Chris Schwarz's Blog

Jeff Miller’s Incredible Tenon Jig

During the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in our shop this spring, furniture maker Jeff Miller came over to my bench and started asking questions about the Wenzloff & Sons no-set backsaw I had hanging over my bench.

To demonstrate the saw’s superpowers, I cut a tenon with the saw. The amazing thing about the saw, based on the Disston No. 77, is that it leaves a perfect surface behind. And I mean a perfect surface. See my blog entry on the saw here.

The tenon I cut for Jeff was OK – not my best effort. But it looked a lot cleaner than most hand-cut tenons. Jeff looked at the tenon for a moment then walked me over the bench where he was demonstrating.

Clamped in a vise was the simple sawing jig shown in the photo above. Using careful measurements and shims, Jeff had dialed in the jig to work with one particular saw. He clamped a piece of work into the jig and within a few minutes he had produced a tenon that rivaled a router-cut tenon.

The jig is crazy simple. And with one extra block of wood, it can be used to cut the angled joints that Jeff uses in his chair work.

I immediately sought to sign him up to write an article on the jig for Popular Woodworking Magazine (more news on that soon, I hope). He also has an equally clever jig for cutting and paring the mortises.

This summer, Jeff is teaching a class up at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks on how to make and use this jig to do incredible precision work by hand. The class – July 30-31 – is in Lie-Nielsen’s new classroom space next to the factory in Warren, Maine. Details here. You can read Jeff’s syllabus here: http://www.lie-nielsen.com/pdf/Workshop_Miller.pdf

Jeff’s work is humbling. He’s an incredible craftsman, designer and patient teacher. And he’s one of those rare professionals who fully embraces handwork and machine work. His shop in Chicago looks a lot more like a traditional European shop than an American one. He has well-cared-for machines, plus heavy benches and lots of sharp hand tools.

If you can be in Maine in July, I think this is an excellent class if you seek to become a maestro at the mortise-and-tenon joint.

– Christopher Schwarz

12 thoughts on “Jeff Miller’s Incredible Tenon Jig

  1. schenher

    Actually there is nothing new about this tenon jig. If you look in a book written in 1909 by H.H.Windsor titled “Mission Furniture / How to Make it, Part 2″ , which was written for Popular Mechanics. There is a near exact copy of that tenon jig illustrated and explained.

    Here is the written excerpt.

    CUTTING TENONS WITH A HAND-SAW
    This home-made tool will be a great help in the construction of mission furniture. With its use, tenons may be entirely cut with a saw, discarding the use of a chisel and mallet. The device consists of a convenient length of straight board, A, Fig. 1, wide enough to cover the widest piece to be tenoned. A piece of board, B, is fastened to A with brads or small screws. This board should have a thickness equal to the piece to be cut from the side of the tenon. The piece C is fastened to A and B with small cleats at their upper ends. The space between B and C should be wide enough for the blade of a saw to run through easily, and also long enough to take in the widest part of the saw blade. The tool and piece to be tenoned are placed in a vise as shown in Fig. 2. The width of the piece removed for the tenon may be varied by putting in pieces of cardboard between the work, E, and the piece A, Fig. 1.

    Look up the PDF online to find the full pictures. http://www.amishdirectfurniture.com/mission-furniture-plans-2.pdf

  2. goredsus

    I watched Jeff as he cut a tenon with his jig and “cool” is an understatement. A video of the jig in action with the article would help a lot of us (ok, maybe just me). Jeff’s rocker at the show was out of this world gorgeous too. I’m gonna have to figure out a way to make it up to his place to take a class from him too.

  3. khowarte

    I got to see it close up and see it work in Jeff’s shop recently while taking a class from Jeff. It is really neat. I look forward to seeing the article with the specifics.

  4. mvflaim

    I saw this jig in action during the show. It was really cool but I forgot how it’s used. Sucks because I wanted to go home and build one but never wrote down any specifics on the jig.

  5. Stephen

    This looks really interesting to me. On my right hand I have only an index finger, a thumb with no middle knuckle and not much else – a middle and pinkie that stop before the first knuckle. This makes controlling a hand saw for longer periods quite hard! I was thinking about a jointmaker pro V2 but it seems that the size of stock is limited with that tool (and it’s quite expensive!). I might get one anyway for smaller projects.

    You are always showing ways of making things easier Chris – for example there is no way I could sharpen free hand so your advice on using a side clamping guide has been fantastic – and I like the flush cut saw and block of wood method for cutting tenon shoulders. Does this jig do just the faces? Is there another for the shoulders? Will I never need to cut tenons with a router again? :-)

    Steve

  6. jwschwarziv

    Christopher – This is really cruel. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, how about a thousand words on how this works and how to build one?

    1. mdhills

      Looks like the brass back of the saw is trapped in the slot, and a UHMW strip is used to guide the saw plate so that it stays parallel to the reference surface. Wonder how he trims the uhmw to get that dialed in. Looks like it is good article material!

      1. R.Hoppe

        I’ve used a bench plane to trim UHMW. I assume some sort of shim, clamped to the vertical member, is used to line cut line up with the saw teeth.

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