My First Mistake

My first mistake was thinking that I was smart.

Now I don’t suggest that I should have adopted the method that my father used on me. When I was a young lad and did something dumb, he would yell at me that I would lose my head if wasn’t attached. He was a confidence builder that man.

I simply thought that on this fateful day that I had it all figured out. That I could hear any train coming at me and I was ready.

I had borrowed two scaffolds from my sheet rocker, Garrett. Now Garrett was a generous guy. He was also what I would call a big drink of water, 6′ 4″ or 6′ 5″. Yet he was not imposing. He just took up a lot of the available air with his ready smile and attitude. Oh sure, he could squash me like a cherry tomato but I thought he was a good guy who had standards for his work and that meant something to me. And for a sheet rocker he was positively a thoughtful man. We would have these conversations about the old days because of what song was playing on the radio which reminded him of when he used to raise hell up in the San Juans. He had given up that drinking life.

One day Garrett talked to me about his wife who was the brains of his outfit now. Turns out she had been a code cracker in the Navy. Since he was Navy too, once upon a time down in San Diego, and since he needed to clean up his act, she was the perfect woman for him. They married and had been up in the Northwest countryside for 20 some odd years together.

Damn thing was, she was a few years older than him and starting to show signs of forgetfulness. Garrett started telling me about how she had scared him one night talking strange and nonsensical stuff and it made him worried and nervous. Like he could hear the freight train coming but there wasn’t anything he could do to stop it. Now there is nothing that can take a man’s knees out faster than watching someone that he loves get done in by illness with not a cure or a prayer in sight to help. And listening to that train in the distance is no useful activity for a man. Better to keep your head down or up in his case in your work and just stay busy.

Conversations like this between guys are shared and forgotten mostly. They don’t mean a damn thing the next day to a guy and they mean everything in the moment. Guys don’t share their feelings unless they feel comfortable and trust another guy. Usually the most trust you get out of another guy is the understanding that the next time you see this fella he’s going to insult you the best way he knows how.

He might, for instance, comment on how poorly you have always played poker or backed the wrong Philadelphia football team. Or he might walk up to you and say: Gee you walking funny these days? Or did your bladder diapers ride up on you just now? That kind of insult means he cares.

Anyways, I held this information about his wife’s diminishing capacity with honor and hope that it was just an isolated event. That train is still off there in the distance for us all, but maybe he would have some more good years with her. I hoped with my heart for that. Best I could do for a prayer right then as I am reformed catholic. Excuse the hell out of me.

Now to get back to the point of this story I want to remind you that even when you think you’re smart and you think have it all figured out, you may have to re-calibrate this stance of yours in light of the evidence that will be presented to you. This evidence may indicate that you may have just done something remarkably stupid. So back to my scaffolding story and you’ll see what I mean.

I knew I could load these two scaffolds up all by myself. But they didn’t both quite fit into the back of the bed of my pick-up truck standing up. Plus it was a curvy road to drive and they were a bit top-heavy. I disassembled the parts and laid them all out on the ground. Now all I had to do was load them up and haul them off. Easy enough. These were not imposing objects once taken apart.

I got one big panel in and then another sliding them in over the tailgate. Both stuck out over the back of it. That was fine. The smaller scaffold almost fit in lengthwise but not quite.right in that in-between kind of spot.

It was just a little cock-eyed so I gave it a final shove and it still wouldn’t go down into the bed. So I walked around the side of the truck and I had my right hand behind this panel near the front of the truck bed and my left was pulling it closer to straight as the panel rested on the back of the tailgate. All of a sudden it found its entry point and the whole panel slipped down a few inches pinning the finger next to my right pinky tight to the truck bed wall.

