Woodworkers who prefer to use "traditional" woodworking techniques and joints will appreciate that accuracy in making these joints is paramount and that way you get to the point of making accurate joints is through practice, practice, practice. For many of us who are part-time or novice woodworkers, getting that practice in is a tedious job, so we look for other means of achieving the same results.

Watch it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/bM8TjnXcvc4

Cutting mortises by hand, or even with machines, especially for new woodworkers who are trying to follow the traditional techniques can be frustrating and for many, takes the fun out of woodworking ... but there are many ways of making mortises ... 

Not everyone can afford to own a decent quality Mortising Machine, often in the $500 plus range ... which is basically a drill press with chisels that cut squared off holes in wood for us.

In the woodworking world, it is common to mark off the mortise area that you need to cut out, and drill it out on a drill press, then manually chisel it out until all sides are square and even. I can't tell you how much time I have spent over the years making square holes, a job I never looked forward to, but I digress ...
One of the challenges I had in making mortise and tenon joints was making the mortise holes accurately, making the tenons was easy. I was often disappointed when furniture "reveals" were inconsistent, some slightly wider or narrower than others. 

It occurred to me recently that using a doweling jig would be one alternative for woodworkers who want to make accurate mortises, The holes can be perfectly aligned and the depth and location of the mortise can be made dead accurately. What more, for anyone who wants to use "floating tenons", the doweling jig, once again is a perfect solution.

The doweling jig I use is called the dowelmax, (dowelmax.com) I prefer this one because it can be set at pretty much any angle, depth or location I need. A self-centering jig would also work but would take a bit more time to figure out the alignments and offsets and you would want to make sure there are no variations in thicknesses of your project parts like legs and cross members. 

Mortise Joint

Pictured is a mock-up of a table leg with a couple of aprons attached. In this instance I used dowels because they are quick, accurate and strong .. BUT, I could have done the same thing using mortise and tenons if I was OK as spending considerably longer making them for exactly the same end result. 
I show this because for many of us, this is the end result, to get perfectly aligned joints and evenly spaced "reveals".

Dowel Jig

The doweling I have can use different diameter dowels. I use the 3/8 (largest) for almost everything unless the wood is thinner than 3/4". 
In the past, when I made mortise and tenon joints I used 1/4" tenons, that fit nicely in the middle of a 3/4" board, but the tenons are a bit thinner than I liked, but they were easier to make. Most woodworkers who are creating commercial furniture products, and using mortise and tenon joinery, are using 5/16 wide tenons, which give a slightly stronger tenon. Easy for them, they just install a 5/16 "chisel set" into their mortising machine, take a few minutes to set it up and start cutting square holes. For the rest of us, it is a bit more work.

Doweling Jig Joint

Here is a picture of the Dowelmax, note that the shims have been installed between the front of the jig and the main drilling block. These shims can be wider or narrower depending on what kind of a finished look the woodworker is wanting. 

 And here is what the shims look like and how they are inserted into the doweling jig.

Chiseling Joints

After the holes are cut, they simply need to be squared off on the edges, and if you want, you could square off the top and bottom as well. I always left them around and just took a moment to round off the top and bottom of my tenons to fit the rounded off mortise.

Make Accurate Mortise Joints with a Doweling Jig

Pictured are 2 mortises and floating tenon material that is planed, then cut on the table saw and rounded off on the router table

The BONUS to using a system like this is that if you want, and where needed, you could also make "Floating Tenons". The advantage to these is the tenon material can be made beforehand to any length you want and all you have to do is cut it off to length as needed for the job. This system requires cutting mortises on both sides but also has the advantage that woodworker doesn't have to allow for the length of the tenon in every connecting piece. You can now cut all your parts to their actual length and get nice clean cuts from your miter or table saw. 

And finally ... for those of us who have an accurate, fully adjustable doweling jig and are looking for accuracy, equal or better strength and want to drastically reduce the time of making joints that no one will ever see, we will stick with using the doweling jig as it is, either way like many things in woodworking there are no rights or wrongs, only different ways of achieving the same end results ...

Copyright Colin Knecht


Make Accurate Mortise Joints with a Doweling Jig (Mortise and Tenon Joinery)