Mortise and Tenon
Choosing and making this basic joint
Synopsis: There are a great many variations of the mortise-and-tenon joint, writes Tage Frid, and the task of the cabinetmaker is to know which variation to use for a particular application and why, and then how to make it quickly and well. In this extensive article, he explains the history of the joint and basic differences between mortise-and-tenon types — lap joints, slip joints, haunched mortises, mitered haunched mortises, and more. He examines dozens of mortise-and-tenon joints and their associated strengths and weaknesses, and then explains how to make them with hand tools. Photos illustrate the steps involved.
Furniture construction is broken down into two categories — frame and casegood. Casegood construction uses joints such as dovetails, finger joints, spline miters, rabbets and the like. Frame construction depends on the mortise and tenon joint and is usually used in tables, chairs, paneled doors, windows, etc. There are a great many variations of the mortise and tenon joint, and the task of the cabinetmaker is to know which variation to choose for a particular application, and why, and then how to make it quickly and well.
The mortise and tenon is probably the oldest and certainly the most essential joint in woodworking. An Egyptian sarcophagus now in the British Museum was framed with mortise and tenon joints at least five thousand years ago. During the Middle Ages, the development of the mortise and tenon permitted the framing of chests. The elaborate variations of paneling led finally to a distinction between the two crafts of carpentry and cabinetmaking. In house construction the use of the mortise and tenon has quite disappeared. We no longer have the skill or the patience, nor can we afford the mortise and tenon for the framing of a house. Perhaps we do not expect our houses to endure for…