Arts & Mysteries: The Indispensable Mortise & Tenon

A&M_Aug_2015Drawbore it for a joint that will last centuries. 

By Peter Follansbee
pages 58-59

I once had a visitor to my shop remark that he’d like to see a book about all the types of joints that I use. I told him it’d be a pretty short book: One page for the rabbet joints I use in boxes and drawers, and another for the mortise and tenon.

I never really learned to cut dovetails until I’d been a furniture maker for more than 20 years. But I lean toward fanaticism and, early on, 17th-century joiners’ work captivated me completely. And it was there that I learned just how many places you could use the mortise-and-tenon joint.

It’s a joint that can take you from the cradle to the grave, almost. House frames and the wainscoting around the walls. Cabinet doors in the kitchen. Cradles, chairs, tables, chests and cupboards. Stools. Benches.

You can picture most any piece of furniture in the stile-and-rail format. Drawers are the exception; I’ve never heard of, and wouldn’t want to see, a drawer made with mortises and tenons.

Hence the rabbet. While some are dovetailed, most 17th-century drawers in English work are just rabbeted and fixed with nails. It’s not the showiest technique, but if a drawer lasts 350-plus years, is it really poor construction?

Blog: Read Peter Follansbee’s blog.
To Buy: “17th-Century New England Carving: Carving the S-Scroll (Lie-Nielsen).”
In Our Store: “The Arts & Mysteries of Hand Tools” on CD

From the August 2015 issue

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