Two Ways to Cut Mortise and Tenon Joints
Which method is better—by hand or machine?
In this video furniture-maker Andy Rawls of Fine Texas Woodcraft shows how to cut mortise and tenon joints by hand and machine. No talkin’—just a whole lot of woodworking condensed to less than four minutes time.
How to cut a mortise and tennon joint by hand
- Andy begins by using a wooden mallet and Marples chisel to chop out a mortise that has been laid out on a piece of cherry. He makes very quick work of it.
- Next he uses a marking gauge to scribe layout onto the tenon.
- The video skips the step where he cuts the shoulders of the tenon but shows him using a backsaw to make the face cuts.
- After the major waste pieces are removed he uses a Lie-Nielsen router plane (LN-71) to shave the tenon to final thickness. A chisel or rabbet plane would have worked for this too but a router plane is better because it can be set to a particular depth.
- Next, he saws the top and bottom shoulders and uses a chisel to pare them even with the side shoulders. Because the tenon has shoulders on all four sides, it will completely cover the mortise and provide bearing that increases the strength of the joint.
The final step is gluing and assembling the joint, which Andy undoubtedly tested first for fit.
How to cut a mortise and tennon joint using machines
Any number of jigs and machines can be used to cut mortise and tenon joints, Andy uses a plunge router and what looks to be a Leigh FMT Pro Mortise & Tenon Jig. This clever, but pricey, device allows the user to cut perfect mortise and tenon joints with a single setup.
Clearly, the machine-cut joint is faster and easier to make. But that is not why Andy made the video. These are two of the four joints he made to illustrate the strength of traditional joinery versus the pocket screws and dowels used in mass-produced furniture—which he demonstrates later by loading various joints to the breaking point.