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How do you mortise?

by Manitario
posted 12-14-2012 10:45 PM

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66 replies

66 replies so far

View Grandpa's profile


3246 posts in 1766 days

#1 posted 12-14-2012 10:46 PM

I bought a Porter Cable mortising maching. Benchtop model and it works great for me.

View Brandon's profile


4147 posts in 2042 days

#2 posted 12-14-2012 10:49 PM

I really depends on the type of mortise for me. Larger ones I will drill out and square up with a 1/2” mortise chisel. Other ones, I’ll use a mortising machine for, especially when I have a lot of them to make.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View BigYin's profile


271 posts in 1507 days

#3 posted 12-14-2012 10:53 PM

mortising machine – chisel if i have to…

-- ... Never Apologise For Being Right ...

View waho6o9's profile


6395 posts in 1668 days

#4 posted 12-14-2012 10:53 PM

I cut my mortises incorrectly.
Once in a while it’s presentable.
Grandpa has the best solution.

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

2639 posts in 1342 days

#5 posted 12-14-2012 10:56 PM

Appropriately-sized Forstener bit in a drill press with depth stops set, then clean up with a hand chisel.

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

View Manitario's profile


2386 posts in 1974 days

#6 posted 12-14-2012 10:56 PM

hmmm…mortising machine…I have been debating buying one and I am curious how many LJ’s use them…

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View BigMig's profile


337 posts in 1704 days

#7 posted 12-14-2012 10:59 PM

I’ve used a mortising attachment in a drill press and with careful setup – it works well.

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

View derosa's profile


1567 posts in 1927 days

#8 posted 12-14-2012 11:50 PM

Mortising machine for most, on the really big stuff drill and chisel.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

View Wdwerker's profile


333 posts in 1324 days

#9 posted 12-15-2012 12:07 AM

Domino machine by Festool. Used to use a hollow chisel mortice attachment on my drill press.

-- Fine Custom Woodwork since 1978

View iamwelty's profile


254 posts in 2207 days

#10 posted 12-15-2012 12:09 AM

I have a cheap harbor freight mortiser- but I added a cross slide vice to it. I actually get great mortises that are uniform and very easy to set up.

-- There is a fine line between eroticism and nausea...

View pintodeluxe's profile


4185 posts in 1904 days

#11 posted 12-15-2012 12:11 AM

Benchtop mortising machine. Mine is a Delta. Never Looked back.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Mark Smith's profile

Mark Smith

504 posts in 1131 days

#12 posted 12-15-2012 12:11 AM

I use my CNC.

-- Mark Smith, Tracy, CA.,

View a1Jim's profile


113833 posts in 2668 days

#13 posted 12-15-2012 12:11 AM

I have a mortice machine and a Multi router. But it seems the festool domino might be a good way to go if you squeeze it in your budget.

-- Custom furniture

View GMatheson's profile


475 posts in 2060 days

#14 posted 12-15-2012 12:41 AM

I use a mortise machine. I have a Steel City. Sometimes I use the mortise chisels if I’m not in a rush.

-- Greg in Ontario, Canada

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2060 days

#15 posted 12-15-2012 12:43 AM

I use a router to the depth of the haunch, then take out the full depth of the tenon with a benchtop morticer. This works for me because the hold down and fence on my morticer are pretty lame, the groove cut with the router keeps the mortice chisel in exactly the right place.

View AandCstyle's profile


2020 posts in 1348 days

#16 posted 12-15-2012 12:54 AM

I use a bench top Jet mortise machine. Were I do do it now, I would strongly consider the Domino. It has greater flexibility. I did once use a PM floor model mortiser and that was quite nice as well. Both of these are pricey however.

-- Art

View paratrooper34's profile


788 posts in 2043 days

#17 posted 12-15-2012 01:01 AM

Larger mortices I drill out first with forstner bits and then use bench chisels to clean up the waste. Smaller mortices I use mortice chisels. I have done a few each way and they definitely require practice and experience to get them right. Mine are not at the level I would like, but getting there.

-- Mike

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2089 days

#18 posted 12-15-2012 01:23 AM

Depends on size and type of wood. Soft wood, I crank up the hollow chisel mortiser. Smaller, it can be a lot easier to do by hand. Depends on how I feel as well. Sometimes it is fun to chop them out by hand.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1526 posts in 1566 days

#19 posted 12-15-2012 01:26 AM

Benchtop mortising machine. Mine is a Delta. Never Looked back.

Funny, I hate mine. I just do them by hand with mortising chisels, I have the RI chisels, took the double bevel away and it takes me almost just as long to do a mortise than it took with the machine if you count set up time, and clean up of the mortise.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View PurpLev's profile


8522 posts in 2739 days

#20 posted 12-15-2012 01:31 AM

by hand.

If I have a lot, I’ll drill out the bulk and clean up with a mortise chisel, but if it’s just a few, I’ll cut the entire thing by hand which makes staying in the lines and maintaining a squared mortise easier for me.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View rockindavan's profile


292 posts in 1727 days

#21 posted 12-15-2012 01:36 AM

Can’t beat a slot mortiser

View AlanBienlein's profile


151 posts in 1765 days

#22 posted 12-15-2012 01:39 AM

Depending on my mood and the application I’ll use either my horizontal slot mortiser and loose tenons.

