Stick with What Works

Some might call this tedious work, but repetition is part of what I enjoy about mortising.

Some might call this tedious work, but repetition is part of what I enjoy about mortising.

A couple years ago, I invested in a popular loose-tenon joinery system to see how that would work for me. As a tool reviewer, I’m always anxious to try a new gizmo on for size, and this tool was getting a lot of buzz. Heck, a faster, easier way to make mortise-and-tenon joinery. Sounded good to me!

Well, the product came, and I put it to work on my next few projects. It did the job swimmingly, chomping mortise after mortise in good time. The cuts were clean, the setup was pretty easy and those loose tenons dropped right into place. Really, there was no part of the operation I could complain about.

But as time went on, that new tool got less use than it first did. I ended up switching back to making M&Ts the way I’ve always done them: mortising on the drill press, followed by tenon-cutting on the table saw.


In hindsight, I guess quicker wasn’t necessarily better. Despite its many merits, my new whatchamacallit was robbing me of the process of making mortises and tenons. I enjoy laying out my mortises, dialing in my drill press and Forstner bit and chomping out that waste. Drilling hole after hole, I see the geometry of the joint begin to take shape as the waste spirals up and out. It’s relaxing and familiar, in a simple sort of way. Then, I get to pull out my chisels and clean up the walls. I get to do it. It’s just plain fun to create a perfect rectangular hole with a sharp blade and a mallet.

Same goes for the process of setting up and making tenon cuts with a dado blade. The amount of time it takes to get a perfect result doesn’t really matter to me. Then, I can put my rabbeting or shoulder plane to good use, erasing the blade marks and smoothing those cheeks and shoulders. Hey, it’s a good opportunity to reach for a trusted hand tool.

Next comes the crème de la crème: slipping the parts together. That just never gets old for me. Call it a little pat on the back, but when the tenon slides smoothly into place and the shoulders seat against the mortised workpiece just so, I’ve got a concrete reminder that I’m pretty darn good at making them. You know what I mean here.

A dado blade is my go-to tool for roughing in tenons. I dont mind the time it takes or the cleanup work that goes with it.

A dado blade is my go-to tool for roughing in tenons. I don't mind the time it takes or the cleanup work that goes with it.

So, what am I trying to say? Well, sometimes the pleasure in woodworking comes from getting something built. Necessity won’t wait forever. In those instances, let pocket screws and butt joints expedite the busywork, if that method makes sense. But other times, it’s the sweat and effort that brings sweet rewards. It’s the process I’m after as much as the end product. So recognize process and enjoy it. And, for gosh sakes, keep woodworking just the way it feels best to you. After all, if it stops being fun, what’s the point?

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

2 thoughts on “Stick with What Works

  1. Excellent, excellent piece. And even as the novice woodworker that I am, I’ve learned that lesson already — if it stops being fun, then it’s just one more headache in a life full of them.

  2. Amen, Eric. Could agree with you more. Keep on keepin on in the shop–and have a great time! Chris

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