In Shop Blog

We may receive a commission when you use our affiliate links. However, this does not impact our recommendations.

Gosh , nothing more exciting on a Saturday morning than one’s first hand-cut through-mortise. In 2″-thick hard maple. On a critical piece.

I came in today to install as much as possible of the Benchcrafted Glide on the “Petite Roubo.” The plan was to finish making the parallel guide, chop its mortise and tenon and dry-fit the guide. Then, to bore the requisite holes for the screw, cut the guide’s slightly oversized through-mortise on the bench leg, and basically get everything done that can be done before we put the base together on Monday or Tuesday. (Those of you who are familiar with the Glide will realize that I’m going about this backa**ward , but time and circumstances dictate a change from the printed plans.)

Chris is teaching at Marc Adams’ this weekend, and this coming week will be filled with last-minute stuff for Woodworking in America, so if this bench is going to get done by Thursday, there is no option but for me to get everything but the base and final flattening done this weekend. (Chris says he can get the base built in just a handful of hours, using tailed tools.)

So, I strolled in about 10 a.m. (vat of coffee in hand), and expected to be done with everything I had to complete in a couple hours. Turns out, our hollow chisel mortiser can’t accommodate the width of the chop. And while I’ll be shaping the chop’s bottom later to a size that probably would fit on the table, I’m not ready to commit to a shape. And I’m not confident I could get the narrower sides at the chop’s bottom precisely parallel , or that I want them parallel (which would, of course, be critical to getting a straight through-mortise off the machine).

Next stop, the drill press. Maybe I could drill out most of the waste then square things up with a couple paring chisels? Nope. The table is about 1/16″ too small, front to back. And anyway, with most of the chop’s weight hanging out in space, I can’t, without a helping hand, hold it flat to the table and drill at the same time.

Right. My first completely hand-cut through-mortise it is. Here’s hoping I’ve picked up some skill by osmosis , and hoping that Chris doesn’t mind my borrowing his 1/4″ mortise chisel (which looks more like a mouse-sticker than a pig-sticker). And, it looks like just a few hours’ work isn’t going to cut it.

– Megan Fitzpatrick

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

Recent Posts
Showing 16 comments
  • Jim B


  • adrian

    I’d say that getting straight walls is an accomplishment. I’ve done two practice mortises for my current project and they both veer off to the right for some reason. The mortise walls force them to go that way.

  • Megan

    Rob, for the record, I’d have been happy to sharpen the tools…but Chris would likely have re-honed them even had I done it perfectly 😉

    Sean – I flipped it (I was uber conscious of not wanting to hit the top of Chris’s bench with a chisel!)

    Alex, it turned out to be good therapy…and far less troublesome than holding that very heavy piece of stock while trying to work the mortiser.

    A little float work this morning (and a mallet blow or two) and it went together…it’s even close to 90°.

  • Sean

    FWIW, if you are going through, you may want to place a waste piece under the work piece so as to protect that lovely benchtop.

  • Alex Grigoriev

    Though it’s late to say that, you could use your power mortiser, if you put the workpiece end to the fence (instead of side). At least you could quickly make the mortise ends, then waste between them with handtools.

  • AAAndrew

    AT least from the picture, it’s looks quite good. Nice straight sides, clean ends. Looks like you’re doing just fine.

    And mortise chisels are the most forgiving for dullness. They very quickly get dull as you whack into the wood. There no need for a very sharp mouse-sticker after you get past the surface. The rest is wedge and pry.

    Yeah, coming out the other side is the fun part. Most of us flip it over, and come in from the back, assuming we trust our layout skills.

    Just watch the video of Frank Klaus mortising wood with one side made of glass at the first WIA conference. The one set up by Roy Underhill. It tells you everything you need to know about how it all works. That doesn’t mean you can do it, but it tells you everything you need to know, short of experience, of how it SHOULD work.

    Good job. Good courage.


  • Martin Shaw

    Also known as "Bassackwards"

  • Rob Young

    Probably too late to help now but I’d look at the bevel angle and then hone a secondary bevel at +3 to +5 degrees more. Just guessing but that probably means 35 degrees for the small secondary. Same-ol’ same-ol’ removing the burr. Just like a bench chisel.

    Barring any sharpening, just bash on it harder! 🙂 Fun, ain’t it? It is amazing how the tool "just works" if you give it a little guidance.

  • megan

    No self-respecting hand-tool user would come anywhere near me; I borrow chisels without asking and leave them dull 😉

  • Eric R

    Beat that chisel like a rented mule Megan!
    You’re gonna be extra proud with the results!
    I can a ton more marriage proposals coming from the hand toolers now !

  • megan

    Rob, it started out as a sharp chisel (which is why the front side looks better than the backside). Now? Not so much. But I’m loathe to sharpen Chris’s tools without him around to confirm the angle.

    Thanks Alfred – but with the chisel the same width as the mortise, it’s pretty easy to keep it at 90° once you’re just a little into it – the walls serve as the guide block.

    A router would no doubt work. But I’m afraid in my untutored hands, a router could spin into disaster far more quickly than a chisel. Besides, I don’t like loud noises.

  • Glenn Whitener

    I agree 100% with everything that the comment at 11:56 just said. I think it’s bada$$ that you’re doing it freehand, though, especially given the time constraints. Very well done.

    Full disclosure: I don’t own a router, so absent a time crunch like you’re facing I would have put that particular step off for weeks. Like I said, basadd.


    I’m probably gonna get kicked off Neander Island but how about a router?

  • If that’s a free-hand mortise you are off to a good start. I would probably need a guide block – as a straightedge – to get a decent mortise within a reasonable time.


  • Colin

    I agree, hit it harder.

    (Same principal as that which states rental cars accelerate and stop faster than any car you own.)

  • Rob Young

    As you now know, a sharp mortise chisel can do wonders. And it isn’t so terribly much slower than the power options if you take into account machine setup and dealing with the chip clogs in the hollow chisel!

    Beat that chisel like it wasn’t yours!

Start typing and press Enter to search