It hurt. That’s the first thing I noticed. The panel had slipped down just a bit but it had me locked down like a 73″ long steel wedge and I could not move my hand. It hurt. That’s the second thing I noticed. My finger was lodged in place right near where the digit met the palm of my hand and when I pulled at it, I thought I might tear or break it off. And the panel would not move and I could not lift it because it was wedged in by its fall and I could not crawl into the truck bed without moving or ripping off my finger and holy hell, I realized that I was alone and pinned against my truck and might suffer some serious finger damage because I had thought I was smart and doing everything right when something slipped on me. I never saw this train coming.

My finger took up most of my concentration now. It hurt. This was what I noticed. This situation was a reminder no doubt sent by the scaffolding gods that I had made a tactical error. I had put my hand in the wrong spot and I had gotten it pinned. How did this even happen?

Didn’t matter. Now what could I do? I mean there was no one to call. My phone rarely worked out where I was plus I would have a hell of a time reaching it with my left arm trying to reach into my right hand vest pocket and oh yeah my right finger was really starting to pain me.

Remember that movie scene in Sometimes a Great Notion where the brother has his leg trapped by the log that rolled onto him and the tidewater is rising around them and the brothers realize that there is nothing to be done because that log won’t move? I did not want to think about that scene in the movie Sometimes a Great Notion.

I tried to focus instead on my options because the pain in my finger kept reminding me about the importance of my immediate situation. I tugged at my finger again. No luck. I pulled it, I pushed it. No luck. I tried going up with it and then down with it. I tried moving the panel again. No luck. That panel was stuck in there and too heavy to lift up with my left arm alone from where I was at the front of the bed. I had no leverage on it. My leg couldn’t kick it because I couldn’t get it over the truck side wall. The dang panel wasn’t heavy. I was just stuck with it and with my hand in the wrong spot.

I think it’s maybe the glue-ups I’ve done that saved my finger. All those times when the clock was ticking, like it certainly was ticking on me now, and I had to come up with a solution or lose my piece in the simple assembly of it. No time for recriminations. No time for blame. No time for self-pity.

The only thing I could figure out to try was to make myself smaller and see if that worked. I mean my finger was also part of this whole wedge package so if I could make it smaller somehow, don’t ask me how, maybe it would move. I was willing to try anything even trying to go Zen on myself in the middle of a pick-up bed crisis. I pulled on the panel back a little with my left hand and then I told myself to relax my right hand and that finger. Relax. That’s what I said to myself: Relax, so the muscle or pad or whatever the hell it is that’s inside your finger there wasn’t so large and bulging out so much so it would shrink enough so I could move the panel just a smidgen and remove my finger.

And by golly it worked. The panel slid to the side just a bit and out popped my very red and pained finger and I went to put some ice on it. Then I thought about how such a simple job like this could have turned into such a disaster for me. Man, here I thought I was being smart, taking everything apart, and look how it turned out. How does this happen, I asked myself out loud. Now the self-pity part kicked in. Don’t you attach your head in the morning? Recrimination time. And et cetera.

Until I thought about the fact that I had just saved my finger and learned another valuable lesson. Just cuz I’ve dodged a bullet every now and then does not mean that life or the great wedge or simple physics might not bite again if I’m not thinking.

Accidents are a silent freight train but they still can hit you hard. Circumstances can change on us in a hurry. Good spots can become bad ones and seemingly right decisions can turn into very bad ones. You cannot complain about this series of events. There is no time to moan about how hard you got it. You have to figure a way out before you lose something precious. Don’t presume that you’re smart. You are probably not entirely right. You are certainly not entirely wrong. But think before you act. My daddy was certainly right about this one thing: use your head.


Dovetail Joints: How Tight is Too Tight?

  Last weekend I built a dovetailed campaign-style officer’s trunk for the San Diego Fine Woodworkers Association and several of the members were shocked when I drove the carcase dovetails together. What was shocking to them was how tight my fit was between the tails and pins; it required a few hard whacks with a dead-blow mallet to seat the tails into the pins. The members asked me a lot […]

The post Dovetail Joints: How Tight is Too Tight? appeared first on Popular Woodworking Magazine.


