“I can teach a man to sail but I can never teach him why.”
published in “The American Scholar”
The March 2007 issue of Woodworking Magazine is complete and is on its way to the printer. It should arrive on newsstands starting the second week in January 2007 and will be available for sale in stores until Feb. 27. After that, it will be available only on our website.
In this issue, we explore the mortise. Though it is but one piece of the essential mortise-and-tenon joint, it is more critical than the tenon in our opinion and sadly neglected in the literature. How should you scale the parts of the joint? What tools are best to make it? Should you drive a peg through it? Below are short summaries of the stories in the issue.
Mystery of the Mortise
The mortise and tenon is essential to good woodworking practice. The joint, which was recorded in ancient Egypt, is among the earliest and is the goal of many high-tech jigs and fixtures on the market, from the Leigh Industries FMT router jig to cope-and-stick router bits. The mortise and tenon is an immensely strong way to join pieces of wood. It can be repaired if damaged. It can be made using an astonishing array of methods. And while the joint seems simple , one piece of wood inserted into a cavity in another , its details and variations are the subject of much debate and confusion.
Many of the questions in woodworkers’ minds deal with the scaling of the parts of the joint: How long should the tenon be? How thick? How wide should the shoulders of the joint be? Should the tenon be centered on the thickness of the work or should it be offset?
The interesting thing is that most of these questions deal with the tenon, when they really should be asked of the mortise instead. The mortise is generally the more vulnerable component of the joint, and many of the rules for designing a proper joint are aimed at preventing the mortise from splitting while you cut it, or splitting it when you assemble the joint.
Hollow Chisel Test
With nearly any other machine, you can easily find someone with years of experience to show you the tricks and clue you in to the right tooling. With the hollow-chisel mortiser however, most of us are in the same boat, trying this and that to get the thing to work right, and wondering if just maybe a set of expensive chisels and bits would solve our problems.
With this in mind, we collected seven sets of chisels and bits, examined our own prejudices and preconceived notions , and headed out to the shop. Our goal was to find the best value, but that was not as clear-cut as we had hoped. What we did find were some simple ways to make nearly any chisel and bit set work efficiently.
The biggest difference we found was in price. We found single chisels ranging in price from $8.95 to $87.99 and four-piece sets from about $30 to more than $300. Our expectation was that there would be a significant difference in performance, either in the ease of making the cut, or in the quality of the cut. The most expensive tooling for hollow-chisel mortisers is 10 times the price of the least expensive.
Mortising by Hand
Before the age of machinery, woodworkers routinely chopped mortises with a mallet and chisel. We reveal the tools and techniques that make this an efficient process for home woodworkers who need to cut angled mortises or don’t have heavy machinery in their shops.
Arts & Crafts Mirror
With pegged mortise-and-tenon joints, graceful corbels and delicate inlay, this handsome project contains key elements of the style.
Keep the heat off your table while warming up your joinery skills.
If we are to discover the proper method for pegging joints, we make an assumption that, until now, may have never entered our thoughts. That assumption is that the joints actually should be pegged. Is this something that we need to do? It’s been the practice throughout history, but why?
To choose to peg a joint is something with which I was not familiar. I always pegged the joints. Why? I was building reproduction furniture and the pieces that I copied were pegged. Bingo! Decision made.
When the time came to build furniture that was not a reproduction of anything in particular, I found myself pegging the joints anyway. I developed a penchant for pegging. I liked the way it looked. But was I doing it right? Is pegging a joint strengthening it or weakening it?
Easy Arts & Crafts Finish
A fine finish doesn’t need to be complicated. We discover a way to get the look with a few simple steps and easy-to-find materials.
Do you need a dial caliper in your shop? Or do you need a highly trained cabinetmaker looking over your shoulder?
– Christopher Schwarz