Making mortises for a table


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I have just glued up my legs to the sides and back last night. This effort is to build a walnut version of the table done last year in cherry. Questions came up about the process of the build and there is no place to host a "how to" that will remain for others to see how something is built.

The last table(cherry) was bored out mortises and the shoulders were squared with a small chisel. This time I elected to see if just chopping them is more time consuming. Since I built the first table, I bought a set of the Narex mortise chisels during the trailer sale. I already have several good quality mortising chisels but the price was low so I bought them. Feedback on the 5/16 and 3/8 chisels: they are a very good value for the money. They are offered as sets of 5 or 6.

Once you scribe your lines, you can really go with a dedicated mortise chisel. I have never owned a mortising chisel attachment but the ones I have used still require chisel work to get them the way I like the finished mortise. Just me.

I have several ways of getting my tenons done but that is for another day.

I am not visiting the site quite as often as in the past so if you have questions I'll get back to you at some point.



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Bill Clemmons

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Dan, thanks for sharing your work processes. I always enjoy seeing how a craftsman chooses to do different aspects of their craft.


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Great post, Dan. What did you think about the time difference between bored and chiseled mortises? Do you find you have to resharpen in the middle of chiseling out a mortise? Thanks


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Here is the side piece laminated together and installed. I made this one build up with a walnut tenon piece so you could see my process when I don't feel like cutting the tenons. This is a great way to do strong traditional M/T joints.

For gluing up the sides and back I add a little salt to my hot hide and it gives me lots of time to fit and clamp all the corners. You have to wait till the next day but the glue is hard as a rock. Any clean up is done with a rag soaked in hot water. No ugly misting like yellow glue to worry about.


Here is the depth of the long tenons. They are mitered on the ends so they don't block the tenon from the other direction. Here you are seeing the walnut tenon on the right side piece and the all yellow pine back joined in the rear right corner. Notice how tight fitting the shoulders can be fitted before the glue up.


Here are some sample of my drawer fronts when the time comes. I will planed them level with my toothing planes and finish with a scraper. Hopefully, I will reach my goal of using no sandpaper on this project.
We'll see.

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Great post, Dan. What did you think about the time difference between bored and chiseled mortises? Do you find you have to resharpen in the middle of chiseling out a mortise? Thanks
Well I think the difference between bored and finished with chisels vs chisels only is pretty close. I bored one rear leg and finished the shoulders out with a chisel. The other corner was just a 5/16 mortise chisel all the way with a good size mallet.

I have a nice goose-neck chisel to clean the bottoms of the mortise and give me a nice surface. In my view the Mortise and tenon joint is the most challenging work if you try to do it by hand. I find it very enjoyable to turn the machines off and concentrate on the task in front of me. Like other joints that you get better at over time it takes practice to get it right.

Chris on the subject of mortise chisels and maintenance: I flat grind my chisels to 20 degrees. This is a holdover from my days of chopping lots of mortise pockets in large timber-frame projects. Additionally, I keep a piece of leather glued to a thin board in my back pocket and I hone it now and then to keep an edge. When I am in the shop I have a buffing wheel charged with white oxide compound that is very aggressive. If I buff it for 20 seconds that's a bunch. I know there are others that don't like buffing but to each his own on that note.

Over the years I have seen lots of different approaches to this joint. One observation I have made: you can pound the day lights out of your chisels in a mad dash to the finish line or you can set a pace and work steady and carefully and you don't have to go back. I don't like big "beetles or commanders" while working at the bench. Some do.


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As I decide on the table top and the drawer faces, I have to make drawers and dividers.


The dividers are not glue till the last minute after all little tweeks are smoothed out.

Still have a ways to go but its very enjoyable. After the boat build, doing a couple chairs and a table to go to the market seems easy. I like smaller things these days.


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Quick update on the table progress before I depart for New England again. Here is the side of the table. Notice the small bead on the bottom of the rail? I didn't do that on the earlier table in cherry.

Below you can see the drawers getting ready to receive the cockbeading on the faces.


The photo below shows the side cut but the top and bottom are "worried in" a little at a time with my shoulder plane and guide. Slow but fun. The sides(in front of the pins were done with a Japanese saw and chisels. Yes a table saw does the too but.. I have 2 birds building a nest in the shop right now so I elected to go "all in on the handwork" for the drawers.


Top drawer needs some planing and fitting after the glue up is dry. On to the bottom drawer.
Notice the cherry bead on the bottom rail?



A little extra wood on the side for adjusting the depth. The faces do not stop the drawer like a thumbnail face.



The 2 boards(veneered top and bottom) to match. Each is 10" wide but will be cut to a final width of 18" when glued.


Before it was glued up.


Been fun so far but I've been busy with other projects. Leaving tomorrow for a couple weeks.

till then


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Here you see the wood removed to make a space for the cockbead. The space on the long grain will be entirely removed but the end grain section where you see the pins is set. This time I tried my Stanley 45 and the stop for exact depth.


One down and one to go.

Notice the center divider is not finished? I have to color this to match the drawer fronts. I added some yellow dye prior to the Garnetlac wash coat.


Looking at the bottom divider, you can see I am getting closer to the tone of drawer color. A little more fussing and I will have the match. I am using dyes, some artists oil paint(oil stain), a clear wash coat of blonde shellac and then garnet to get the warmth I hope to achieve.


Notice the sapwood at the top of the photo? This will take some work but its doable.


Not too much showing on the sapwood above. Look at the one below.


The sapwood dyed and colored is at the bottom of the photo. Not great but most viewers would not know its colored.


The veneered top is 7/8 inch before shaping the edges down.


If you look at the edges, they are now 1/2" with a long bevel. It lightens the appearance like the earlier one in cherry and maple.

After I get the table top just right with the shellac, I have mixed up and old time varnish with some cobalt I have mixed in for hardness. It also allows you to buff it a little in the end.

I have to put the brass pulls on the drawers and put pins in all the tenons around the casing.

Will post more a little later. Questions comments send them along.

I had hoped to get back to the picnic last Saturday but travel plans just got delayed and I missed it.

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