The Perpetual Mortise and Tenon Question,

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Forum topic by oldwolf posted 06-17-2010 04:53 AM 1874 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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100 posts in 3254 days

06-17-2010 04:53 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question joining

I was having a discussion with someone the other day, well a debate, and it started up my curiosity, I decided to ask the question here as a kind of impromptu poll

Whatever tools you use to create your mortise and tenon joints, (hand tools, stationary tools, or a hybrid combo) you still have to decide the answer to this question. Which do you typically cut first, the mortise . . . or the tenon?

That is the question I want to hear answered from all of you. It’s kind of like the old “pins or tails” debate. Which side are you on?


-- Oldwolf -

16 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3574 days

#1 posted 06-17-2010 05:00 AM

I use a multi router since I’m using loose tenon joinery I cut mortises on both pieces.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3056 days

#2 posted 06-17-2010 05:17 AM

I’m kind of with Jim in that I like loose tenon joinery. However, that said, I would definitely cut the mortise first and then the tenon. It’s easy to resize a tenon by either shaving with a shoulder plane or even just sandpaper. It is also easy to glue a shim on to a tenon if you accidentally cut it too small. However, precisely resizing a mortise is not so easy.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View Gary's profile


9331 posts in 3430 days

#3 posted 06-17-2010 05:23 AM

Here here….I agree with doc

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View TheWoodsmith's profile


108 posts in 2917 days

#4 posted 06-17-2010 06:13 AM

Mortise first, i dont trust my skills enough to size and place a mortise based on a tenon

-- I know its around here somewhere...

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 3039 days

#5 posted 06-17-2010 06:31 AM

Mortise than Tenon.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18269 posts in 3673 days

#6 posted 06-17-2010 07:44 AM

Mortise first

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3819 days

#7 posted 06-18-2010 03:37 AM

Mortise first. It is relatively easy to take wood off the tenon to get it sized correctly but it is tough to add wood to a mortise that is too large.

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

View PurpLev's profile


8535 posts in 3645 days

#8 posted 06-18-2010 03:45 AM

mortise first. as said – it’s easier to work on the tenon and resize it to fit the mortise than to resize the mortise blindly

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

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 3104 days

#9 posted 06-18-2010 04:42 AM

Yep! I concur, mortise first.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3071 days

#10 posted 06-18-2010 02:21 PM

I usually use loose tenons. However, on those occasions when I decide to do a conventional M&T joint I always cut the mortise first. Then I “sneak up” on the size of the tenon using a tenoning jig.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Domer's profile


252 posts in 3363 days

#11 posted 06-18-2010 09:00 PM

It seems unusual that everyone agrees on almost anything. I agree as well.

I use the Festool Domino most of the time for my M&T, but sometimes resort to the router with some jigs.


View oldwolf's profile


100 posts in 3254 days

#12 posted 06-23-2010 05:48 AM

Thank you everyone for your answers. Domer, I completely agree that it is unusual that agreement was happening, and I kind of feel bad to be the one to break up the togetherness.

I do infact cut my tenons first, I find sneaking up easier by paring the walls of the mortise, I was inspired enough by this question and by the seeming oddness that I seem to be that I wrote a article for my blog about the question and the methods I use when I make my M&T joints

you can check it out at my blog Inside The Oldwolf Workshop, and feel free to leave me a comment,

infact someone else out there has to cut the tenons first, I can’t be the only one! please speak up and help me feel better about myself :)


-- Oldwolf -

View MostlyHarmless's profile


21 posts in 2891 days

#13 posted 06-25-2010 07:14 AM

I haven’t had a project that uses M&T joints yet, but I’d think that doing the tenon first would be the easier way to go. Only because you should be able to stencil the mortise around the tenon you already made. I can’t really see any way to stencil a tenon around an already made mortise. Is there a trick to this, or do you just go off measurements and trial’n error?

-- If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3890 days

#14 posted 06-25-2010 07:27 AM

mortise first but any man who cant cut the mortise after the tenon is only half the woodworker he thought he was.

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View CaptainSkully's profile


1598 posts in 3555 days

#15 posted 06-29-2010 03:37 PM

I have found that cutting the mortise first (I’ve hacked them out by hand and with an MDF jig and a spiral upcutting bit) allows me to make the tenons with a stacked dado head on the table saw a little snug, then I use a sanding block to clean up the saw marks and dial in the fit.

If you’re exposing the ends of your through tenons, like I often do with Arts & Crafts furniture, it’s very important to get the fit nice and tight, since it will be the first place your eye will go. If I was paring down my mortise, I would be afraid to make a goof that would show. Plus, I’ve got to bevel the ends of my tenons anyway, so I might as well clean up the shoulders while I’m at it.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

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