There are millions of styles of woodworking joinery. The mortise and tenon joint is as strong, clean, and simple as it gets. Truthfully, it is a joint you will want in your skill set. The mortise and tenon (M&T) joints are primarily used when you are joining the end grain of one board to the edge grain of the other. A mortise is merely a hole cut in the edge grain to receive a matching tenon cut on the end grain. Figure 1 is an example of a mortise (B) and tenon (A) Joint. There are several different techniques to secure the tenon into the mortise. However, the simplest form uses friction and wood glue.
Replacing the Butt Joint and Pocket Hole Jig
Pocket holes and pocket hole jigs are famous for providing quick and somewhat reliable joints. I admit, I own a pocket hole jig and use it often. I also get lazy and only butt two pieces of wood together, put a few screws in and call it good. However, when working on a project that needs stout, seamless joints, the M&T joint is a go-to solution. The M&T joint has been proven to be more reliable than both the pocket hole method and the lazier butt-joint method. Coupled with its strength, the M&T joint struts a seamless, aesthetic connection.
How to Make a Mortise and Tenon Joint
For ages, craftsmen have used wood chisels to chop mortises, and cut tenons with a tenon saw. Paul Sellers is a great teacher for learning to cut a mortise and saw a tenon with hand tools. However, I use a mortise and tenon jig coupled with a plunge base router. The jig clamps to my workbench. My M&T jig is designed to make matching mortises and tenons using a router. Some use a tenon jig on the table saw, but I have had better luck with the router.
It is satisfying to build a piece of furniture using as few fasteners and hardware as possible. A coworker asked me to make a hall tree for her. At the time, it was the first piece of furniture that I had ever built for someone else; I wanted it done right. I take pride that it took eight screws to make the hall tree and only a hand full of brad nails. With a combination of dado and M&T joints, this piece of furniture is sturdy and should last a long time. It’s all too often we get caught up in the ability to make things fast, though, and we lose the craftsmanship of woodworking. Above all, take pride in what you build! Challenge yourself and learn a new skill or technique! Besides, if you haven’t tried to incorporate M&T Joinery into one of your projects, you should.
Keep up the good work!