AW Extra 7/3/14 – Perfect Edge Joints

Perfect Edge Joints

A 6-step tune-up sets your jointer straight.

By Dave Munkittrick


Jointers are simple machines with few moving parts, but the two beds, the fence and the cutterhead all have to be in alignment for a jointer to function properly. Few things are more frustrating or more common than problems with jointers. This is especially true when you’re trying to get straight, square edges on your boards. I’ve come up with a six-step tune-up that should set your jointer straight. It’s easy to do and will only take an hour or two, depending on how many problems you unearth.

Jointers are supposed to cut straight, square edges, but all too often, they leave a sniped or a bowed edge (see “Common Problems,” page 2). Snipe results whenever the top of the outfeed table dips below the knife’s top cutting arc. A bow cut results whenever the outfeed table rises above the cutting arc. A cutterhead that’s not parallel to the outfeed table, or tables that are not parallel to each other, will make it impossible to get the table height set just right for all fence settings.


Common Problems

Our tune-up will help you identify and correct four common jointer problems:

Problem #1: A table surface that’s not flat.

Problem #2: Tables that are not parallel to each other across their widths.

Problem #3: Tables that are not parallel to each other along their lengths.

Problem #4: A cutterhead that’s not set parallel to the tables.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Common jointer problems result in a sniped or bowed edge. Adjusting the outfeed table height usually cures the problem. However, if both tables and the cutterhead are not in perfect alignment, the problem will return when you move the fence. This tune-up procedure takes care of all the possible misalignments that can cause jointer problems.



The Right Stuff

You will need a few tools to perform this tune-up: A good straightedge, a set of feeler gauges and machinist’s metal shims are must-haves for this job. For some steps, a dial indicator is easier to use than a straightedge.

The straightedge, shims and feeler gauge run about $105 total. The optional dial indicator with a magnetic base and extension arms adds another $40 and is well worth the cost. All these tools can also be used to set and tune-up other shop equipment and to check your own work for flatness (see Sources, below).


A precision straightedge is essential. You can perform all the tune-up steps using this 50" precision straightedge that costs $79. Unlike inexpensive straightedges, this one has a precisionground edge with a tolerance of .003" along its entire length. Such a good straightedge is not cheap, but it’s a good investment for your shop.


A dial indicator with magnetic base and arm can’t be beat for tool setups. A number of these six tune-up procedures are best done using a dial indicator. Like the straightedge, this tool is also useful for other machine setups.


A feeler gauge set is used in tandem with a straightedge to measure very small gaps. If the straightedge reveals a gap, you can measure that gap by finding the feeler gauge that fits under the straightedge.


Metal shims align jointer parts. Variety packs are convenient and easy to use. A strip of aluminum cut from a soda can is a quick substitute for a .005" shim. That coupled with some .001" shim stock should cover all your tune-up needs. Shims can be stacked to create any desired thickness.



Fine Tuning Your Jointer

Step 1: Check For Flat Tables and Fence

Check each table and the fence for flatness (Photo 1). The accuracy of later measurements depends on flat tables. Measure for dips or a droop using the straightedge held parallel to the table bed. Then, hold the straightedge diagonally across the table to check for twist. The good news is that finding twist or dips in the table is highly unlikely. The bad news is that if you do find things out of whack, you can’t do much about it. In extreme cases, a messed-up fence or table may be reground at a machine shop. You’ll have to weigh the cost in time and money against simply buying a new jointer. If your jointer is under warranty, talk to the manufacturer.

Step 2: Align Tables

It’s not unusual for the two tables to be out of parallel across their widths (Photo 2). It’s easiest to check the tables for parallelism with a dial indicator (Photo 3). You can also do the check with a straightedge. Hold the straightedge down on the middle of the infeed table so it extends over the outfeed table. Set the infeed table to the exact same height as the outfeed table. Slide the straightedge over to the fence side of the table and use feeler gauges to check for gaps. Repeat with the straightedge on the user side of the table.

Align your tables by shimming the outfeed table. Loosen the outfeed table’s gib nuts and lift the table so you can insert metal shims on the side of the table that’s low (Photo 4). Shim the outfeed table only because it is moved very little and the shims are less likely to shift during table adjustments.

Recheck the tables and make any necessary shim adjustments until the tables measure in exact alignment.

Step 3: Fix Sagging Tables

Tables can also be out of alignment along their lengths (Photo 5). Use the straightedge to see whether the table end dips below the infeed table (Photo 6). Correct a dip by adding shims to the top or bottom of both gib ways on the outfeed table (Photo 7). Retighten the gib nuts and check the tables again. Make any necessary adjustments until the tables lie in the exact same plane.

Step 4: Level the Cutterhead with the Tables

Now that the tables are parallel to each other along their lengths and widths, it’s time to make sure the cutterhead is parallel to the tables. If the cutterhead is not level with the tables, your cut will be heavier on one side of the table than on the other. Jackscrew cutterheads allow you to set the knives to compensate for this; spring-loaded knives or a segmented carbide insert cutterhead do not. The fix for this problem is so simple that I recommend leveling your cutterhead no matter what type of knife holder you have.

Use a dial indicator or straightedge to check cutterhead alignment (Photo 8). If the cutterhead is off, measure the exact amount on the low side. This equals the size of shim you’ll need to raise the cutterhead (Photos 9 and 10).


Step 5: Set Proper Knife Height

To minimize kickback hazards, jointer knives should not project more than .020" from the cutterhead. (Owners of spring-loaded cutterheads have a knife-setting gauge that automatically sets the proper knife projection.) A potential hazard exists with knives set parallel to the outfeed table: It’s easy to unintentionally set the knives so they project too far.

A dial indicator is the best instrument for checking knife projection (Photo 11), but you can make do with a straightedge and feeler gauge.

Step 6: Set Proper Outfeed Table Height

Your knives should be set so that the very top of the cutting arc, also referred to as top dead center, is the same height as your outfeed table. We used the straightedge to accomplish this task (Photo 12), but a dial indicator is another option. To do this, set the dial indicator on the outfeed table and zero it. Then set the plunger over the cutterhead with the body of the indicator on the outfeed table. Rock the cutterhead back and forth; the indicator should hit zero as its highest mark. Check this at several points along the width of the table. Repeat for all three sets of knives. straightedge no gaps outfeed table knife at top dead center

Edge-joint a couple of boards to test your jointer (Photos 13 and 14). In practice, it often takes a little tweaking of the outfeed table height to get it just right. Often the table ends up set .001 or .002" below the cutterhead. Now your jointer is ready to go and should create perfect edge joints every time.

1. To start your tune-up, check each table for flatness. Lay the straightedge on a table and use the feeler gauge to check for gaps. A gap of .003" or less is acceptable.

2. Infeed and outfeed tables that are not in the same plane across their widths need to be made coplanar. (With any luck, your tables aren’t this bad.)

3. Check the tables for parallelism across their widths. Bridge the dial indicator from the center of the infeed table to the center of the outfeed table and zero it. Slide the indicator across the width of the table to measure any difference in height.

4. Bring the tables into alignment by inserting metal shims on the low side of the outfeed table. Choose a shim thickness equal to the amount your table was off. Loosen the gib nuts and lift the table while you insert the shim or shims. Then retighten the gib nuts.

5. Tables can be out of parallel along their lengths. Typically, the tables sag on the ends. This is especially true on older jointers that have worn gib ways.

6. Check for table sag by holding a straightedge tight against the infeed table. Set the infeed table height so the straightedge just contacts the outfeed table. Then use a feeler gauge to determine the amount of dip or rise in your outfeed table.

