I should have built a jig like you did.

My tenons were cut using a router table too and I used a miter gauge to do it. Mine DEFINITELY didn’t stay perpendicular during the cut. I had quite a headache trying to fix what I could and then trying to hid what I couldn’t on the inside of the chest.

Finally, I know what you mean about needing to carefully layout your cuts. I didn’t and I made a mistake when routing my grooves for panels on the legs. I basically cut some of the slots going all the way to the ground. not sure if this makes sense, but it was a costly mistake because I did waste about 5 board feet of material. I’ve used it on other things since, but still….

You picked a great starter project. I learned tons and it sounds like you are too. keep up the great work blogging away!

View gagewestern's profile


308 posts in 3314 days

#7 posted 02-10-2010 11:21 PM

got to love that router set up

-- gagewestern

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3637 days

#8 posted 03-31-2010 05:34 AM

Good progress.

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