My pantorouter for cutting the mortise and matching tenon.

Or this jig with my plunge router and loose tenons.

View Loren's profile


7967 posts in 2739 days

#23 posted 12-15-2012 01:39 AM

What are you looking to mortise?

I have mortise chisels, a slot mortiser, a chain mortiser
and a hollow chisel mortiser… plus some plunge routers.

For a couple of mortises the plunge routers are the
quickest way to go. The hollow chisel machine
is quick to set up too. I have to move machines
around to pull mine out though.

If you are looking for reasonably quick setup, decent
accuracy and modest cost, get a 1/2” plunge router, fence,
and spiral upcut bits. A few simple to make jigs make
mortising with a plunge router reasonably quick
if not a barrel of fun due to the noise, dust, and mental
focus required.


View NiteWalker's profile


2728 posts in 1668 days

#24 posted 12-15-2012 01:57 AM

I use a plunge router and a template. Quick and easy.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 2101 days

#25 posted 12-15-2012 02:12 AM

Had a benchtop mortiser…it was fine and a good option for the price range. Now, Domino.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View runswithscissors's profile


1657 posts in 1116 days

#26 posted 12-15-2012 02:27 AM

Delta morticing machine. Made a lot of mortices for my kitchen remodel. Accurate and quick. Grizzly has a nice one that’s heavier duty (has a cabinet base), but way above my budget. They also have a kit to turn your drill press into a morticer. Includes various size collars to fit different quill diameters. If you use a router, it’s easier to round the edges of your tenons than to square up the holes.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View woodworker59's profile


560 posts in 1292 days

#27 posted 12-15-2012 02:31 AM

If its just a few, I will hog out the waste with my bit brace and the appropriate size bit then clean it with a chisel..if there are a bunch will use the mortice attachment on the drill press, which also needs to be squared and cleaned with chisel.. if they are bigguns, I use the brace and a 3/4” mortise chisel with my 2 1/2lb wood mallet.
It all depends on how many and how big.. just my two cents.. Papa..


View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 1237 days

#28 posted 12-15-2012 02:36 AM

By hand with a mallet and bevel edge chisels usually. I have a couple of mortise chisels, but prefer bevel edge instead.


View gfadvm's profile


13945 posts in 1781 days

#29 posted 12-15-2012 02:43 AM

My Jet benchtop works well but the hold down sucks. I’m trying to design an improved hold down so if anyone has done this, please chime in.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Austons_Garage's profile


41 posts in 1121 days

#30 posted 12-15-2012 03:02 AM

I have a Steel City Morticer that I bought when I got tired of chiseling out forsners. It’s the only machine I’ve paid retail for. It’s worth what I paid.

View Purrmaster's profile


899 posts in 1184 days

#31 posted 12-15-2012 03:38 AM

I use a router to cut most of the mortise and then mortise chisels to square them off. I hope to get a mortising machine before too long. Because my mortises truly suck. But the router sure is better than bashing it out with chisels and a drill press.

View bondogaposis's profile (online now)


3453 posts in 1442 days

#32 posted 12-15-2012 03:51 AM

I like to use a router for most of them and that is my preferred method but I’ve also used Forstner bits and hand cut.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View newwoodbutcher's profile


451 posts in 1941 days

#33 posted 12-15-2012 06:54 AM

I use a plunge router and a saddle jig attached to my router plate I made in about a half hour. I plunge both ends then take light passed cleaning up between the two ends with the router and jig. Been using it for ten years, works fine. I have a LN mortising chisel that doesn’t see a whole lot of action. I cannot seem to justify any additional machinery (DOMINO) unless I’m doing angled mortises, but even then I can often jig it and use my plunge router

-- Ken

View John's profile


47 posts in 1164 days

#34 posted 12-15-2012 06:55 AM

I enjoy working by hand if there aren’t a ton of them to do. Deep (over 1.5”) ones get bored out with brace and Irwin bit, followed by chisels to clean up and square. Some small ones just chopped out with pig sticker mortise chisel. I find I can more easily do precise, clean work by hand, mainly because it’s a lot of hassle to design templates and jigs for machinery to keep it under control. It’s also a lot easier to do angled or shaped (eg tapered) mortises by hand. I like to say, if I can figure out how to lay it out and mark it, I can cut it.

I will frequently do the drilling with a forstner bit in the drill press for medium-sized mortises. The depth stop makes for consistently flat bottoms, but that doesn’t really matter most of the time.

If I have a bunch of the same type, I use a plunge router with upcut bit, using a template guide bushing and a 1/4 hardboard template.

Rounding off the tenons is definitely faster than squaring up machine-cut mortises with a chisel, but it just feels wrong. I think it’s slightly weaker, too, but probably not in any remotely meaningful way.

