My New Workbench #3: Chopping the Leg Mortises

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Blog entry by mramseyISU posted 07-08-2015 03:20 PM 1694 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: It's flat(ish) Part 3 of My New Workbench series Part 4: Finishing the Base and Installing the Vice »

Time to get on with the part I was dreading the most, chopping mortise for the legs in the benchtop. I was dreading this because they were so big, 1”W x 4”L x 2”D to be exact. I roughed out the tenons on my tablesaw with a dado stack so nothing really to see there, then I finished them with my router plane. Next came the chop chop. These were the first mortises I’ve ever tried to cut completely with hand tools. I’ve done several where I drilled out most of the waste with my drill press but there was no way I’d get be able to do that with my little benchtop one without some elaborate support system. I decided on the method Paul Sellers uses in one of his videos with a plain old bench chisel. After laying everything out with a combination of a marking knife wheel style mortise gauge and a pencil for contrast I got after it with my 1” chisel.

After my first pass I wasn’t really getting the depth of cut I though I would. I wasn’t hitting it as hard as I could have but I was being a little nervous about screwing something up.

The next pass I decided to hit the chisel like I was mad at it and had a lot better luck. Every time I moved it I think I was able to get another hit or two in before it stopped. By the end of it I was probably a 1/2” down in the mortise.

I took a bit over an hour to finish the mortise but the leg fit pretty well without a lot of screwing around.

So the next leg I sort of knew what I was doing. After the first couple hits I really starting giving it a good beating and watched my chisel sink deeper and deeper every time I moved the chisel. My first pass on this second mortise was making some progress.

It only took me about 45 minutes on this next mortise and I got my leg fit up without too much trouble.

Over the course of the week I was able to get about one mortise a night chopped and by the end of the week I had all four legs fit up.

Overall this wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I was able to break it up into manageable chunks of time in between some other stuff I was doing. The chisel held up ok with this. I did have to re-grind the bevel after the second mortise and the last one because the edge was pretty beat up. I might have been the chisels fault because from everything I’ve read on these newer sweethearts it takes 3-4 sharpenings to get to the good steel. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to get the stretchers all done this weekend with some more mortise and tenon fun in my future.

-- Trust me I'm an engineer.

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