Chiseling a mortise into end grain

  • Advertise with us

« back to Hand Tools forum

Forum topic by skeemer posted 04-22-2012 10:18 PM 4184 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View skeemer's profile


95 posts in 2331 days

04-22-2012 10:18 PM

So I’m without power to my tools today as it is raining (no extension cords in the rain), and I wanted to get back into the shop to start my second project. So I thought I’d attempt something else in the downtime, and I started working on a business card holder for my new office at work, and do it all with hand tools.

So I cut my piece of walnut to size, marked out a section to remove by chisel, and drilled holes to depth. Please note, this is my first time attempting a mortise. When I began chiseling to remove the waste, my block of walnut split in half a long the grain. This was very frustrating after 1.5 hours of sawing and marking by hand.

Any tips for avoiding this type of thing? Is walnut just a tricky wood to work with? Should I not be as aggressive with my chisel and mallet? Wrong angle on the chisel while removing waste?

7 replies so far

View Arch_E's profile


48 posts in 2489 days

#1 posted 04-22-2012 10:35 PM

I’m not real clear on how you accomplished this. Any chisel will split the long grain; so, mallet whacks would accelerate that. If your cutting out the rectangular pocket for the cards, then perhaps your chisel was a bit dull and “grabbed” too much wood, allowing force to split the body. I find that hand tools are harder to use unless I’ve got the wood firmly held in place by a vise. Are you using adequate clamping?

View skeemer's profile


95 posts in 2331 days

#2 posted 04-22-2012 10:59 PM

I don’t really have a bench + vise and I clamp with an arrangement of hand clamps to an old desk which is my temporary bench. It’s quite possible my clamping was not adequate.

Don’t mind the additional damage on the far end as I was doing some more experimenting after the piece was ruined. As you can see, the split happened just in front of the chisel.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2950 days

#3 posted 04-22-2012 11:15 PM

Your holes are to small and don’t remove enough material. Try drilling with a larger drill bit to remove the bulk of the material and then clean up with the chisel. You shouldn’t need to pare away much material to clean up the outline of the mortise.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View skeemer's profile


95 posts in 2331 days

#4 posted 04-22-2012 11:37 PM

I think I kept the holes smaller as I was afraid of drifting out of plumb and into the wood I wanted to keep. Lesson learned for next time. Good thing this was more or less a practice run (with the idea of giving it away if it turned out well) before I make a really nice one out of some rosewood I have.

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 3351 days

#5 posted 04-23-2012 01:02 AM

I would drill out most of it like Greg suggested, then just clean up the rest with the chisel, but I would also do all that while it is still part of a longer board, then cut away the piece you need after you have it mortised. I think it will hold together better that way.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View Gabe C.'s profile

Gabe C.

288 posts in 2308 days

#6 posted 04-23-2012 01:10 AM

Something that I might do, along with what these other guys suggested, would be to take a couple of blocks of wood and clamp them around the end you are mortising so that as you are chiseling it will be more solid and have less ability to split.

-- If I could just get this whole "Time/Money" problem figured out...

View ShaneA's profile


6910 posts in 2565 days

#7 posted 04-23-2012 01:10 AM

Small, small bites with the chisel too. End grain is tougher to work.

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics