As a woodworker or carpenter, one of the most important skills you can attain is learning how to make a mortise and tenon joint.
This is one of the most popular types of woodworking joints and there are literally hundreds of variations.
Learning how to fabricate these joints will allow you to expand your skill set. That, in turn, can make a woodworking hobby more enjoyable, or a carpentry business even more successful.
What Is a Mortis and Tenon Joint? Understanding Woodworking Joints
Mortise and tenon joint is a way of joining two pieces of wood, typically at a 90 degree angle. This type of angle provides the highest level of strength. A lesser angle can be used in certain situations, though. It’s best to consider woodworking plans to best determine which angle will work best for your particular project.
One piece of wood has a recess in it, which is called the mortise. Another piece of wood has a protruding portion, called the tenon. The tenon fits snuggly into the mortise.
The two pieces are then held together with some sort of fastener. Most woodworkers prefer using glue.
This type of joint is used in many common carpentry projects, including frames, tables, doors, paneling, cabinets, chairs, and windows.
Take a look at the wood chairs of your average dining room table. Most of them don’t have any hardware. They fit together perfectly because a skilled woodworker made mortise and tenon joints that create a solid piece of furniture.
What’s the best size and thickness of each component? Typically, the mortise is centered on the thickest part of the wood. It ends up being approximately one-third the thickness of the piece of wood you’re carving it out of.
It’s important to prevent the mortise from splitting, so it should be set in from the end of the wood by about one-quarter to one-half of an inch.
The second piece of puzzle – the tenon – needs to be the same dimensions of its partner piece. However, it’s best to cut it a little bit thicker and then use a plane or chisel to pare it down to fit into the mortise precisely.
Like certain other types of woodworking techniques (the dovetail, for instance), a clean, precise, tight mortise and tenon is a sign of advanced skills. Machines can make these, but when done by hand, you know you’re getting work that was done by a master woodworker who has developed expert skills to use their tools to create such a joint.
The Best Tips for Making Mortise and Tenon Joints
Knowing that it takes a lot of experience and expertise to get a great fitting wood joint can seem intimidating. But don’t let that stop you from developing this skill. With some time and practice, you can learn to fabricate well-fitting mortise and tenon joints that will prove to all around what a skilled craftsperson you really are.
Here are some tips that will help you learn how to create the perfect mortise with a tenon that is stable and fits snuggly.
1. Use the Best Tools at Your Disposal
Most modern woodworkers use band saws or table saws to fabricate the parts of this joint. There are still some, however, who prefer making the joint with hand tools. If you aren’t on a tight schedule, use the tools you want, just make sure they’re high quality and sharp.
2. Make Sure You Cut Thick Pieces
When parts of a joint are cut too thin, they’ll be really weak. They can then splinter or break completely. It’s always best to cut the piece a little thick and then whittle away a bit at a time instead of making it too thin to start with.
3. Take It Slow
It’s easy to want to cut something and be done with it. But one of the things that makes woodworking such a special art form is that the more precise that you are, the stronger and more beautiful your piece will be.
When cutting the mortise, take it a bit at a time. Use a mortiser and sink a bit into the wood, little by little. Don’t go any deeper than necessary, but make sure the entire tenon will fit into the space.
When you’re done, make sure to smooth out any remaining rough surfaces with a really sharp chisel.
The Possibilities Are Endless When You Expand Your Understanding of Woodworking Joints
Whether you’ve started woodworking as a hobby or you want to build your talent into a booming business, learning how to make a variety of woodworking joints can definitely help.
The most important joints to have at your disposal are mortise and tenon joints. Though there are thousands of different types of mortise and tenon joint options, understanding the basics will give you the knowledge you need to become a wood joint expert.
Keep practicing the basic technique and before you know it, you’ll be ready to expand your joint repertoire even more.