The Making of Tenons

I’ve been working in the shop over the last few days to create mortise-and-tenon joints for a workbench. I usually make the mortise portion of the joint with the dedicated mortise machine. I make my tenons at the table saw using a regular blade with a miter gauge to make the shoulder cut, and a tenoning jig to complete the cheek cut. In fact, back in January 2000, Popular Woodworking ran my article on the “Table Saw Tenon Jig” and to this day I still get requests for it. In the Popular Woodworking shop we’re using Senior Editor Bob Lang’s tenon-cutting jig. Getting the larger rail (1-3/4″ x 5″ x 51″) up on the table saw to make the shoulder cut was one thing, but to stand it vertically to make the cheek cuts? That wasn’t going to happen.

When I made reproduction beds for customers I always used the same thickness and width of bed rail for which I had fashioned a plywood jig to aid in cutting the end tenons. The jig slid over the end of the rails and the router, with a 3/4″ pattern bit chucked up, was guided along all four edges of the jig creating a perfect-fitting tenon. I was not planning on making a jig for the bench parts since I had two different size rails to work on.

So, I decided to use the table saw and stack dado blade. I know this sounds odd, but this is new for me. I didn’t own a stack dado blade until a few years back when I needed one for a demonstration. I used a dado for a short time as I began woodworking, but it was a wobble dado , that’s a scary thing.

I’ve watched others make tenons with a dado blade many times. Most times, woodworkers leave the tenon oversized, then fit and trimthe stock with a plane. By now you probably know me well enough to realize I wasn’t going to use a plane to fit the tenon. I cut the tenon to fit. (I did, however, touch up a couple spots with my Shinto rasp.)

This got me wondering how many different methods there are for creating tenons. I anted up the first three ,I know, I know. I took the easy ones. It’s your turn to add others. As I sit here I can think of another method, but I’ll hold this one to see if someone puts in his or her two cents (I will say there is no way I would ever try to make a tenon using my fourth technique). How do you create  tenons?

Click on Comment to add your technique.

, Glen D. Huey

8 thoughts on “The Making of Tenons

  1. AL

    I’ve made tennons by defiing the shoulder with a back saw removing the bulk of the waste with a chisel and then planing it smooth to the final depth with an old stanley router plane. Just hold down one handle to keep it on the good face of the board and rotate it around that handle in semi circles to plane away the waste from the tennon. Leaves a nice smooth face on the tennon at a consistent depth.


  2. Wilbur Pan

    How about using handsaws? For tenons on large pieces or for weird tenon shapes, such as for a haunched mortise and tenon joint, I’ve found that using a handsaw often is a quick way of cutting a tenon, even if it means using more physical energy. The extra time needed to make the cut is offset by not having to spend time setting up the fence/dado stack and test cutting.