a question about loose tenons

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Forum topic by Quebecnewf posted 08-18-2009 02:09 AM 1506 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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100 posts in 3876 days

08-18-2009 02:09 AM

I am in the process of building the blanket chest on the cover of the last FW. In the plans the woodworker uses loose tenons as a means of joinery. I am doing the same (my first time doing these) its going well , but I am wondering if biscuits might have been a better option, less setup, and from what I have read just as or maybe even a stronger joint.

Any comments ????


12 replies so far

View Sean's profile


156 posts in 3613 days

#1 posted 08-18-2009 02:28 AM

Definitely not a stronger joint. A lot quicker, Ill grant.

-- "Democracy is by far the worst system of government. Except all the others that have been tried." ~ Winston Churchill

View Woodwrecker's profile


4148 posts in 3574 days

#2 posted 08-18-2009 02:29 AM

That’s a good point.
I’ve used biscuits a lot and they are hard to beat for ease of use and strength when done right.

-- Eric, central Florida / Utor praemia operibus duris

View Quebecnewf's profile


100 posts in 3876 days

#3 posted 08-18-2009 02:32 AM

I think there is an article in FWW where they compared the strength of all the different joints and if i remember correctly the biscuits were as strong as the loose tenon but when they failed the joint was completly destroyed

Going to look it up now


View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 3912 days

#4 posted 08-18-2009 06:44 AM

I think I remember that article and the best joint came out to be a half-lap joint if I recall correctly and good old yellow PVA glue was also the best glue. Having said that, the relative strengths of most of the joints were comparable and probably more than you need for most things.

The use of loose tenons, is, IMHO, a lazy man’s way of producing a mortise and tenon. Why would FWW or any other magazine use it in their projects? because there is now some equipment out there which can do it and woodworking magazines need to sell magazines which means they need to be a channel for equipment suppliers in order to sell advertising. That’s the cynical side of me. The other side is that the woodworking magazines are trying to provide information about new tools and techniques which woodworkers are curious about ( why are you using loose tenons?)

Now, I’ve said all this without even knowing what the project looks like and where the loose tenons are being used. Just remember a few years back we had no loose tenons and a few years before that, we did not have biscuits. I have an old ice chest ( which was born in Ottawa) which is now about 100 years old that is nailed together , has moved to 3 different countries with me and is used on a regular basis as a chest and it is still holding up quite nicely.

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View CaptainSkully's profile


1598 posts in 3556 days

#5 posted 08-19-2009 02:37 AM

The only time I use loose tenon joinery is when the two pieces being joined are at an angle, like the 3 degree legs on the bistro table built. The template sits flat on the faces being joined and you don’t have to worry about making angled mortises or tenons. It’s a very effective and accurate way to make a strong joint. So are double biscuited joints, which basically do the same thing.

With all of that being said, I think that loose tenons show more craftsmanship than biscuits, and regular tenons moreso than loose. I guess it depends on how much of yourself are you willing to invest, or are you just trying to get the project done? This leads me into thinking how much more of a mature woodworker I am than I was two or three years ago (I can’t wait to see what an idiot I am now in a coupel of years). We’re all on our own journey and only you can determine your destination.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3575 days

#6 posted 08-19-2009 03:01 AM

I use loose tenons all the time they actually test stronger than integral tenons because glue is stronger than wood in most cases. In this same test biscuits were only slightly stronger the dowels the weakest joint other than a butt joint, unless the biscuits are doubled. For face frames and doors the half lap and saddle joint proved strongest. It all boils down to we all of use what works for us or what tools we have available to make any particular joint. As too the Loose tenon being a lazy mans way to make mortise an tenons,this may be true, but in the same sense isn’t it the lazy man’s way to rip a board with a table saw rather than a hand saw?

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Quebecnewf's profile


100 posts in 3876 days

#7 posted 08-19-2009 11:59 AM

I too am much further ahead in my skill level than when I started woodworking with my uncle many years ago. This blanket chest from FWW is a project that I would not have even considered trying maybe even just 5 years ago. My woodworking is improving with each project, that I know.

I still think that I should have went with double biscuits on this project. The time saving would have been incredible. The joints would have been more than strong enough and when the project is finished if you had 2 of the chests sitting together on the floor you would not have been able to tell which had the loose tenons and which did not.

You say that the loose tenon show more craftsmanship and maybe that is so, but in this case the amount of setup time to plunge all those joints with the router gives no benefit to the finished project.It is no stronger, or even if it is stronger it is wasted strength in that this is a blanket chest and not a shipping crate. This extra strength is not needed and will never come in to play.Therefore the extra time to do this type of joint cannot be justified, is not seen and not needed

In my opinion the loose tenon for this project is the wrong way to go (even though I am going that route) in that a chest built with double biscuits would and could be built in half the time and would be as well built as the one with the loose tenons.
Time is not unlimited even though I am enjoying this new challenge. Maybe I will make a second one with biscuits and see the difference. TIME will tell

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2821 posts in 3588 days

#8 posted 08-19-2009 12:30 PM

In reality the maker will be the only one who knows what joinery method they used, unless you told the world. For me I like to think in terms of time, as well as importance of the project. For instance, if it’s a project of love and time is of no importance then I become dedicated to making it the hardest way possible. If it’s just a quick project that I’m building for someone and I’m busy otherwise then I’d use the easiest method to give the best strength. In this case I probably would have used biscuits.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View CaptainSkully's profile


1598 posts in 3556 days

#9 posted 08-22-2009 08:25 AM

Just to clarify, I’m not making a judgement on anyone else’s joinery techniques. I’ve used them all (except for Dominoes). I have no right to criticize anyone else’s woodworking but my own. My comments were with regard to the classic craftsman style stuff I make and trying to stay true to the original production techniques (ala through-tenons & ammonia fuming).

As a woodworker desperately trying to improve my craft, I have to look at some of the underlying philosophical aspects of woodworking. Doing things correctly, even though they may never been seen by anyone else is a relatively new concept for me. Coming from a construction background, getting the job done and then getting paid was a powerful motivation. I think that taking things to the next level requires a constant ratcheting up of skills, but without awareness, how can you determine what skills you need to hone? The joinery between two pine 2×4’s and an oak rail and stile are fundamentally different, which require fundamentally different thinking and approaches.

I’ve been watching TheWoodWhisperer’s Gadget Station series, and even though he makes human foibles (which makes me feel much better about my woodworking, thanks Marc), he takes great pains to expound on the finer points of what he’s doing. I can only hope that I am tangentially approaching a similar level of craftsmanship. Like sailing or golf, woodworking is a lifetime pursuit, which requires one to never rest on their laurels. Complacency, the red-headed step-brother of laziness, has no place in a wood shop.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2790 posts in 3436 days

#10 posted 08-22-2009 11:52 AM

I use loose tenons a lot simply because I built a jig that makes it easy to get consistent ones with my router. And they are quick, strong and at my current level of expertise look a lot better than my regular tenons. Which means I need to make more regular tenons I guess.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Quebecnewf's profile


100 posts in 3876 days

#11 posted 08-22-2009 01:01 PM

Craftsman on the lake

Can you explain further your jig to make loose tenons.

I have enjoyed everyones replies to this thread. When, and this is a while away I get the chest finished I will post a few pics. I am sure mine will be not as good as the one on the cover of FWW.


View Julian's profile


880 posts in 3523 days

#12 posted 08-22-2009 04:35 PM

I’m a purist when it comes to joinery, so I use integral tenons. Pieces using integral tenons that were made hundreds of years ago are still standing today, so I feel that our ancestors had it right.

-- Julian, Park Forest, IL

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