View runswithscissors's profile


1657 posts in 1116 days

#35 posted 12-15-2012 07:59 AM

Delta morticing machine. Made a lot of mortices for my kitchen remodel. Accurate and quick. Grizzly has a nice one that’s heavier duty (has a cabinet base), but way above my budget. They also have a kit to turn your drill press into a morticer. Includes various size collars to fit different quill diameters, plus a set of hollow chisels. Also, consider that if you use a router, it’s easier to round the edges of your tenons than to square up the holes.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

5874 posts in 1471 days

#36 posted 12-15-2012 08:53 AM

Router if I have a bunch, drill & chisel for a few.


View cutworm's profile


1074 posts in 1884 days

#37 posted 12-15-2012 12:54 PM

I mostly use a mortise centering base on my plunge router. Got it at Rockler. It’s fast.

-- Steve - "Never Give Up"

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6793 posts in 3070 days

#38 posted 12-15-2012 12:57 PM

Powermatic mortising machine.

Although it rarely gets used, it does make quick work of them.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 1775 days

#39 posted 12-15-2012 03:37 PM

Delta dedicated (was about $250 at the time including 4 chisel sets). and yeah the the hold-down sucks (from what I can tell the cheap brands are all the same other than color). I ripped 2×4’s to exactly the machine’s table height and I clamp them to the bench to serve as table extensions. with a little more support I find that hold-down is not really big deal since I take shallow passes.

View Bluepine38's profile


3223 posts in 2176 days

#40 posted 12-15-2012 04:10 PM

The past two weeks, I have been using a Greenlee mortising machine. It is a lightweight, about 500 lb
machine that came off an old battleship. It and its accessories were discontinued in the 1950’s or earlier.
The bearings are lubricated with a drip oiling system that you have to adjust and carefully watch, it does
not take much oil. I will try to get a picture and post it on here next week. I am helping a master cabinet
maker finish his own custom quartersawn red oak kitchen (why do the call it red oak when it is white?)
We just finished assembling about 75 door and drawer frames yesterday. I cut all the 1/4” mortises in the
stiles on the Greenlee. It can handle up to a 1” mortise bit all day without getting the 2 HP motor warm,
and makes my Shopsmith mortising attachment look like a kids toy. We have all the panels glued up and will
be sanding them to the proper thickness next week, and borrowing his sons big panel saw to cut them to
the correct size to fit the frames and tagging them to keep them in the proper order so that the panels and
the stiles will all have continuous grain patterns showing. All this, and he is even paying me to play in his shop.

-- As ever, Gus-the 76 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Richforever's profile


744 posts in 2811 days

#41 posted 12-15-2012 08:15 PM

I have a Jet mortising machine, but the hold down does not work, so I do most by hand and chisels. Just learned about the difference between sash mortising chisels and English made Ashley Iles type that are supposed to be better for hardwoods, boat building, etc. More info about them is on Toolsforworkingwood site.

-- Rich, Seattle, WA

View madts's profile


1566 posts in 1431 days

#42 posted 12-15-2012 08:26 PM

Mortise machine

-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

View stefang's profile


14969 posts in 2425 days

#43 posted 12-15-2012 11:24 PM

I have a mortiser attachment to my combo machine for multiples. One off or anything my mortise can’t chop I cut by hand, usually with a bench chisel since I don’t have and mortise chisels.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Ben's profile


209 posts in 1948 days

#44 posted 12-15-2012 11:37 PM

I started off doing them by hand, then eventually bought an older Powermatic hollow chisel mortiser.
It’s been nice to have.

View Mosquito's profile


6641 posts in 1383 days

#45 posted 12-15-2012 11:40 PM

I drill out larger mortises and then clean up with mortise chisel and bench chisel, otherwise I just use a mortise chisel and pound it out.

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN -- Stanley #45 Evangelist -

View Mark Smith's profile

Mark Smith

504 posts in 1131 days

#46 posted 12-15-2012 11:59 PM

Do the mortise machines out there also make the tenons? My CNC makes the mortises very nicely, and it could make the tenons, but it would be far more trouble that it’s worth to use the CNC for tenons, so I’ve just made those on the router table.

-- Mark Smith, Tracy, CA.,

View saucer's profile


59 posts in 2038 days

#47 posted 12-16-2012 12:05 AM

Mortising Machine Wood River AKA Steel City

-- It has been deemed bad for you hence there for it is illegal.

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2060 days

#48 posted 12-16-2012 12:11 AM

Mark, I think you can do that on a slot morticer, but not a chain or hollow chisel morticer. There are tenoning machines just for tenons.

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2060 days

#49 posted 12-16-2012 12:16 AM

A question for floor standing mortice machine owners – is it good or bad to clean out the bottom of the mortice by moving the piece side to side with the machine on and chisel at full depth. I’ve seen someone do this and didn’t know what to think about it.

View SqPeg's profile


15 posts in 1080 days

#50 posted 12-16-2012 12:38 AM

I have used a plunge router with a home jig to center the bit in the past. But recently I bought a General bench top mortiser. I am now working on a large picture frame with mitered corners. The General can cut the slot up to 30 degrees from normal, but cannot do an angled cut that will give me a slot and a tenon that is 90 degrees to the face of the miter. So the question is, do the mortises need to be at 90 degrees to the face of the frame miter?

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