Tag Archives: Mortise-and-tenon joinery


This week, I want to mention Woodworking in America (WIA). With my return as managing editor with Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM), you know that I’ll be and teach at WIA. If you are a woodworker in search of basic skills, you should plan to attend. If you are experienced at woodworking, but are looking to up your game, you should plan to attend. My bet is that if you look at the woodworkers PWM has presenting this year, you’ll want to be there, too. (Registration is open, so now is the time to make the call. Pull the trigger and click here to sign-up.)

This year my classes are all over the map. I open the conference teaching a seminar titled, “Better Woodworking Through Proper Wood Prep.” MIllingThe most basic observation I can give you is that if you begin a project with warped wood, you will fight it throughout the entire project. You need to make sure you know the basics, so of course we’ll cover the basics and you can bet there is way more. I’ve spent 20 years milling wood for projects. I’ve learned a crap-load of tricks and techniques to make the work easier and to mill lumber that is bent, twisted and just plain gnarly. In addition to the basics, I’ll share how to read your stock, what corner to press and when to straighten twisted stock, cup up or cup down and what to do if your board sticks at the jointer. This one class can make your time in the shop better.

Another class I’m teaching is “Precision Joinery: In a Hurry.” In this area alone, you discover why you need to be a blended woodworker. 9The class description from WIA says it best, “No single hand tool, power tool or machine is best to produce all the requisite joints. To make parts as quickly and accurately as possible, you need to know what tool to use when.” I’ve got jigs that make my life in the shop easy and highly productive, but I also know when to turn to my hand tools. During the class we’ll look at a number of furniture joints and I’ll share my best techniques.

On Sunday at WIA, I have a three hour class on inlay based around Federal-style inlay. Be sure to attend “Understanding Inlay: A Key Piece in Connoisseurship & Identification.” InlayIf you study inlay you’ll discover that each major city center had its own distinct inlay designs. One of the most famous (and often miscategorized) banding is the lunette inlay often associated with John and Thomas Seymour in Massachusetts. Every banding, inlay and patera is a clue to where the piece was built. Not only will we learn about different inlay and bandings, but I’ll demonstrate how many of these bandings are assembled. And before the class is over, you’ll be given the opportunity to make a sand-shaded fan that you can inlay into your project. So come ready to learn and ready to work, too.

Build Something Great!


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Filed under Inlay, Jigs, Joinery, Routers, Uncategorized

Shop Tips (or We All Make Mistakes)

IMG_1084A few weeks ago, I posted about drawing full-size plans (here’s a link if you need to catch up). As I wrote then, I seldom spend the time to make full-size drawings of a project, but the Egerton tall clock is one of those times I think it’s important.

Yesterday I worked on the hood door. The design, as it is on many clocks, has two stiles and a lower rail that are straight. The upper or top rail is arched to follow the design of the dial. The door for the Egerton clock has a small molded edge on the inside. Because I’m using traditional joinery – mortises and tenons – I have to assemble the door parts with mitered sticking. There are quite a few extra steps on your parts if you’re working this way. Add to that the rabbeted area for the door glass and there’s a lot on your plate. That’s why I took the time to draw it full-size.

As you can see in the opening photo, I got the joinery complete and had my door frame assembled. I located the top rail center then with my compass in hand, I marked the interior arch. IMG_1085That arch needs to be cut out, the inside edge is molded to match the rest of the frame and it’s rabbeted, too. Before I did that work, and while I had the door parts assembled, I reset my compass and drew in the outside arch. That’s when I knew I had a problem.

If you look at the right-hand photo, you can see my problem. (The pencil lines are a bit hard to see, but if click on the photo the image get bigger.) The outer arch hit in no man’s land. My stiles were not long enough. After 15 minutes of self cursing and trying to figure out a way correct the problem, I did exactly what should have been done. Make new stiles.

New stiles meant that I had to re-create the entire setup again. Shop tip #1 is to leave your tools setup until you’ve completed the work. IMG_1088My router was not changed, so I easily routed the profile onto my new pieces. Also, my mortiser was not changed making those cuts a breeze. Everything else had to be re-set. Sucks for me.

