The Paul Sellers’ Mortise & Tenon Method | Paul Sellers

The Paul Sellers’ Mortise & Tenon Method | Paul Sellers

December 10, 2019 100 By Luis Garrison


I want to introduce you to a system of
mortise and tenon joinery that I’ve developed it combines some system
aspects of a system that I’ve used before but this is the complete and
whole piece and I want it for you because it’s going to help you to
construct frames for panels for doors and other types of frames that will give
you the absolute perfection you want in the alignment of the inside and outside
face where a rail meets a stile where a bottom rail meets a stile and so on and
the system relies on these two pieces of wood or whatever framework you’re going
to make your wood from being deadly accurate when it’s machined
and so generally we do use machined stock but we can do that by hand
as well but we’re going to use these two pieces
they’ve been machined they’re dead parallel they’re dead square and that’s
what you get with machines so let me show you what I mean because I’m gonna
lay out for the mortise hole here so this is going to go into this rail here
this stile let’s pretend it’s a stile I’m gonna make a line across here dead
square bring my piece for my rail in here this will be my tenoned piece so I
go into that knife nick and this is going to be a through tenon but it works
this system works for a stop tenon as well so I’m getting these as accurately
as I can because this is what joinery is all about it’s about accuracy it’s about
how much you care about the joinery so I’m going on this opposite side now I
might not make this line all the way across generally when I’m making a
door because I wouldn’t want the lines in the wood but I just want to show you
the system and this is what you’re going to get something very very unusual about
this system is that we do not use a mortise gage although you can use a
mortise gage we’re actually going to use a router to create the width of
the mortise hole so I make a line down here like this flip it end for end
like this turn it around and put the second wall in end for end again and my
second wall is here that’s given me a slightly wider opening than the width of
my chisel by about a millimeter in this case but you could go two or even three
millimeters it doesn’t matter we take the same router I’m going to mark the
end at the width of this because my tenon this is going to be my tenon piece
this piece is going to go through and you’ll notice that I’m not registering
my square against any particular edge because everything is parallel so I can
go all the way around like this if I want to and the corners from these I’m I
would normally cross over like this and you can do that or as I say if it’s
machined accurately it’s not really necessary so there we have the tenon
piece now watch what happens here again we take the same router we run it along
here flip over end for end now be careful because you are using a knife
edge on this and there is my tenon on to the end here like this turn it around
this is you’re going to love this method it knocks the socks off anything I’ve
ever seen for hand-cut joinery it’s great so I’m
gonna cut my tenon in this let’s do that at first I’ll chop my mortise afterwards I’m gonna make a little step down here
slide my tenon saw into here you just drop my saw with each stroke up against
that wall like this down to the line flip over
I do the same again that small knife nick that chisel step down just gives
me the recess to drop the saw in there this is the next thing this is rather
unusual let me show you what I mean I’m going to go here about maybe half an
inch from the end make a second wall down to the line
and then I’m going to take this and chisel down to the near the line watch
here now I just pop it with the heel of my hand here like this and go down a
little bit deeper with each pass like this oh this is lovely so I’m shooting for the sky I don’t go all the
way through this is what happens with this type of wood this is sapele and it
does have a habit of splitting in the wrong place but this is going to be fine
you’ll see this very nicely in a minute now we come from the opposite face so
I’ve stopped just above my line there and then about maybe three sixteenth
an eighth of an inch more down pop it use a chisel hammer if your hands are not
toughened up I think that’s important you don’t have to do it this way so I’m
staying above my line and I’m shooting for the sky so I’ve got this hump in
the middle now and then here I’m staying above it’s still going to be a fat tenon at the moment
but this next bit you’re going to just love what we’re going to do now I’m
2/3 mill above my line gonna take my roughing out router here so I’m setting
this so that the blade goes above the surface and then watch this now so I just move across
swiveling this to take that level down turn it half a term go down a notch more like this keep going down with half
turns taking care not to go down to the full
depth because that’s why we had this router set we wanted this one set because we never want to alter that and
that is already feeling really nice so then I take this router just drop this
on I’m still got too much to take off with that one so I’m going cautiously
because I don’t know which way this grain is running work through from both
sides rather than splitting off this unsupported fibre on this side and then just gently
your kinda using this edge just as you might a chisel when your pare
cutting so you’re feeling for the grain the run of the grain and trying to work
with it let’s try the final depth one now see what we’ve got I think it’s
