How to Lay Out and Cut a Mortise

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To lay out and cut a mortise, first split your wood into third-inch and half-inch sections, then hog the waste away with a drill and chisel for a nice clean cut. Sharpen your mortise know-how with this free video of professional home help tips.

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Video Transcript

Hi, my name is Chris Palmer. Today, we're going to talk about how to lay out and cut a mortise. Mortise and tenon joinery is some of the strongest connections you can make when you're working with wood. I'm going to use an example with some scrap wood here. Most likely you'd be using a hardwood for this. But, for this illustration, we'll just practice on some scrap wood. This is the connection we want to make. This will be the tenon, this will be the mortise. To lay out your mortise, you want to split the width of your wood into thirds and half inch; this, this, this piece is an inch and a half; so, half inch on either side and a half inch wide mortise is what we're going to do today. If you have a drill press, you want to hog out most of the wastes with your drill press. In this case, we'd use a half inch bit. If you don't have a drill press, you just use your hand held drill with a piece of tape to mark the depth that you're going to stop at each time. Once most of the waste is hogged away, you take a nice sharp chisel and clean up the corners that are left round by drill bit, as well as any splinter wood that's left behind there. You want a nice, smooth, clean cut that will give you the best gluing surface to make the connection. Here's a, a mortising chisel that goes in a mortising machine. It's got a regular drill bit that is free to spin, but it rides inside this square housing as you can see. This would square up the edges of your mortise as you go and this operates a lot like a drill press; pull it down into your mortise and it cuts squares like that. I'm going to show you what you do if you're in a little bit less equipped shop. I'm using my combination square to layout the lines from my cut. I set it at a half inch. So, we have a half inch here, a half inch here and this is the waste that comes out. We're going to hog out the majority of the waste with this half inch drill bit. The tape is here to set my depth; when I stop at the line of tape, I have a consistent depth each time. Once I've hogged out the waste of my drill bit, I go back and clean it up with my chisel; a nice sharp chisel will make your life easier at this point. And you need to square up the corners. There's your mortise all cleaned up. I would, I would spend a little more time maybe cleaning up the inside lines here so you have a nice smooth surface to accept the tenon. Once you're done, you go ahead and cut your tenon to fit, dry fit it and then glue it up and clamp it. Thanks for watching. I'm Chris Palmer. That's how you lay out and cut a mortise.


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