"Best" way to make mortises?

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Forum topic by AandCstyle posted 01-29-2013 11:18 PM 6963 views 0 times favorited 53 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View AandCstyle's profile


3027 posts in 2225 days

01-29-2013 11:18 PM

I make a lot of Arts & Crafts style furniture as you may have guessed by my pseudonym. I have been using a Jet bench top mortiser that has been okay, but the hold down is poor at best IMO. Today I tried to make some mortises 3/8” wide by 3”long by 1 3/8” deep. The hold down didn’t work at all even though I was only making a shallow cut, then trying to back the chisel out and repeating. I tightened the set screw as much as I could without breaking the allen wrench. I quickly tired of that game, so I drilled the mortises out with the DP, then back to the mortiser to clean them out. Still no joy in the shop. :(

Therefore, can anyone suggest a mortiser that has a great hold down? Which other options might you suggest? Chisel and mallet (I am too old to start using hand tools)? Router and jigs (a possibility)? Domino? Multi-router (home made variety)? Any other options I haven’t mentioned?

Thanks, in advance for any assistance.

-- Art

53 replies so far

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

3529 posts in 2219 days

#1 posted 01-29-2013 11:22 PM

I did some M&T joints just today (small coffee table). I used a Forstner bit in the drill press to make the mortises. After cutting the mortises, I cleaned them up with a chisel, leaving the edges rounded. I rounded the tenons to match and assembled. I find that rounding the tenons is easier than squaring the mortises, and I don’t think the joinery is any less strong.

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

View waho6o9's profile


8167 posts in 2544 days

#2 posted 01-29-2013 11:22 PM

Get a Domino and save a ton of time.

Your fine furniture you make will go together easier as well.

View DrDirt's profile


4423 posts in 3710 days

#3 posted 01-29-2013 11:22 PM

I like using a plunge router, and made the jig from Fine Woodworking artical by Michael Fortune.
FWW #197
It works well for mortises in curved parts to, and used with a floating tennon.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3126 days

#4 posted 01-29-2013 11:29 PM

Drill press with forstner bits here. Clean out with a chisel. I square the mortise corners.

Before my own shop, I would use my dad’s HF mortiser…worked just okay.

I’ve cut a few with router in the past. It’s okay, but I’ve gotten proficient enough with chisels that I don’t feel it saves any time.

-- jay,

View Alongiron's profile


647 posts in 2661 days

#5 posted 01-29-2013 11:30 PM

My good buddy Art!

I have had a Delta model 14-651 (see far right of photo) for about 7 years and it has been great for me. If I remember correct I bought it on craigs list for $175. I did buy a set of new chisels for it that ran me about $125. I have not had the first issue with it and I like you make alot of A&C furniture.

Here is a link to one on Amazon:

Take care!


-- Measure twice and cut once.....sneak up on it! Steve Lien

View Loren's profile


10276 posts in 3615 days

#6 posted 01-29-2013 11:45 PM

I have a Powermatic 719 floor model mortiser. It has
a front clamp instead of a hold down. It’s a real robust

If you’re doing arts and crafts stuff you’re looking
at through mortises with squared corners at some
point if you want to build some of the classic pieces.
In terms of machinery, a hollow chisel mortiser offers
more depth of cut than other common machine

View bondogaposis's profile


4687 posts in 2319 days

#7 posted 01-29-2013 11:49 PM

I use a plunge router too, with an upcut spiral bit they come out pretty clean. Of course they have rounded ends and I just round the tenons to match, a few seconds w/ rasp is all it takes. I have not tried this on through mortises yet. I built a jig that was in an old issue of Woodsmith. Simple to make and it works well.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View AandCstyle's profile


3027 posts in 2225 days

#8 posted 01-30-2013 02:00 AM

Don & Cosmic, I am reluctant to use a chisel since my previous efforts have been less than stellar. :)

Waho, I like the idea of the Domino, but am concerned that it might not be flexible enough, e.g. can it do through mortises?

DrDirt & Bondo, what router bits do you use? The longest I have seen in 3/8” and 1.5” and sometimes I would prefer a deeper mortise.

Steve, your suggestion might be the lowest cost option. What brand chisels did you buy, Fisch?

Loren, I would love a Powermatic 719, but it is difficult to justify now that I am retired (stealth gloat). I do watch CL, but have never seen one offered in Albuquerque. LOL

Thanks for all the suggestions thus far. Please keep them coming.

-- Art

View oluf's profile


260 posts in 3007 days

#9 posted 01-30-2013 02:07 AM

Keep a folded up rag and a can of Johnsons Wax next to your mortiser and wipe the outside of the chisel often. Your hold down will work much better. It also helps to polish the chisel with 400 sandpaper.

-- Nils, So. Central MI. Wood is honest.Take the effort to understand what it has to tell you before you try to change it.

View bondogaposis's profile


4687 posts in 2319 days

#10 posted 01-30-2013 02:11 AM

I haven’t needed to make mortises longer than 1 1/2” so far.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Wally331's profile


350 posts in 1993 days

#11 posted 01-30-2013 02:13 AM

I haven’t personally built one yet, but Matthias Wandels multi slot mortising machine seems to perform extremely well. You can buy his plans for pretty cheap, and the construction doesn’t seem too difficult. I have built his bandsaw and his plans are put together very well and totally comprehensive.

Other then that, a plunge router with the correct guides can make very clean and accurate mortises.

View a1Jim's profile


117063 posts in 3545 days

#12 posted 01-30-2013 02:16 AM

I have a tilting head floor mortiser and a multi-router with a spiral router bit they both get the job done.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View a1Jim's profile


117063 posts in 3545 days

#13 posted 01-30-2013 02:23 AM

I forgot to say I have built a home made Multi router and it worked fine for years. It wasn’t pretty but it worked.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3249 days

#14 posted 01-30-2013 02:23 AM

These do a pretty good job. Ever cut a 3/4” wide, 1 1/2” deep mortise in one pass with the mortising machine sounding like it’s not working at all? Being able to dial in settings in thousandths is kinda helpful too.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7749 posts in 2882 days

#15 posted 01-30-2013 02:31 AM

I built my own router based mortiser:

I have moved to floating tenons and that has worked well for me. So far I have made dados and rabbits as long as 30in. I make matching tenon stock by using the appropriate sized round-over bit and then cut to length.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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