Part of my 15 minutes was spent trying to decide why I had missed this minute-but-huge point as I studied my full-size plans – that’s why you draw them, right. That is Shop tip #2. Study the plans. I had the information right in front of me, but didn’t pay attention. In the left-hand photo, you can see that I should have picked up the small detail. In fact, the line drawn that extends from the inside edge of the door stile to the arch above was not drawn in. Bad move. It was only afterward that I penciled in the line.Lesson learned.


As you can see in the photo below, I finished the new stiles and now my arch hits into wood instead of open air. I lost about 1 1/2 hours of time, but as it is when we screw up in the shop, I learned a valuable lesson. Mistakes make us better woodworkers. I just hope I remember it the next time.

Build Something Great!


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Filed under Shop Tips, Tall Clock

How Do You Mortise?

IMG_Mortises2WaysThis week I have gotten little time in the shop. During the week that’s understandable because of my return to Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM). But Saturdays I generally get six to eight straight hours woodworking – except for a lunch break for wings and a beverage at local eatery. However, this weekend I am teaching a class at the Dayton, Oh., area Woodcraft; the class is building a splay-legged end table.

In the class after we discussed how to taper legs at the jointer – no it’s not multiple passes made using a stop block (see the process here in a short video I made while at PWM) – we went over a couple ways to cut mortises. IMG_RouterMethodOf the six guys in the class, three chose to use a benchtop mortise machine and three elected to router-cut their mortises. (It didn’t surprise me that no one attending my class would decide to chop mortises by hand.) I was left wondering how you guys cut your mortises.

I’m partial to my floor-model mortise machine.  I would recommend that machine to woodworkers that plan to use mortise-and-tenon joinery in most of their projects, if that is, you have the funds necessary and are interested in spending a sizable chunk for one machine. But if I had to choose between a benchtop machine and my router, I think it would depend on how many mortises I cut annually.

What do you think? How do you cut mortises for your furniture projects? Leave a comment to let me know.

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Filed under Joinery, Power Tools, Routers

Period Clock Case Craftsman: Smart or Lazy?

On the Burnap clock you see a thin rail matched to a thicker stile. That assembly is positioned next to a square quarter column and nestled behind a fitted corner glue block.

Back in July while teaching at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, school founder and owner Bob Van Dyke offered me the opportunity to examine a Burnap Tall Case Clock at the Wadsworth Atheneum. Of course I accepted. (Read about it here.) As Bob, Mickey Callahan (past President of The Society of American Period Furniture Makers) and I studied the case, we were all taken by the thin rails used on the clock’s face frame. At the time, no real explanation was at hand.

Photo of the original Egerton Clock case.

As I began working on my SketchUp drawings for my version of the Edgerton clock case, I went back to take a look at the photos I had of the original case built in New Jersey around the turn of the 18th century.Once again, thin boards were used for the rails of the face frame.

With an attempt to hold as much original as I could, I decided to draw the rails in at less than the thickness of the face frame stiles. My idea was to size the rails to match the distance from the rear face of the tenon to the front face of the frame, or to create a barefaced tenon at the back face of each rail.

As I worked on the drawings and began to build the case, this face frame detail continued to bounce around my mind. Why would woodworkers in the past use a thin rail? What would that accomplish? Then a thought popped into my head. Maybe an extra 1/4″ or 1/2″ in the case, measuring from front to back, added enough depth for a given clock movement to work properly – there would be no chance that the weights would make contact with the inside front of the case.

It wasn’t until I actually milled the face frame pieces that a second idea came to mind.

Work on the two stiles was just as you might expect; Cut a centered mortise at the top and bottom ends of each stile. (Due to the width of the top rail, I split the tenon into two smaller tenons to keep my stiles strong.) As I began to cut the two rails, I realized that I did not need to create a shoulder on the back face of the rails as it is a barefaced design. That eliminated one of the two major cuts needed to create the tenons. Also, there is no removal of waste material on the face as well. That makes this process much less work, especially when using nothing but hand tools. It’s just a two-step rabbet cut at my table saw.

This made me wonder: Were period clock case craftsmen, by making face frame rails thinner than the stiles, smart in saving the cost of material? Did they discover a clever way to add extra depth to the case? Or were they simply being lazy using a technique that greatly reduced the amount of work while building cases? What do you think?

Build Something Great!



Filed under Antique Pieces, Design, Joinery