7. Correct a sagging table by shimming the bottom end of the two dovetailed gib ways on the outfeed table. A table that dips toward the cutterhead would be shimmed at the top end of the gib ways.


8. Check that the cutterhead is parallel with the tables. Rotate the cutterhead so the knives are below the table. Clamp a guide board parallel to the cutterhead. Set the dial indicator against the guide board so the plunger contacts the cutterhead. Zero your dial indicator; then slide it back and forth.

9. I removed the cutterhead here to illustrate how it is mounted. Two threaded rods attached to pillow blocks run through holes in the base and are held in place by a nut and a washer. Place shims between the pillow block and the jointer bed casting.

10. The cutterhead is easy to shim. Remove the drive belt and loosen the bolts that hold the cutterhead in place. Lift the low end of the cutterhead and insert shims under the pillow block. Then retighten the bolts.

11. Proper knife projection increases jointer safety by limiting the cut’s aggressiveness. Use a dial indicator set to zero on the cutterhead. With your hand on the pulley, rotate the cutterhead backward. As the knife rides under the dial indicator, it should read no more than .020".

12. To set the outfeed table height, place a straightedge on the outfeed table so it projects over the cutterhead. Rotate the cutterhead backward and raise or lower the table until the knife barely kisses the straightedge when it’s at top dead center.

13. Fine-tune the outfeed table height by edge-jointing a couple of boards that are narrower than the fence height and no longer than the infeed table.

14. Put the newly jointed edges together and hold the joint up to a light source. No light leaks indicate a jointer that’s perfectly tuned. If you are getting a snipe at the end of your cut, raise the outfeed table a bit. If the jointer puts a concave edge on your board, lower the table. Repeat the process with the fence set at the far edges of the table. The results should be the same, and that should put a smile on your face.







Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

Lee Valley Tools,, 800-871-8158, 50" aluminum straightedge, #05N63.05; Dial indicator and magnetic base and arm, 88N31.20; Feeler gauges, #86K99.01; Brass sampler, 6-1/2" x 6", .001 to .010 thickness, #27K07.50.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August 2006, issue #123.

Purchase this back issue.



Loose Tenon Joinery

Loose Tenon Joinery

Rout 4 variations of these super-strong joints with a versatile shop made jig.

By Bill Hylton

I've used a number of different methods to create mortise and tenon joints, but I keep coming back to loose tenons, because they're easy, strong and versatile. Instead of cutting a tenon on one part and a mortise in the other, I rout identical mortises in both parts, and connect them with a fitted strip of wood—a loose tenon. Loose tenon joinery is perfect for casework, tables and doors of all sizes.

The only tools you need to start making loose tenon joints are a plunge router equipped with an edge guide, straight bits designed for plunge cutting and a mortising block—a shopmade jig I've designed that you can make in a day.The mortising block minimizes layout work and allows routing both edge and end mortises from the same router setup.

You can use off-the-shelf bits and just about any plunge router, but a precision edge guide is a must. I use the Micro-Fence edge guide, which I think is the best available (see Sources, below).


The mortising block

This jig holds the workpiece, supports the router and controls its movement (Fig. A, below).The jig consists of the mortising block itself, a top extension, an L-bracket and a clamp board for bench mounting.

The face of the block has dadoes and mounting-bolt holes for the two work holders—horizontal for edge mortising and vertical for end mortising. The router sits on top of the block and overhangs the workpiece.The router's edge guide is housed in a track formed by the L-bracket (Photo, opposite). Adjustable stop blocks set the mortise length.


How the jig works

• The jig's registration line locates the workpiece.

• The jig's L-bracket tracks the router and keeps the mortise aligned with the edges of the workpiece.

• The mortise's width is determined by the bit's diameter.To create mortises wider than the bit, you reposition the fence and make a second pass.

• The mortise's depth is controlled by the router's plunge mechanism.

• The mortise's length is governed by the jig's adjustable stop blocks.

