In Shop Blog, Techniques, Tools

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Perhaps I’m the oddball here, but I’ve always found cutting tenons by hand to be more challenging than any sort of dovetailing.

Tenons require a lot of precision sawing if you want to avoid farting around with a shoulder plane, chisel or float. And teaching others to cut perfect shoulders is a challenge. I usually show them Robert Wearing’s trick called a “first-class sawcut.” Basically, you create a quick V-groove at the shoulder line and drop the saw into that.

It works great, but you still have to keep the saw vertical. And you have to keep it from jumping out of the kerf and marring your work.

Today I was cutting some tenons and was clamping my work down to my bench hook to hold it immobile while I focused on cutting the 4-1/2″-long shoulders. Like always, I clamped a piece of waste between my hold-down and my work to keep the hold-down from marring the walnut.

I looked at the waste. Its straight edge whispered: “Use me, Seymour.”

I shifted the waste right onto my shoulder line and clamped down the waste. I picked up my flush-cutting saw and used the waste as a fence to guide the saw , just like I do when I cut the walls of dados.

It worked brilliantly, even without a chiseled v-groove. This tenon shoulder won’t need any work.

If you struggle cutting long shoulders, it’s worth trying.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 12 comments
  • I’m using the same technique in cutting the tenons on the Stickley table I’m working on. Nice to have some validation! My full construction (and general shop stuff) blog is here:

  • I use a sharp chisel layed into the line from titemark and put the guide block up against the chisel back thcn clamp the block down.

  • Chris F

    Michael, if you don’t use a flush cut saw then you need to put the guide block a few thou over the line, otherwise the fact that the kerf is wider than the saw plate will mean that you cut past your line.

  • Michael Brady

    Why use a flush cut saw? By cutting a shallow relief at the bottom edge of of the guide block / hold-down, the set of the saw teeth will not touch the guide block or be deflected. You might have to place the guide block with the aid of a square since the relief cut removes the reference point of the intersecting surfaces. The plate of the back saw has to have sufficient height to avoid the back from interfering with the guide block. I think this method would be more comfortable for those not used to the flex and stroke of a japanese style saw.

  • Alfred Kraemer


    I don’t think that is an oddball method. A simple saw guide -even one for more complex angles – is easy to make and usually very reliable. My ‘tenoning jig’ consists of a guide that is longer than yours, has a slat on the side so I can line it up against the rail, move it to the scribe line, and clamp it with a handscrew. I still make sure the saw blade falls into a good, generously deep scribed line.
    The other method scribing and then deepening the scribed line to create a furrow for the saw blade can be treacherous if the first saw push/pull is even a little bumpy.
    I think that latter method was used for saws that weren’t as finely toothed as today’s saws. With a coarser saw one could probably limit tearout by carving a furrow for the saw blade.

    Alfred Kraemer

  • Chris F

    Guy, I think it’s the Lee Valley Kugihiki flush cut saw, item 60T06.20. (Excellent flush cut saw, though I’m thinking about countersinking the brass bolt so it doesn’t stick out past the wooden handle.)

  • Tony Z

    Take your waste block and tack a thin piece of 1/4" stock under an edge, making it into a sort of small bench hook. Make sure it is attached square to the edge of the waste block you are using. Makes it much easier to register on the stock on which you are cutting the tenon.


  • Guy Forthofer


    What saw are you using to cut the tenon in the top photo?

    – Guy

  • It’s my favorite method as well. I use guide blocks on virtually all cross cuts.

  • Sean C.

    I use that same technique a lot when I have to, actually skip that, when I want to cut lumber by hand. I will use my Ryobi saw to cross cut stock to rough lenght rather than the noise and dust from my Chop Saw. It provides a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to work wood by hand now and then. I use hand saws more often in my shop every week. Great tip. !

  • Tony

    the master of hand tools uses guide blocks? Love it – makes me realize experts need help too.


    That is the technique I teach my students and one that I use more often than not.

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