The mortise tenon joinery method is undoubtedly one of the oldest and one of the strongest methods of joinery associated with table making.

Woodturning and Woodworking - Advanced Project

Mortise tenon joinery is the subject of this page of the Door-to-Table wood shop project. You have seen what I did with the door, how to make your own wood turning stock, and how to turn the long table legs. On this page we will begin working on the understructure of the table.

In Pictures 1 - 6 of mortise tenon joinery, I show you how to drill a mortise using a drill press and mortise chisel. Pictures 7-8 refer to the table aprons. Pictures 9-14 show you how I cut tenons on the aprons.

The Mortise

Begin Mortise Tenon Joinery

In Picture #1, I am locating the mortise. I want to keep it down from the top of the table so that I will have that much to help hold it in there. I have determined by the apron width that I want the mortise to be 3" long. Drilling the mortise is just a matter of going back and forth with the chisel, which is set at the depth that I want the mortise to be. In this case, I want it to go 1" into the table leg. Pictures 1 - 6 show the details of drilling the mortise. Each table leg has a mortise on two sides, 90 degrees from each other.

Picture #1: Mark top of leg for mortise.

Picture of marking top of leg for mortise.

Picture #2: Draw lines for mortise.

Picture of drawing mortise lines on table leg.

Picture #3: Begin drilling mortise.

Picture of beginning to cut a mortise.

Picture #4: Drilling mortise with mortise chisel.

Picture of cutting mortise in table leg using a mortise chisel mounted on a drill press..

Picture #5: Drilling Mortise in table leg continued.

Picture of drilling mortise in table leg.

Picture #6: Completed mortise.

Picture of mortise in table leg.

If you do not have a drill press and mortise chisel, you can bore holes with a drill and bit and then straighten the sides slowly and carefully with a sharp chisel. If you use a drill and bit, mark the depth of the mortise on the bit with a piece of tape so that you do not cut the mortise too deeply.

The Table Aprons

Continue Mortise Tenon Joinery

The picture below, #7, shows the location of the table legs. As I have mentioned before, using this old door, you can see that the crosspieces that hold the door together are not the same distance from the end of the door. The crosspieces are 1" thick so, because two of the table legs will be positioned on one of the crosspieces, I have to cut the top of two of the table legs down by 1".

Next, I start the aprons - the boards that go from leg to leg. The design of the table, being an antique design, has a larger apron on the drawer side of the table (Picture #8). Rather than using one board and cutting two holes in it for the drawers, I have glued a 2" wide strip on each side of three panels, leaving the proper size that I want to make the drawers. The length, height and width of the back apron and the side aprons are standard based upon the size of the table that you are building.

Picture #7: Position legs on underside of tabletop.

Picture of leg positions on underside of table top.

Picture #8: Front table apron with drawer holes.

Picture of front section of a table apron with holes for two drawers.

The Tenon

Finish Mortise Tenon Joinery

You have to cut the tenons on the ends of the aprons so that they fit the mortises. If you do not have a mortise blade to go on your saw, then do it like I do - with patience and one blade - and go back and forth across the end of the board until you have it cut. Notice in Picture #9 that I am sawing the side of the tenon - I have already sawed the top of it. I have set my saw so that I take the same amount off of each side of the boards. You will have your fence on the saw set for the correct depth so that you will just go back and forth on both ends of the board. When done, you will leave a 1/2" tenon which will fit in the mortise.

Looking at Picture #10, you can see that I am marking the tenon so that I can determine how much I need to cut off so that the tenon will match the mortise. Leaving your fence on the saw in the same position in which you just had it, bring the saw blade up to your markings and go back and forth until you have cut the tongue on it. Take your time and move the board back and forth so that you cut off both ends as you can see in Pictures #11 and #12.

Picture #9: Cut tenon on tablesaw.

Picture of cutting a tenon on the tablesaw.

Picture #10: Measure tenon length.

Picture of measuring the length of a tenon to cut on the tablesaw .

Picture #11: Cutting tenon.

Picture of cutting tenon on table saw.

Picture #12: Cutting tenon continued.

Picture of cutting tenon on table saw.

In Picture #13 you see the top of the table leg with two mortises and part of an apron showing a tenon. Each table leg will have two aprons joined to it.

Picture #14 shows you the assembly of the mortise and tenon. You put glue on the tenon and then force it into the mortise - the tighter the fit the better. If it fits tight enough that you have to drive it in using a rubber hammer, that is good. In mortise tenon joinery, the tighter the fit - the stronger the joint.

Picture #13: Mortises for two aprons.

Picture of two mortises in top of table leg.

Picture #14: Join mortise and tenon.

Picture of joining mortise and tenon.

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