A Workbench's Progress #9: Cutting Tenons the Old-Fashioned Way (sort of...)

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Blog entry by TheGravedigger posted 07-04-2007 02:26 PM 2909 reads 4 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: Glue-up's Finished Part 9 of A Workbench's Progress series Part 10: The Mother of Invention »

Building this workbench has made me rethink a lot of things. Joinery on this scale is completely different from a jewelry box, cutting board, or a bookcase, and calls for different techniques.

I can hear the timber framers howling with laughter and shouting,”Duhhh!!!!”

Well, it’s new to me.

A case in point is the tenons joining the legs to the feet (see the plan in Episode 6). The center leg elements are composed of three 2×4’s glued together with a final dimension of 4 1/8” x 3 1/4”. This width will allow a 2” tenon to be inserted from either side, but caused tenon-cutting problems.

My usual practice is to cut my tenons on the router table (no tablesaw, don’t forget), but the sheer size and mass of these pieces made this impossible. So, I went back to the old way—more or less.

I decided to cut the tenon shoulders by hand, and then cut the cheeks on the bandsaw (hence “more or less”). I had seen Norm do this once or twice, and decided to give it a try. After all: If I messed up, all I had to do was go back to the lumber yard for more wood, skip-plane it, cut to rough length, glue it up, plane it down to matching dimensions, and continue as if nothing had happened. So, what the heck?

I just got a new dozuki, which is a great saw for precision joinery. The only problem I have with them is that it can be difficult to start a long cut in soft wood. So, I hit on the following solution.

I took a piece of scrap stock with a 90 degree face and clamped it across the line for the tenon shoulder, leaving just a smidgen (is that more or less than a hair?) of space to plane down later:

Clamping the stop block.

This gave me a good bearing surface to start my shoulder cut without having my blade wander around and make a mess:

Starting the cut.

I keep the guide block in place as I cut until the spine of the dozuki reaches it. At this point you’ve got plenty of kerf to guide you onwards and the block can be removed.

f you’re not familiar with the dozuki, it’s important to keep the cutting edge level. The wedge-shaped blade and FAST cutting action make it easy to overshoot your depth on the back side of the cut, so practice this technique on scrap wood first. Oh yes, and keep pressure on the saw to a minimum. These saws do their best with a light touch, and pressing down doesn’t make them cut better – it just breaks saw teeth. Watch the edge, ignore the spine of the blade, and sneak up on your depth:

Almost there!

The completed cut shows why I love the dozuki – a thin kerf and precise cuts with minimal effort:

Finished shoulder cut.

Next stop, the bandsaw. The width of this stock makes it perfect for bandsawing the tenon cheeks. In the previous picture you can see my tenon layout lines. I use the bandsaw to cut a little outside the lines (yes, more than a smidgen – the bandsaw cuts much faster):

Bandsawing the cheeks.

The reason for cutting the shoulders first becomes apparent. When the cheek cut is completed, the waste simply falls off and makes an excellent “stop cutting” indicator. I suppose you COULD cut the shoulders this way as well, but I think the handsawn method gives more control. Many will suggest cutting the cheeks by hand as well, and I may give that a shot on the narrower pieces later. In any event, we’re left with a tenon that’s ready for a little final fitting with the shoulder plane:

Ready to fit.

One down, 27 to go!

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

5 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4126 days

#1 posted 07-04-2007 02:38 PM

It came out very well. About how long did it take to make the first and I would be curious to see how much the process sped up as you went along.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4065 days

#2 posted 07-04-2007 02:56 PM

Nice! I’m leary of cutting those on the bandsaw. 8 cuts and all of them wrong. I like what you did with the guide block, neat idea.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4126 days

#3 posted 07-04-2007 03:05 PM

I was reading one of the British tool forums last night and someone was saying this was an ideal use for a 10 1/4 rabbet plane. Just in the event you wanted an excuse to buy another plane. : ^ )

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4053 days

#4 posted 07-04-2007 04:17 PM

Actual time is about 5 minutes per face. I already had all the cheeks and shoulders marked from earlier, so this was cutting only. I’ve used a dozuki for somewhere between 15-20 years, so I’m used to the cutting technique.
Incidentally, an old dozuki makes GREAT thin card scrapers!
Final fitting of tenon to mortise? Ehhh…that depends on how well I cleaned up the mortise after drilling.

I won’t try the bandsaw trick on any of the 2×4 stretchers—there’s just too much chance of cutting off-vertical. For those I’ll either use the router table or hand-rip. My personal limit here wound be an aspect ratio of about 1:1 to ensure a vertical cut. Plus, I leave plenty of waste. The shoulder plane makes quick work of it.

Rabbet plane??? Look closer at those shoulders—I’d have to plane in over an inch on each side. Too much like work for me. As for another plane—maybe a Veritas low-angle block or smoother, or a LN skew block. Hmm…

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4340 days

#5 posted 07-08-2007 06:32 AM

Nice work, Robert. Great pictures.

-- Jesus is Lord!

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