still a hair too much just those little nudges here I’m going to check myself
just to make sure I’ve not gone too deep it’s very close so I’m gonna back off
just a little bit there we go I’m using my right hand to register against
this face here now the final depth is with this one I was too close on
that one I was right on the depth so this is pressing this right hand is pressing
down hard and this one is swiveling into the cut and now I’ve got a super fine
planed surface there and we flip over and we do exactly the same on the
other side so we’ve got this right on the line double-handed I just angled my chisel
there let’s start like this just to get the corner of chisel in first close to
my depth line here couple mil above just take out that mid section
I wanted this method because many of my students just could not get the
alignment they wanted and I agonized over it and I came up with this I’m
pretty sure you’ll love it okay back to the rough router here I’m going to bring
it up and you can hopefully see by now when I
go to that router I don’t think we’re ready for this one yet nope when I go to
that router it’s already set so it equi-distances the cheeks of the tenon
perfectly from both sides if you have a half-a-dozen tenons to cut you just
work down them all equally flipping from one to the other until you get to that
last section so I keep trying this to make sure I’m not going too deep a
little bit more it’s a sensitive process but oh it’s so nice you want sharpness of course
chisel sharp plane sharp I don’t have to spend too much refining that here’s my
last pass am I too much I am a little bit too much but I always think I’m
nearer than I am mm-hmm and these routers never I’ve never come
across a router that actually takes you exactly to depth so here I’m
gonna test it again that felt like a lot of material no it’s good
make sure you cinch these tight check them periodically hmm I think something shifted there yeah
just keep checking yourself so keep checking yourself make sure the depth
isn’t self-adjusting and you’ll probably see by now how leaving these two end
pieces on helped me to register the plane on both sides which guarantees the
surface is para planar para planer to this surface so oh I just love this love that
sound the feel I didn’t go all the way through remember I don’t know break off
these corners just feel for that grain and there is my surface of my cheek is planed
perfectly so what happens now there they are I think you can see I can see the
lines line up perfectly with this put this in the vise just take your tenon saw and cut it fat leave the line in by one or two mil even cut away from the cheek I’m cutting
away from the cheek here squeeze here just to give you a little bit of
friction on the plate stop you from overshooting so I have a step there I’ll
do this one while I’m in the zone and now I rely on my right hand pressing
down here quite aggressively to make sure but not insensitively so I’m
working on this like this this feels quite like a lot there I’m going to turn
this around and I’m going to switch to my chisel because that feels like I left
a little bit too much meat on I think so I’m going sensitively spinning that
on my left hand be sensitive be conscious of this hand pressing down
very firmly here a little bit left in the middle there I’ll have to come from
that side cause of the grain direction there it is there’s my tenon on one side
done the grain was against me there it was a little bit more awkward than I had
hoped okay for what we’ve actually done we’ve created a tenon as we would on any
piece of wood for a rail what I’m going to do now is something a little bit
different one thing I want to do is just chisel down these two shoulders with a
wide chisel just to take off the fuzzy bit so I just go into the shoulder here
is just because that would hold the joint off probably I think I could
actually do it so you can see what I’m doing here if I go on here and put my
chisel right on the top here like that so now I’m sure the shoulders
are smooth aligned and everything so what I’m going to do now is I’m going to
cut this off but you have to pretend that this is a rail but I want to cut
this off because I’m actually going to make this into my jig to guide my
mortise hole but you would have taken you would have had a tenon at both ends
so in other words what you’ll do when you’re making your tenon rails you’ll
make one additional piece that will make your guide for this section of the
exercise here can you see how this now lines up perfectly with the lines of my
mortise hole so this now goes right on here and we clamp this in the vise to
chop the mortise start away from your line and now my mortise hole lines are
way off I’ve got about a millimeter over so I’m chopping here turn my chisel
around keep my bevel of my chisel perpendicular chop and lever chop and
lever I’m going to turn my chisel around now go up towards I’m going to just
sneak in on my knife wall try to keep it perpendicular you can
see I’m slightly off but as I go deeper it will become more perpendicular I
believe so there is my last cut here perpendicular and lever and now this
will go progressively deeper towards the other side when I said a few minutes ago
that my gauge lines were off I meant that there was just a millimeter between
the width of the chisel so it’s not really off in that way it was an
intentional off it was a an intentional margin there and you’ll see why in just
a minute and also I want to tell you the reason I
cut this down was because the bolster of the chisel will catch against the wood
if it’s too tall so you do end up making it as a bonafide jig or guide chisel wants