• The mortise's lateral (side-to-side) positioning is controlled by the router's edge guide.


Build the jig

1.Mill stock for the main parts and cut the pieces to final dimensions (Fig. B, below).The mortise block's body and the horizontal work holder must be exactly the same length, because you reference from the ends to rout the vertical keyways.

2. Rout 1/4" deep vertical keyways in the mortising block and the horizontal work holder.

3. Rout single 1/4" deep horizontal keyways in the mortising block and the vertical work holder.The block’s keyhole is stopped.

4. Rout mounting-bolt slots in each work holder, using a plunge router and an edge guide.

5. Plane 1/2" thick stock to fit the work holder keyways. Cut pieces to length to create the keys. Attach them.

6. Clamp the horizontal work holder to the mortising block.Tap a 1/2" brad point drill at both ends of each slot to transfer its location to the block. Remove the work holder and scribe vertical lines on the block through the four points you marked. Clamp on the vertical work holder, mark the slots and scribe a pair of horizontal lines.

7.Drill holes for the work holder mounting bolts at the four points where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.To secure the 3/8" bolts, I cut threads in the wood itself.To do this, drill the four holes with a 5/16" bit and use a 3/8"-16 tpi tap to cut the threads (see Sources).No cutting fluid is needed; just turn the tap into the hole, then back it out. Alternatively, you can use Tnuts or drive threaded inserts into the body to secure the bolts.

8.Glue and clamp the top extension to the mortising block. Clean off any dried glue after removing the clamps. Then joint the assembly to ensure that its top surface is square to the face.

9. Attach a 3/8" thick wood fence to your router's edge guide.Then size the L-bracket parts to create a groove that will house the fence.The fit should be snug, so the fence slides without any wobble.Glue the L-bracket parts together and install them.

10.Make both stop blocks from one long piece of 5/8" by 2-3/4" stock. Rout the 1/4" deep keyway and two mounting bolt slots. Cut the stops to final length.Make keys and attach them.

11. Rout matching keyways in the top of the mortising block.

12. Set the stops in place on the block and mark locations for mounting bolt holes.Drill and tap the holes for 1/4"-20 tpi bolts.

13. Install toggle clamps on the work holders (see Sources). I installed longer threaded spindles on all the clamps and used a 500-lb.size on the vertical work holder. Be sure to mount the clamps so they don't interfere with the router.

14.Draw a registration line centered on the face and top of the mortising block.

15.Glue on the clamp block.


Create the basic loose tenon joint

1. Lay out an edge mortise (Photo 1). It doesn't have to be elaborate, just lines marking the mortise ends and centerline. Only one line is essential: a centerline across the mortise. This mark aligns with the jig's registration line.

2.Position a test piece on the jig, using the horizontal work holder (Photo 2).

3.Adjust the work holder so the edge of the workpiece is flush with the jig's top. Line up the workpiece centerline with the block's registration line (Photo 3).Adjust the toggle clamps to hold the work securely.

4. Install a bit designed for mortising in the router.Up-spiral bits are popular these plunge cuts, but they're not essential.

5. Install the router on the jig and test-slide the edge guide's wood fence in the L-bracket groove. Apply wax, if necessary.

6. Bottom the bit onto the workpiece. Then move the router to center the bit on the mortise centerline (Photo 4). Lock down the edge guide and set the plunge depth.

7. Install the stop blocks to establish the length of the mortise (Photo 5).

8. Rout the mortise (Photo 6). That's all it takes. As long as the faces of the workpieces are oriented the same way on the jig, all the edge mortises routed with this setup will be the same, regardless of where they fall on the workpiece. Just scribe a centerline across each mortise, and align it with the registration line on the block (Photo 7). If all of the mortises are located in the same place on each workpiece, you don’t even have to mark them. Instead, just fasten a stop on the jig against the end of your test piece and use it to register the workpieces.

9.The only change you have to make to rout the matching end mortises is to switch work holders (Photos 8 and 9).

