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Home > Projects & DIY Toolkit > How-To Articles > Making a Mortise and Tenon Joint

Making a Mortise and Tenon Joint

Mortise and tenon joinery has been used for everything from ships to elaborate Victorian furniture. The joint is extremely strong, owing to the large mating area between the tenon and mortise. The high surface areas provide plenty of space for gluing and added strength. Demonstrate your skill and add longevity to your projects with this tried and true joinery. Lowe's is happy to provide this information as a service to you.


Tools & Materials

  •   • Back saw
  •   • Combination square
  •   • Drill press with mortising attachment or Drill/driver and doweling jig
  •   • Chisel
  •   • Wooden mallet
  •   • Clamps
  •   • Tape measure
  •   • Dust mask
  •   • Goggles
  •   • Hearing protection


  •   • Wood stock
  •   • Wood glue

Make the Tenon

There are many types of mortise and tenon joints, but they all work on the same principle:

  •   • A precise protrusion is milled into an end of one member of a joint. The protrusion is the tenon.

  •   • A mortise is cut in the second member of the joint to receive the tenon.

In this article we'll discuss making a blind mortise and tenon joint. You can apply the principles here to make any type of mortise and tenon joint. Click here to see our gallery of various mortise and tenon joints.


Tenon length, width and thickness.

Tenon marked for cutting.

Before you start milling the tenon, there are a few commonly-observed rules you should follow to ensure you have a sound joint. The tenon should be:

  •   • Centered on and 1/3 the thickness of the work piece.

  •   • At least 2/3 the width of the work piece.

  •   • At least 1/2" long.

1. Lay out the tenon length on the board. Measure in from the end of the board a distance equal to the tenon length and make a mark. Use a square to transfer the mark to each edge and face of the board. The marks represent the tenon's shoulder lines.

2. Lay out the tenon thickness on the edges of the board. Measure in 1/3 the thickness of the work piece from each face and mark each edge. Use a square or a marking gauge to mark the edges of the work piece from the shoulder line to the end. These lines are called cheek lines.

3. Lay out the tenon width on the faces of the work piece. Measure in 1/3 the thickness of the work piece from each edge and mark each face. Use a square or a marking gauge to mark the faces of the work piece from the shoulder lines to the end. These lines are called cheek lines.

4. Cut the tenon cheeks. Clamp the work piece in a vise with the marked end facing up. Use a back saw to cut along the cheek lines to the shoulder lines.

5. Cut the shoulder lines. Lay the work piece flat and cut the shoulder lines all the way around the work piece. The waste pieces will release as you cut through to each kerf from the cheek cuts.

Good idea: For a quick, efficient way to cut precise, uniform tenons check out our Tenoning Jig article.

Make the Mortise

Mortise depth, width and thickness.

Marking the mortise location.

Cutting the mortise.

The mortise can be cut in the face, end or edge of the second work piece, depending on the exact application for the joint. In our example the mortise will be cut in the edge of the work piece. Keep in mind that the mortise must receive the tenon snugly. There should be enough friction for the joint to hold during dry fitting. But, the joint should not be so tight that it requires pounding during assembly. The mortise should be:

  • The same thickness as the tenon.

  • The same width as the tenon.

  • Deeper than the tenon's length by 1/32" to 1/16" to prevent the tenon from bottoming out in the mortise.

1. Lay out the mortise width. Lay the tenon over the face of the second work piece at the location where the work pieces will be joined. Mark each side of the tenon on the face of the second work piece. Use a square to transfer the marks to the edge of the work piece. These lines represent the width of the mortise.

2. Lay out the mortise thickness. Measure in 1/3 the thickness of the work piece from each face and mark the edge. Use a square or a marking gauge to mark the edge of the work piece between the mortise width lines. These lines represent the thickness of the mortise.

3. Use a drill press with a mortising attachment or a mortise machine to cut the mortise to the desired depth.

Join the Pieces

Once the pieces are cut, it's time to assemble them.

Good idea:To fix a tenon that's a little thin, glue a piece of wood veneer to one of the cheeks to increase the thickness.

1. Dry fit the pieces together to ensure they fit properly. Make any necessary adjustments to the parts.

2. Disassemble the dry fit. Glue and clamp the pieces. Allow the glue to cure according to the glue manufacturer's instructions.You can also make the mortise using a doweling jig and drill. Just be sure to square up the sides with a chisel so you have good mating surfaces for the joint.

Tools, products, materials, techniques, building codes and local regulations change; therefore, Lowe's assumes no liability for omissions, errors or the outcome of any project. The reader must always exercise reasonable caution, follow current codes and regulations that may apply, and is urged to consult with a licensed professional if in doubt about any procedures. Please visit our terms of use.

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