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Easy Mortises, Dowels, and More.

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Review by Thomas posted 11-04-2009 10:11 PM 8465 views 2 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Easy Mortises, Dowels, and More. Easy Mortises, Dowels, and More. Easy Mortises, Dowels, and More. Click the pictures to enlarge them

So I’ve used the router/table saw combination of doing mortise and tenon joinery, but for a kitchen island/table build I was looking at 32 mortises to cut on the six legs of the piece, plus 222 dowel holes for the slotted shelving and cross braces. Given the design, everything had to be very precise, so my setups had to be highly repeatable.

I looked into mortise machines, and as much as I wanted that Powermatic, I had a hard time justifying the $400 (with accessories) price tag for 32 mortise cuts, and it still didn’t solve my dowel problem. If I used floating tenons, I could get more use of the Powermatic, but there was no way to get the long apron pieces on the tool to cut the mortise. I also test drove the Festool Domino Joining System, and that was really nice, but impossible to justify the cost.

Enter the JessEm Zip Slot Mortise Mill. This unique tool uses a ‘special’ 3/8” drill bit and steel guide bushing that is pressed into a large bearing. The guide and bearing is installed into a carriage assembly on the tool. The carriage slides back and forth on two shafts via the long lever. Using your own high speed drill, simply use the guide bushing to guide the drill bit while you oscillate the bit back-and-forth with the lever system. In many ways this is a semi manual version of the Domino. An added benefit was if you lock the carriage assembly down to one side, you now have a precision doweling jig.

Like all JessEm products, this thing is built to last with quality materials, precision engineering, and tight manufacturing. With various adjustable stops, adjustable scales, and a vacuum port, it seemed every detail was thought of. Almost.

After spending a month with Mortise Mill I have to say it does a really great job of cutting tight slots with little mess. The same for all my dowel holes. Setup takes minutes, and you can really get excellent, repeatable results. Where the tool fails the most is around clamping and supporting your work. You need two hands—one to guide the drill the other to oscillate the lever, so you need to rely on clamps to attach you work to the mill. Put simply, they just don’t provide enough clamping surfaces on the mill, especially for larger pieces that need more support. I had several instances (okay about eight out of over 200 cuts) where the work slipped slightly. All recoverable errors, but getting a piece aligned with all the clamps, blocks, etc., to ensure no movement was more time consuming than it needed to be. But that was really my only concern, and if I was to approach another large job on the mill, I’d probably take the time to hack out a quick stand to mount the mill to and provide support to the pieces I’m mortising.

A few other things to consider. You need a fast drill and I ended up using my corded Bosch. The shear size of the drill and the long bit made the operation a bit unwieldy, but mounting the mill on a lower table would have helped. Also, it is best to apply gentle pressure on the drill as you move back and fourth until you at least started the slot across the full range of motion. Otherwise you get a bit of surface ‘fuzziness’ around one end of the mortise. Lastly, the 3/8” bit and bearing sleeve is a bit ‘sticky’ when withdrawing from the cut, although this may be due to my purchase of the floor model at my local Woodcraft.

So for about $250 (minus 20% for taking the floor model), I got a precision tool that solved my multiple needs. As I advance more into furniture pieces I can see the mill getting a lot in future projects. I already purchased a spare 3/8” bit as well as a 1/4” bit and guide/bearing assembly for smaller work.

I know I probably didn’t do the mill justice in describing its operation, so I embedded a Youtube video below so you can see it in action. The video is accurate, in that my results were as described.


-- Thomas, Irvine, CA




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Thomas

16 posts in 1814 days



11 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

112313 posts in 2265 days


#1 posted 11-04-2009 10:23 PM

Good review and a super tool

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View Nick Solimine's profile

Nick Solimine

54 posts in 2419 days


#2 posted 11-05-2009 01:15 AM

Great review . You saved me from buying a mortiser. Couldn’t justify the money. will look into the jessem. thanks.

-- Nick , North Carolina " If we trust in GOD he will never put us in a place where his graces will not protect us "

View Greg..the Cajun  Box Sculptor's profile

Greg..the Cajun Box Sculptor

5178 posts in 1996 days


#3 posted 11-05-2009 07:04 AM

Excellent review. Have you looked at the mortise pal?

-- We all must start somewhere in our journey of doing what we love to do.

View Thomas's profile

Thomas

16 posts in 1814 days


#4 posted 11-05-2009 01:43 PM

The Mortise Pal came in a close second for me, and at about $100 cheaper, it almost ended up my choice. It really came down to repeatability and speed. Once I set up the mill on one marked piece, I could pump through the rest without having to measure or laying down any marks. Lastly, for me there is a big difference between clamping your work into a tool or clamping a tool onto your work—hard to explain, but one felt more right, and that comfort was worth the $100.

-- Thomas, Irvine, CA

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 2509 days


#5 posted 11-05-2009 02:55 PM

Thomas, thanks for the review. This looks like an interesting tool. I may have to consider adding one of these to my shop since I am a fan of arts and crafts style furniture and the thrill of cutting mortises wears thin very quickly.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Karson's profile

Karson

34891 posts in 3088 days


#6 posted 07-01-2010 02:05 AM

This tool is now being shown on Amazon for under $200.00

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Wolffarmer's profile

Wolffarmer

393 posts in 1925 days


#7 posted 09-11-2010 09:49 PM

It is now on clearance, 56 bucks

Woodcrafthttp://www.woodcraft.com/Catalog/ProductPage.aspx?prodid=24009&ss=586baae3-1190-4bf7-afb3-243969d68ae5

-- That was not wormy wood when I started working on it.

View JonSnc1's profile

JonSnc1

46 posts in 1701 days


#8 posted 09-12-2010 02:08 AM

Thanks Wolffamer! Mine’s on it’s way!

Oh yeah sorry, thanks Thomas for the review!

View Thomas's profile

Thomas

16 posts in 1814 days


#9 posted 09-12-2010 02:27 AM

Thanks.

75% cheaper than what I paid, but it still was worth it.

Just ordered replacement bits, bearings and tenons as all accessories are also being cleared out.

-- Thomas, Irvine, CA

View Thomas's profile

Thomas

16 posts in 1814 days


#10 posted 09-12-2010 02:28 AM

So I guess the clamping jigs they were developing for this are never going to happen.

-- Thomas, Irvine, CA

View breaknrn's profile

breaknrn

39 posts in 2684 days


#11 posted 09-24-2011 08:19 PM

Just passing along some news (actually, the jessem website asks people to tell their friends about this deal). I just picked up the smaller pocket zip slot for $40 from jessemdirect.com. For the same price as my kreg jig, and just a little more work, I think I’d rather use instead and not have the ugly pocket screws show on my face frames. I’ll post a review once it arrives in a few days.

-- breaknrn

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