10.Mill loose tenon stock to complete the joint. First, plane a length of stock to fit the mortises. It should slip in without wiggling or binding. Rip the blank to width, slightly less than the mortises’ length.Next, round the blank’s edges to match the mortises. Then cut individual loose tenons from the blank.


Reinforce a cope and stick joint

Routed cope and stick joints look great, but their stub tenon construction may not be suitable for large cabinet doors. Adding loose tenons strengthens these joints.

Rout the mortises before you rout the cope and stick profiles, so you don't have to work around stub tenons on the ends of the rails. (The mortises won't interfere when you rout the profiles.) Center the mortises across the thickness of the workpiece.They probably won’t align with the stub tenons produced by the cope cuts, but that doesn’t matter, because everything will be hidden in the assembled joint.

Start with the end mortises.Offset them away from the rails' inner edges, so the panel groove won't cut into the mortises (Photos 12, 13 and 14). Locate the edge mortises in the stiles according to the rails' offset end mortises.

Be mindful of the rails' offset mortises when you rout the profile and panel grooves. It's all too easy to rout the wrong edge.


Twin mortise joints

In post-and-rail constructions made using thick stock, you can make stronger joints by doubling the loose tenons.The inside mortises on the posts of these corner joints will intersect, so they must be shorter; their tenons are mitered.The outside post mortises are deeper, so their tenons can be longer.The rail mortises can all be the same depth.

Orient the workpieces with their outside faces against the mortising block. Set up and rout the outside mortises.You'll have to change work holders when you switch from routing edge to end mortises. Reposition the bit and rout the inside mortises (Photo 15). Reduce the final plunge depth when you rout these mortises in the posts.


Loose tenon table joint

In this construction, the apron usually is inset from the leg faces.My approach is to set up for the mortises in the legs (Photos 16 and 17).To rout the aprons, I use double-faced tape to install a shim equal in thickness to the inset between the apron and the block (Photo 18).Be sure to install the aprons outside-face-in before routing their mortises.


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Micro Fence,, 800-480-6427, Micro Fence Edge Guide.

Buy Destaco,, 800-560-9292, De-Sta-Co Horizontal Toggle Clamps, #215U; #225U (500 lb. cap.).

Tap and Die sets are available at hardware stores and home centers.

Fig. A: Loose Tenon Mortising Jig

Despite their name, loose tenon joints fit as precisely as traditional mortise and tenon joints, and are just as strong.

Fig. B: Dimensions

Mortising Block

Stop Block

Horizontal Work Holder

Vertical Work Holder

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April/May 2009, issue #141.

April/May 2009, issue #141

Purchase this back issue.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Adapt your router to the jig by installing a fence on the edge guide that fits the slot formed by the jig's L-bracket.This keeps the bit aligned as the router slides back and forth. To move the bit laterally, you simply adjust the edge guide.

The Basic Loose Tenon Joint

1. Lay out one edge mortise on a test piece to set up the router and jig.The mortise centerline is used for positioning the workpiece on the mortising block—it's the only layout mark required for every mortise.

2. Set up the jig to rout the edge mortises. Install the horizontal work holder and position the test workpiece so its edge is flush with the top of the jig.Then tighten the bolts.

3. Align the work's mortise centerline with the jig's registration line.Then lock the test piece in position.

4. Install the router and adjust the edge guide to center the bit on the work.Then adjust the router's plunge-depth stop to the desired mortise depth.

5. Install the stop blocks. Move the router to one end of the mortise and align the bit's edge with the layout mark. Slide the stop against the router and tighten the bolt. Set the second stop the same way.

6. Rout the mortise with a series of shallow cuts. Plunge the bit about 1/8", feed quickly to the far stop, retract the bit, return to the starting position and go again.

7. Mark your stocks' outside faces and always orient the same face against the mortising block when you rout. Once all the edge mortises are routed, switch to the vertical work holder to rout the end mortises.

