Mortise and Tenon trouble.

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Forum topic by douginaz posted 07-25-2007 05:20 PM 1608 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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220 posts in 3998 days

07-25-2007 05:20 PM

Topic tags/keywords: tenon shoulder problem

Hi All, I’m in the process of making table for the living room. I just completed the tenons for the ends and not ending up square. I can’t seem to get the shoulder cut square with the leg. I examined the leg, it’s flat and true when I looked at the shoulder, (with a square) it was “wavy” enough that it will not allow the piece to set flush with leg. I used the tried and true method of cutting the shoulder with my table saw and a one inch offset piece on the fence. pushed it through with the miter gauge. Then used my cheepo tenon cutter to do the cheek cuts. All pretty standard stuff that I have done a bunch of times. Well this time I’m off and don’t know how to recover. I don’t really want to run it back through the tablesaw but don’t know how else to do it. I don’t have a bunch of those wonderful hand planes, just a small low angel block and a scraper. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Doug in AZ.

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8 replies so far

View schroeder's profile


702 posts in 4121 days

#1 posted 07-25-2007 10:53 PM

Doug – For what it’s worth…

Are you using a stop on your miter gauge? – often I have seen “big” pieces slide slightly when cutting shoulders. You might try re-checking your miter for square to the saw, & cut a test wide piece.

-- The Gnarly Wood Shoppe

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4401 days

#2 posted 07-25-2007 11:37 PM

Doug, the table will be gorgeous, don’t get discouraged.

I am thinking that if your process of set up was precise enough when you cut the shoulders of the tenon on your table saw, then you will do fine with just some tweaking of the joint shoulders with a chisel.

When making a mortise shoulder come up tight to a tenon shoulder, I occasionally have some trouble similar to what you have described. It is not uncommon in a situation like this to back cut the shoulder a little with a chisel. I first saw this technique in Fine Woodworking years ago, and have been using it when I need to now.

What this process does is that it removes the amount of material that actually touches the shoulders together, and then when you clamp things square, the line will look much tighter than before. I never chisel the mortise shoulder, only the tenon shoulder.

Also, I am careful to leave about 1/32nd” to 1/16” unchisled at the cut line of the tenon. This keeps the table saw line kerf, not your chiseling as the shoulder edge, and it is usually straighter.

If none of this makes sense in writing (I’m having a hard time describing what I could show you in person in about 30 seconds), then email me and I will go back and work up a sample and post a photo. I don’t have the type of internet connection that allows me to do video uploads, but maybe someday I will. I think I can show you with a photo if the words don’t make it clear what I am trying to say.

thanks for question, don’t loose heart, this is a jumpable hurdle,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4232 days

#3 posted 07-26-2007 01:12 AM

I had a similar problem. The sled was about 1/16th of an inch off and when I cut the bottoms of the tenon it didn’t line up with the sides because of the 1/16th of an inch. I had to chisel the bottoms to square them up. Like Mark said it’ll be beautiful when finished and the only ones who will notice it is… you.

View douginaz's profile


220 posts in 3998 days

#4 posted 07-26-2007 06:09 AM

Thanks all, I appreciate the feedback and will address them all in a couple of days. Back to work so will be off line till Saturday.

Doug in AZ.

-- If you need craft books - please visit our small business at

View edp's profile


109 posts in 3956 days

#5 posted 07-26-2007 05:17 PM

Doug, that is some great looking wood. I was thinking that if I was faced with this dilemna and did not want to unduly risk the wood, I would probably saw the ends/tennons flush and square and use some biscuits to bring the assembly together.
Just my $.02


I wouldn’t hesitate to use pocket screws on this joint either but that’s just me.

-- Come on in, the beer is cold and the wood is dry.

View douginaz's profile


220 posts in 3998 days

#6 posted 07-29-2007 05:53 PM

Hi All, Well I’ve has some success. I thought about what Mark said and did some back cutting used a square and brought the line back with a good sharp razor knife along the square, then thought about what Ed said and drew the pieces up tight with the Krieg jig and pocket screws. Thanks Guys, I appreciate the comments and suggestions. I’m working on the side aprons today and trying not make the same mistake :).
Doug in AZ.

-- If you need craft books - please visit our small business at

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4024 posts in 4059 days

#7 posted 07-29-2007 06:39 PM

Seems like a perfect excuse to get a shoulder plane, which once you get over the expenditure, you will never regret having in your arsenal. Tons of review and discussion here just search “Shoulder Planes” on the search function at the top of the page.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4401 days

#8 posted 08-06-2007 10:46 PM

I just read my new copy of Fine Woodworking, and on page 58, the solution I tried to describe is again shown by author Stuart Lipp. This is the September/October 2007 issue. This same solution has been shown several times over the years, seems to never be an end to people needing to read the solution.

I have a shoulder plane, but I don’t like doing this operation with anything other than a chisel, the same method that is explained in the article. If you take off too much, or bevel the shoulder slightly, then the glue up isn’t dead on square, or you have a gap that has to be filled.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

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