Morning Mortises

Spent some time in the shop this morning, and got the mortises chopped on the Shaker Dog Food Stand. It’s easy to forget just how much work it takes to do different things. Cutting four mortises in the top of this piece probably took, I don’t know for sure, but maybe an hour and a half. I’m sure I could ask my upstairs neighbors and they could tell me exactly how long I was banging away this Saturday morning (I piddled around doing other things before starting in on the mortises at 8 a.m.).

I started out by drilling small holes through at the four corners of each mortise. This step really wasn’t necessary: the tenons are wedged and quick pencil marks measuring the widths would have been good enough. This way though I had a chance to use my new hand drill.


I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read someone talk about doing this, but I always find myself cutting out the outline of my mortises (wide ones like these that are going to visible, anyway). I watch the way the wood splits to the sides of my chisel, and worry about it going past the outline of my mortise. I like to imagine that my cuts stop this from occurring.


Something I don’t know – hopefully in this photo you can see what I’m talking about: is there something I’m doing that causes the wood to rip away inside this joint? It won’t be visible, and the joint is surely strong enough to handle the strain, but I feel like this shouldn’t happen.


I am quickly getting to a point where I can’t imagine working without rasps. I used to get into these mortises with the chisel and make small adjustments so the tenons fit. With the rasp I have much more control over how much material I remove. It’s also much easier to tell if the surface I’m making is actually flat.


There’s still a lot to do yet, but the project is taking shape.


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8 Responses to Morning Mortises

  1. snwoodwork says:

    Are your chisels sharp? That’s usually when I go back & touch mine up when the wood starts tearing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wesley Beal says:

      Geez – I think so. In fact I touched my mortise chisel up prior to this. I’ll admit that I do find sharpening a 1/4″ mortising chisel unfamiliar compared to sharpening planes or “standard” bevel edged chisels.


  2. spokeshave27 says:

    Wesley, my guess is that your bevel chisel is not sharp. It’s hard to tell from the image. You can test the sharpness by taking a piece of pine and see if you can pare off the end grain. If it is truly sharp is should cut off a waxy layer. Alternatively take a piece of the wood you are using and pare a corner end grain vertically.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wesley Beal says:

      I’ll be testing this soon. The bevel chisel hadn’t been used as of that photo (except for the small lines around the mortise). Only the mortise chisel (red handled one in the photo above).

      I find sharpening the mortise chisel more challenging than my bevel-edge chisels. It doesn’t fit the eclipse-style guide, so I sharpen in free hand. It’s much easier to sharpen free hand than the bevel edge chisels, but still harder for me to insure I get the consistency I can get with the guide. Practice, practice, practice.


      • spokeshave27 says:

        Ah! – that’s a big hole to chop with that mortise chisel. Mortise chisels are typically used in a mortise that is the width of the blade – so a 3/8″ mortise chisel would produce a mortice 3/8″ wide. A better way is to hog out most of the wood using a spiral auger and then clean up the hole with the bevel chisel – less stress on the arm!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wesley Beal says:

          You’re telling me! 1/4 inch wide chisel, 3/4 inch wide mortise. I skipped the auger this time. I recalled some expert that tried to say it didn’t really save time in the end. I concluded this morning that the expert was full of it.

          I *think* the style of chisel I have is called a sash mortise chisel. Once I’m at the point where I’m buying tools I already own, I want to get this traditional English style one:

          To me, it looks like it’ll more easily remove material.


  3. wb8nbs says:

    Just drill a string of large holes and pare the sides with a bench chisel. That’s how Saint Roy would do it.

    Liked by 1 person

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