8. To mount the vertical holder, clamp a workpiece with its mortise centerline aligned with the jig's registration line. Slide the holder against the workpiece and tighten the bolts.

9. Install the router and rout the end mortise. The length, width, depth and placement of the mortise don't change when you switch work holders.

10. Size a loose tenon blank. Plane a length of stock to fit the mortises. It should slip in without wiggling or binding. Rip the blank to width, slightly less than the mortises' length.

11. Round the tenon blank's edges to match the mortises.Then use a crosscut sled to cut individual loose tenons from the blank.

Reinforce a Cope and Stick Joint

12. This variation requires offsetting the rail mortises, so they don't interfere with the panel groove. Lay out the offset mortise on a pre-routed rail.Then use this rail to position the vertical work holder.

13. Rout the mortises before you rout the cope and stick profiles.Your initial set-up positions the mortise in only one end of each rail, because both ends of the rail must be routed with the same face against the block.

14. To position the mortise in the other end, install a shim equal to the panel groove's depth between the work stop and the rail.

Twin Mortise Joints

15. Rout twin mortises in two steps. Lay out and rout the first mortises in both the edges and ends. Reposition the bit for the second mortises and go again. Always orient the same face against the fence.

Table Joint


16. With table joints, the aprons are usually inset from the legs.Start by mortising the legs. Clamp the leg with its outside faces against the block and the work-holder.Position the bit, set the stops and rout the mortise.

17. Flip and rotate the leg to rout the second mortise. It doesn't matter that the leg now extends in the opposite direction, because the mortises are centered on the jig's registration line.

18. To inset the aprons from the legs, you offset their mortises by the amount of the inset. Attaching a shim of the desired thickness to the jig automatically offsets the mortise correctly.


& Joinery">For Those Who Love Books, Travel & Joinery

For Those Who Love Books, Travel & Joinery

When I was a kid, I used books to escape from my (boring) Arkansas upbringing. Today, I use books to escape from the drudgery of air travel. Every room in our house is full of books, and there is never enough room for them all. So as a woodworker, I’m always building more bookcases that stack on top of other things – including other bookcases. This week I started building […]

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Visiting the Wellspring of Campaign Furniture

Visiting the Wellspring of Campaign Furniture

This week I’m in England doing research for my next book, “Campaign Furniture,” and spent today geeking out with Sean and Simon Clarke of Christopher Clarke Antiques – the world’s leading dealer of campaign antiquities. The Clarke brothers have handled thousands of pieces of campaign furniture built during two centuries of the peak of the … Read more »

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Defective Dovetail Diagnosis

Defective Dovetail Diagnosis

When I teach woodworking, most of my job is diagnosing defective dovetails. Tail walls that are not 90°. Floors of pin and tail boards that have lumps aplenty. My diagnosis tools are my sensitive fingers, a small square and my eyes. But in some situations, all of those tools fail. When cutting dovetails with skinny … Read more »

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Dovetails of 472 Flavors

Dovetails of 472 Flavors

If you think there are hard-and-fast rules about designing dovetails, don’t read any further. You’ll get an ulcer. North Carolina woodworker Mark Firley has collected a set of 472 photos of dovetails on antiques that he has collected in his travels all over the United States. Sift through this set, and you can find almost … Read more »

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I Want to Give You ‘Go Fever’

In some high technology circles there is an expression they use when engineers move too quickly to launch a project. They have “go fever” and are willing to overlook horrible mistakes in order to launch a product. When teaching woodworking – especially casework – I find that most students need to take down their protective netting, … Read more »

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Dovetails with Help from the Drill Press

Dovetails with Help from the Drill Press

When I make a lot of half-blind dovetails, I’ll use a drill press to help bore out the waste between the pins. The video below shows how I do. Some caveats to consider before you try to cram your boot between my buttocks via a comment below: 1. Ya, I use machines at times to … Read more »

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