Mortise and tenon question

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Forum topic by cdaniels posted 06-22-2014 08:07 AM 1124 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1311 posts in 924 days

06-22-2014 08:07 AM

I tried doing some handcut mortise and tenon joints yesterday with some pine boards. When I tried trimming them up after using my tenon saw all it kept doing was tearing out big chunks from inside the board. After trying 4 or 5 joints I threw my chisel and hammer down and went to bed. Is this because of the wood or is it a tool issue? I am not experienced with hand tool joinery so I’m not sure where I’m going wrong. If anyone has tips or answers or advice if take it willingly!

Iron Sides

-- Jesus was a carpenter... I'm just saying

8 replies so far

View LeTurbo's profile


217 posts in 1008 days

#1 posted 06-22-2014 09:23 AM

Pine is horrible to do accurate stuff with, especially mortise and tenon. The thing is – and contrary to what we’d think – your tools need to be super sharp, otherwise you compress the wood fibres and get tearing. Rather practice on something like oak or, even better, mahogany/meranti with its very fine grain that allows you to take lovely thin slivers off. Have a look at Paul Sellers too, on Youtube. Man, he wacks through those joints like nobody’s business, and teaches little tricks like “splitting the tenon” which is such a lovely trick to show off with, especially if everyone else laboriously cuts ‘em on a tablesaw.

View crank49's profile


3979 posts in 2393 days

#2 posted 06-22-2014 02:34 PM

Sounds like your chisel was not sharp enough, and/or perhaps you were not riding the bevel to keep the tool from digging in and following the grain.

And yes, pine is a very hard wood to avoid this problem.

-- Michael: Hillary has a long list of accomplishments, though most DAs would refer to them as felonies.

View bandit571's profile


14084 posts in 2106 days

#3 posted 06-22-2014 02:51 PM

Is it the mortise chopping where the trouble is? Or, trimming the tenons?

Tenons: Wide chisel, use with the non-beveled side down. Slide it along. The 90 degree angle where the tenon starts, turn the chisel up on it’s side, and push along. Getto the middle, then come in from the other side. Some people will go out and buy a shoulder plane for this job

Mortises: Layout where it will be. Run a knife along the layout lines until a deep line is made. Get a sharp chisel that is as wide as the narrow part of the mortise. Start at one end, with the bevel part of the chisel facing towards the middle of the mortise. Hit the chisel three times, then move just a bit, and repeat. Get to the middle, and start from the other end. Reach the middle, remove the chips, and start all over again. Keep that wider chisel handy, to pare the long sides of the mortise.

Doesn’t take all that long, either. No, I don’t have a special mortise chisel, either. I just have a 1/4” wide Stanley Fat Max chisel. The key being that it is sharp. I also will have a hone handy, just to keep it sharp.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Loren's profile


8168 posts in 3070 days

#4 posted 06-22-2014 04:30 PM

Pine is difficult to chop cleanly. It has layers of firm wood and
very soft wood so it crushes. The tools should be very sharp
for softwoods. They have tough, resilient fibers interspersed
with pithy fibers and it can be a real annoyance to work these
woods with precision.

I agree that you should try it in a firmer wood.

View patron's profile


13524 posts in 2764 days

#5 posted 06-22-2014 04:46 PM

here is a good blog
on hand cutting mortices

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View giser3546's profile


179 posts in 895 days

#6 posted 06-27-2014 02:03 PM

I agree pine isn’t the best for precise joinery but the price is right for practice. Most of the joinery I practiced with came out of the garbage. My biggest hint would be your tools. What brand is your saw? Is it new or used? What brand are your chisels? Did you sharpen them personally? Are they shaving sharp?

The other suggestion I could give would be to face your boards. I’d always run a hand plane down my stock before doing the joinery.

Also since I’ve never had this problem in particular some pics might help. Also a little nervous that you said hammer, not mallet. You will want to use a wooden mallet with your chisels.

-- "If you wait for it to rain, It will"

View cdaniels's profile


1311 posts in 924 days

#7 posted 06-29-2014 02:27 AM

I use a spear Jackson tenon saw that I’ve sharpened myself. My chisels are junk ones so I ordered a set of narex bevel edge ones and yes I use a wooden mallet I just worded it wrong, my bad. Thanks for the tips guys

-- Jesus was a carpenter... I'm just saying

View JADobson's profile


658 posts in 1534 days

#8 posted 06-29-2014 03:55 AM

Hang in there. M&T can be done in pine. Like others have mentioned sharp chisels are a must and depending on the width of your piece you may want to clamp some scraps to the side of your piece to keep it from splitting. Like this:

Before I started clamping I had some real trouble keeping my table legs from splitting.

-- James

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