to twist there so I’m actually going deeper and deeper as I move across to
this other side and the important thing is to keep your
chisel so it hits the top you can keep it in the center between the lines down
below but make sure this hits the top because that’s what guarantees this
outer wall is going to be pristine when we finish this the deeper you go the
more debris you’ll find in the bottom of the mortise so just clear it as you go
if you can use a narrower chisel so how deep am I now let me see how deep I am
this is the thickness I’m going to so I’m 1/3 of the way through but that
doesn’t it really goes very fast after this I’m closing in on the extreme end of
the wall now I’m in my knife wall lined up I look for it being close to
perpendicular the single sided bevel tends to drive it off a little bit come
about a third of the way along your mortise hole now and keep the bevel of
your chisel this part perpendicular this time and just lever that waste but
don’t try to remove it necessarily what this is doing it’s sending me all the
deeper and I keep my chisel aligned with my new guide here so this is really quite deep now
last little bit chisel turned around right into my knife wall like this till I hear
that dead sound it’s going ch ch ch ch du then I stop and this is when I can gauge
how far down I am can you see I’ve gone to that depth so I’m just over halfway
perfect take this out of the way bring in a narrower chisel in this case I’ve
been using a half inch chisel for the mortise and this is a 3/8 chisel just
twist the chisel auger like into that fiber these are all loose I’m not trying
to clean up the bottom just remove the waste and that’s it from this side but
what I want to show you is what happens now with this this goes on here this
clamps in the vise and we can pare down this with a wide chisel like this we
just pare down here registered against this wall and just pair cut down here
like this and I love what I can see inside there
because I have this pristine surface go to the other side (cough) bit of dust go low
down in the vise so you get an equal clamping pressure and here we go down
here just rock that chisel and pair cut down
that inner surface so let me show you inside here smooth wall smooth wall just
you know don’t worry if there’s a slight undulation in there it shouldn’t matter
this is great for me I’m just gonna clean these fibers out of the corner and
then hopefully by now you can see the value of all of if that was a stop mortise
then that would be ready to go we’re going to flip over set up the alignment jig here
and do exactly the same from this side and see where we go let’s start again
away from my line start levering when you’ve got further away from your line lift that waste out so it doesn’t jam
the chips from the next series of chops keep that chisel registered soon I’ll
hear myself go through to the other side I can feel my chisel twisting try to
avoid that as best you can it’ll depend on the grain of the wood
you’re using I’m using sapele here this would be very nice in oak cherry walnut maybe I was over ambitious thinking I
would meet the other side in this run twisted again this works very quickly
very effectively and for a hand tool enthusiast it’s about as good as it gets turn around right into my knife wall now this last
bit just to straighten up if I can okay bevel it perpendicular just like we did
before part way along this will even up or even deepen this side of the mortise
hole it’s very solid this wood still feels
solid at the bottom I’m gonna break out here just for a second and clean out
some of the debris this will be the same depth as the other side of course the
bottom is not even just lift out some of those fibers try not to break off the
end of the mortise hole I’m careful not to lever against the end because
it’ll show on the outside of the joint when I’m done back with my block my
guide and away we go again the block the guide can go from either
side even after you’ve started it makes no difference
that was me going through I’m just levering the separated waste just a
little bit try not to let it go too far into the other side because your
chisel could go through all the way to the other extreme and damage the wall on
the visible side I’ve turned my chisel around there I am okay so in the middle section here I’m
going with my chisel across grain like this just to or along the grain actually
across those cuts just to clean up the midsection so now this looks quite ugly
inside on this side this would be fairly typical for a mortise hole at first so
inside this hole I’ve got fibers on both the walls and this is what this method
takes care of this goes on here again just line it up carefully cinch it
nice and tight and just rock that chisel with your upper shoulder pressure hear that felt like I had met the other
side turn it round come to this side I do love this method I have to say I’ve
used it many times now and that is the inside of my mortise hole and I’m ready to try
the joint now I’m ready to try the tenon in there see how it goes just clean up
these corners like I did on the other side with a narrower chisel just to get
rid of that and then I use my normal testing system which is to put this here
corner to corner like that make sure it fits corner to corner this side and
flip over and check it from this side and there and I’m happy I’m going to try
this and I’m still prepared to take another thou off the cheeks of these
tenons but what I’m gonna do is and I don’t think personally that I could get
a better tenon than that what do you think very nice simple
effective and it’s all yours you go ahead practice it you will have
tenon making down for the rest of your life