Question about butterfly joints...

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Forum topic by UncannyValleyWoods posted 04-24-2013 05:56 PM 2460 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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499 posts in 1375 days

04-24-2013 05:56 PM

Good Day!

I think I have a fairly simple question here. I’m putting together a dining room table out of some 8/4 heart pine boards, reclaimed from an old bed. I’d like to join the boards using butterfly joints.

I’m trying to decide whether to cut the mortises for the joints before I glue up the edges of the boards.

I’ve got the edges fitting together tightly and dry clamped. I was going to draw the bow tie patterns on, then un-clamp and and cut the mortises with a coping saw. I know this is a little backwards, but pine can get cantankerous when chiseling and I have a truly crappy set of chisels to work with. I can get them sharp enough, but they are suck pretty hard.

The alternative, of course, is to glue up the boards, then chisel out the mortises normally.

Any advice is welcome and greatly appreciated.

*also note, I see the irony of asking a question without a single question mark in my post. :-)

-- Get Schwifty !

11 replies so far

View WoodArtbyJR's profile


428 posts in 2476 days

#1 posted 04-24-2013 06:26 PM

I don’t see why you couldn’t do it that way. Remember, doing it this way your measurements have to be ‘dead nutz’. The maple table I’m working on now had some soft areas, combined with the same crap chisels I know exactly of what you speak. What are you using (species) for the butterflies? Make sure you mark them so you keep them in the same orientation as you have them traced and in the same hole. Using a coping saw you need to keep it at a right angle so the walls of the hole are straight. Here’s a suggestion, why not use dowels or a biscuit jointer and then do the butterflies as a secondary joint and not go all the way thru the table top. If it’s 8/4, then do a 4/4 butterfly in black walnut or something colorful like that.


-- Jim Roberts, Port Orchard Washington

View UncannyValleyWoods's profile


499 posts in 1375 days

#2 posted 04-24-2013 06:44 PM

Hey Jim,

I actually intended to use Black Walnut or Padauk for the butterflies and I was going to join the boards with dowels as well. I had not decided whether the butterflies where going to go all the way through. I figure if they are just going to be inlayed, then that would rule out the coping saw.

Thanks for the advice…I’m going to have to stand around the shop and mull this over for a good long while. :-)

-- Get Schwifty !

View UncannyValleyWoods's profile


499 posts in 1375 days

#3 posted 04-24-2013 06:46 PM

The other challenge, is that if I cut the mortises, even rough cut, I stand the risk of them slipping and misalligning when I glue up the boards and set the dowels. Could get ugly fast.

-- Get Schwifty !

View jap's profile


1251 posts in 1565 days

#4 posted 04-24-2013 06:53 PM

I would inlay them after glue-up, because i think it would be easiest and would look just as good.

-- Joel

View richardwootton's profile


1699 posts in 1467 days

#5 posted 04-24-2013 08:27 PM

I’m with Jap on that one. It seems a little easier to me to cut the butterflies then trace the particular shape onto the already glued joint, then chisel out that particular shape.

-- Richard, Hot Springs, Ar -- Galoot In Training

View a1Jim's profile


115372 posts in 3088 days

#6 posted 04-24-2013 09:30 PM

View JoeinGa's profile


7568 posts in 1518 days

#7 posted 04-24-2013 09:47 PM

I also see the benefit of cutting them with thw wood seaprated. So you can get at the “side” of the cut-out to chisel.
So how ‘bout go ahead and cut one side of the butterfly before glue-up. Then you only hafta cut the other 1/2 of each. So if the wood slips during glue-up it wont matter. Number them as you go so you know which one goes where.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View UncannyValleyWoods's profile


499 posts in 1375 days

#8 posted 04-24-2013 10:14 PM

Some very good advice here. Many thanks.

I think I’ve decided to go with the plunge router option, at least to take care of the meat of the mortise. I think I’ve gotten my chisels sharp enough to clean up to the line. Since there’s no real need for the bow tie to be visible on the bottom, I think I’m simply going to inlay it.

-- Get Schwifty !

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2362 days

#9 posted 04-24-2013 11:25 PM

I’d forget the dowels in the glueup. Not necessary and error prone.

I like the creative thinking going into your planning.

What if you precut the mortises, all boards, 1/8 shy of your line? Glue up the boards and then true them up with a chisel.

What size chisel would work for this, 1/2”? A little north of ten bucks and you can own a decent chisel and start your “second set.”

I’m eager to read of the progress of this project.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View UncannyValleyWoods's profile


499 posts in 1375 days

#10 posted 04-25-2013 12:05 AM

Thanks Lee. I did skip the dowels. The boards are glued up currently. I’ll keep you posted.

-- Get Schwifty !

View USMCSergeant's profile


28 posts in 1466 days

#11 posted 04-25-2013 12:05 AM

I did use dowels during the glue up of my live edge table, only because it was difficult to joint a 8 foot long half slab and there were some very minor gaps in the joint. I think if I had obtained a perfect, almost seemless joint I would have left out dowels. I know wood glue doesn’t gap fill very well, and dowels were not difficult to use. I bought a very simple dowel jig and things went mostly smooth, although one was just slightly off and a quick filing of the 3/8” dowel made it work.

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