Mortise and tenon joints are a staple of woodworking. They are used on almost every project. In many, many cases the joint is a very meat and potatoes means to connect two pieces of wood. On my first three projects – my workbench, my Shaker end table and my bow-front hall table I did the mortises with a router (or router table) and the the tenons with a dado blade.
I felt that given the results (two pieces of wood joined together) and the fact that all the work is completely hidden (the tenons go inside the mortises after all) that the time being spent to make them wasn’t efficient.
Now first off, efficiency and hobby woodworking are by no means intrinsically related in any way. In fact hobby woodworking is both about enjoying the process and the results. My previous blog posts articulate my opinion and my personal current working methods on this topic.
However the reality is that hobby woodworking has many, many dimensions and I decided that I wanted to reduce the time it was taking me to make these meat and potato joints. I’m not the only one to reach similar conclusions. When making Woodworks, David Marks found the time spent making m&t joints was long and was making it difficult to produce the show in a timely manner. He too looked for a faster way and he chose the multi-router.
So I did a lot of research and came up with the following list of tools to speed up m&t joints:
- Hollow chisel mortising machine
- Slot mortising machine
- Dowelling jig
- Leigh FMT jig
- Festool Domino
I won’t go into the all the pros and cons of each option. I’m sure most of us have considered some or all of these options in our heads at various points. Three of them are stationary machines which would take room in my shop. Some only cut mortises, some only worked with certain wood sizes or mortise locations. Most didn’t address tenons. On and on the debate went in my head.
I eventually narrowed the mental list down to loose tenon joinery as it eliminated the need to make tenons and made a lot of projects easier because you don’t need to account for tenon lengths when figuring out wood dimensions. I also realized that when it comes to strength, many projects were more than well served by loose tenon joints. So this decision knocked a few choices off the above list.
It really came down to choosing the best tool for loose m&t joints. Tools like the multi-router do a whole lot more than loose tenon joints (with templates it can do tenons). However I was looking for the cheapest way to do just loose tenon joints. I felt the stationary machines had the big disadvantage of taking room in my small shop and needing to secure the wood to the machines while making the cuts.
Thus the Domino and dowelling ended up appealing the most to me. Both of these are done on the bench, bringing the tool to the work. Both represented very different ends of the cost spectrum. However this was a one-time purchase for what I hope will be decades of use.
In the end I chose the Domino (despite feeling that while nice, Festool stuff is overpriced). It is faster to use, especially on the ends of boards (where you would normally make a tenon). With the Domino you clamp the wood flat on your bench and plunge into the end of the piece. Its just as quick as plunging into the side of a piece where you’d normally make the mortise. With a dowelling jig, you need to clamp the wood vertically in your vice and position and clamp the jig to your work. Very doable of course, it’s just more time consuming.
I also realized the Domino could be used in place of a biscuit joint for aligned edge board glue-ups and mitred corners. Dowels can do this as well but again the need to setup the jig on the edge of boards made it more time consuming. Finally the range of Domino sizes allowed me to use it in a variety of situations.
Also I had enough money to buy the Domino over a dowelling jig and figured over enough projects the time saved would be worth it. If I was tighter on money I would have gone for the dowelling jig.
So far I’ve used the Domino on several projects – the walnut end table for my mom, two wine racks (each has 50 m&t joints) and now on a pair of end tables I’m making for my living room. The Domino has saved me countless hours on each project and given me accurate and highly satisfying results.