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Thread: mortise techniques

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Central (upstate) NY

    mortise techniques

    Well, looks like I'm going to be making some mortises soon. Trying to decide whether to invest in a mortise machine, a mortise pal type jig or some better chisels. For that matter, let me know if I'm forgetting some other technique for making mortises.

    How do you all like to make mortises and why?


  2. #2
    Last time I made mortises I used a forstener bit and a chisel because at the time I didnit have the tools to do it any other way. It was actualy very satisfiying! Now I think I would buy an attachment for my drill press but it realy would biol down to how many I had to do. I just might stick with the forstner bits and chisels.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    falcon heights, minnesota
    i use my jet mortising machine, its easy, its quick, which is good. i also have 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" chisels for it, so it only takes a minute or two to go from one to the other. as far as using a dedicated machine or some jig on a drill press, i would prefer a dedicated machine, for the simple reason that it is made just for one task, and usually is very good at that task. to me, a jig on a drill press is an example of jerry rigging a tool to do something that it wasn't originally designed for. sort of along the lines of "you can attach a tablesaw blade to a drill, it can be done, but it makes for a mighty awkward handling saw". as for other ways, you can go really old school and do them by hand, with chisels, if you have the time. you can always use a plunge router, or drill press, but with both, you still have to square up the corners, and clean up the sides. also with using a router, they usually require the purchase or construction of a specialized jig to hold the router. with a dedicated machine, you avoid all the stuff and nonsense of cleaning up your mortises. with a dedicated machine, you're already fitting your tenons and moving on to the next thing, while with the other methods, you're still cleaning up your mortises. with that said, ya knows where i stands.
    benedictione omnes bene

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    No, not all of SoCal is Los Angeles!
    If you'll be using this as a regular method of joinery I would go for a Mortise Pal. If it's just a dozen, a Forstner on the DP and a little chisel work should do you.
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Southern Louisiana
    mark i used the delta drill press attachment when i built my son's crib, had to do alot of mortises and it worked well. it is available at most lowes and i think it's about 69 can't do everything a dedicated mortiser can do but it does work well.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Villa Park, CA
    Yep, I'd ask the same question as Glenn -"How many are you going to make?" If it's a small number, just drill them out and clean up with a chisel.

    For a large number, the absolute best is a horizontal slot mortiser - but they tend to be somewhat expensive. Laguna is suppose to have a good one at a reasonable price (I think it was about $1,000).


    [Just a comment about those attachments for the drill press. My experience has not been good. First, there's the time to put it on and take it off. Second, the arm of the DP is not long enough so it's tough to make the mortises. Also, many of those attachments are not that good, although with some work (sharpening) you can make them work decently. But I'd recommend a dedicated mortiser rather than a DP attachment.]
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 06-18-2009 at 12:49 AM.
    Ancora imparo
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  7. #7
    Drill and chisel is the most satisfying method. Although, for production, the deticated Morticer is the way to go. If you have a "FEW" to do then drill and chisel is as fast as it takes to set up a mortiser attachment or the deticated mortiser...

    I does have a mortiser attachment so I speak from experience...

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    falcon heights, minnesota
    i beg to differ with you on one part bill. if we were mortising the same four legs of say, a small table, with the legs square, and mortises running down the centerline, i'm betting that i would be done with all 16 mortises long before someone drilling and cleaning with a chisel. that's with a dedicated mortising machine. i would have hated to go the drill/chisel route with my morris chairs, spindle sided, with 48 spindles per chair...
    benedictione omnes bene

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    new york city burbs
    I lack the experience and knowledge of most on this board, but I have posted all my work Ive completed over the past year or so.
    I used the drill press attachment for over 1000 mortises.(a few hundred in difficult hardwoods like ipe, and my tabletop drill press had no problem)
    I find setup is like anything else, changing over blades in my bandsaw, etc....its just time. It would be nice to have a dedicated mortiser, maybe someday, but at the time, I never thought Id be making much that would call for so many mortises.
    I find the delta mortiser attachment to be top notch, for 79 bucks, its been the most time saving piece of equipment as far as bang for the buck goes as Ive ever owned.
    Im sure dedicated machines give you more depth on cut, and more power, but I dont have a single complaint about the attachment.
    Id love to have 3 tablesaws also.(and Tods radial arm saw besides)

    IF youre going to cut a few and only a few, a drill press and bit with a hand chisel will be quick enough work.
    If youre going to cut a few dozen a month, think about an attachment for the drill press, (delta throws in 3 chisels and bits, all for 79 bucks)
    If youre going to be cutting a few hundred a month, Id go for a dedicated mortiser.

    I always weigh the amount of use a piece of equipment will get to justify its cost.
    I will buy a dedicated mortiser eventually, only to have the convience of having a dedicated machine, but for now, I think Delta came up with an outstanding alternative, and I give them credit for the fabulous price.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Austin, Texas
    I am surprised that nobody has mentioned a router.

    I had the drill press attachment, and agree that it worked very well, but it also took a fair amount of setup time, and was hard to keep sharp.

    I got a combo machine with a slot mortiser, so now use floating tenons and cut lots of mortises... and sold my drill press attachment.

    I have a set of mortising chisels, and teach their use, but do not routinely use them.

    I use the drill press with a forstner bit and chisel out the extra waste when the mortise is not square to the face. This requires a good fence for perfect alignment of the holes.

    The slot mortiser works very well, but if I need a mortise in an odd place, I drop back to a router rather than drill and chisel. To give support, such as a mortise in the end of a board, I just clamp other board(s) to the work piece, Some additional scraps screwed or clamped as needed provide the edge guide and limits to the position of the mortise. A jig like this is done in minutes so I don't even keep it for reuse... just raid the scrap bin.

    If someone took away my slot mortiser, I would go the router route, and would also consider the Festool Domino.
    Charlie Plesums, Austin Texas
    (Retired early to become a custom furnituremaker)
    Lots of my free advice at

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