In Arts & Mysteries

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I’m not exactly Norm, but I do have specialty tools that make the job go faster. These tools are solely for mortise and tenon work and are typical of those available in the 18th century.

The joiners’ mortise chisel (don’t call it a pigsticker please) has a thick blade to provide plenty of strength. Its large oval handle allows easy directional control and provides a broad butt end to spread out the force of a mallet blow, saving both chisel and mallet. The broad sides of this chisel’s blade are slightly beveled away from the cutting edge to allow a little extra clearance in the mortise. One English manufacturer is making accurate copies of traditional joiner’s mortise chisels. Ray Illes mortisers are available at tools for working wood.

The mortising gauge’s arm features 4 sets of pins, carefully filed to match 4 of my most used mortise chisels. Laying out a mortise is as simple as determining where I want it to go. See PW’s Arts and Mysteries Dec 2006 issue for Dean Jansa’s article on how to make these yourself.

Under the gauge is my homemade 19″ tenon saw, a copy of one found in the Seaton Chest. Thankfully, saws like this are being reproduced by Mike Wenz. When stock wider than 3″ is to be sawn for a tenon, a long saw simply does the job faster than a short one. Before I made this saw, I used an 18″ frame saw. While I prefer this back saw, that frame saw performed adequately.

– Adam Cherubini

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  • Adam

    Just a note of clarification: This blog entry discusses specialty tools used by 18th century craftsmen. Its not a tool review. Chris Schwarz reports the Ray Illes chisels are made from D2, a tool steel that can be difficult to sharpen. I would read carefully what Chris has to say.

    The technique I use with the mortise chisel involves paring and requires a very sharp chisel. I’ve had success with antique high carbon laminated mortisers that take and hold a fine edge but are also easy to sharpen. I really like the form of the Illes chisels. Before I bought one, because of the unique way I mortise, I’d want to know more about what it takes to efficiently sharpen them.

    P.S. I find "pigsticker" non-descriptive. I think a pigsticker is a short sword worn when boar hunting. The joiners’ mortise chisel is a fairly advanced tool, and deserves to be differentiated from socket firmers and other chisels with long narrow blades.

  • Will

    With the rapidly becoming infamous Ray Illes mortise chisels having now been recommended by both yourself and Chris Schwarz, I am sadly confident that they will remain out of stock forever! I eagerly await their return!


  • Bob Demers

    Hi Adam
    OK, you got my curiosity aroused, why not called it a pigsticker? I never understood where that name came from, but it is often associated with that type and only that type of mortise chisel.

    Been reading with avid interests your articles in Pop WW and on this blog for a while, really like your style.

    Thanks Adam, keep up the good work, and yes I got myself some of those aforementioned mortise chisel, best design that there is, isn’t it!


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