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Finish a Pegged Mortise Like a Boss

April 21, 2016

An icon of Craftsman joinery, the pegged mortise, faceted with a file and chisel

Mortise and tenon is one of the strongest joints imaginable. Pegged mortise and tenon is not only unimaginable stronger, but it looks groovy.

Especially if you make the pegs decorative with a pyramidal cap.

Samurai carpenter walks us through the process he has decided on for finishing the ends of those pegs:

Cut the pegs a little bit proud of the work piece—a strong 1/8 of an inch or so.

One way to do it is to use a putty knife to protect the work piece and a sharp chisel to 'pry' wood off the peg beginning at the bottom. This works, but when you move to a side that forces you to pry against the grain, you will get tearout at the end of the peg, especially if using mahogany, which loves to splinter.

Samurai likes to cut the pegs to height first, but it still can result in an uneven cut, sort of a scalloped shape, which is not the look he's after.

Rather, he uses a file to get the facets started.

Tip: Use your finger as a guide to keep the file parallel, protect the surface of the wood from the file, and to build up manly calluses.

OK, not the last thing.

Once the facets are started, he turns to a low-angle carving chisel to shave off layers until he has worked down to the base of the peg, where it meets the work piece.

After doing one face do the opposite face.

Safety Tip: If carving toward yourself makes you think there is a possibility of driving a chisel into your neck, then stop woodworking right now.


Video tip: Don't block the camera with a close up shot of your arm while attempting NOT to drive a chisel into your neck.


The sides where the end of the chisel can drop below the edge of the work piece are easiest because the edge provides leverage. When carving in the long direction of the work piece, follow the premade facet more carefully, beginning at the top and shaving down to the base.

With the four facets carves, work your way around the peg to bring them all into symmetry.

"You can see that this is not a quick and easy process, but ... it looks sooo good when its done.

Remember—take pride in your work. Its the way of the Samurai."

—Jesse de Geest

The Samurai Carpenter is a timber framer and furniture maker in Victoria, BC. See more on his YouTube channel

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