Cut a Mortise in Minutes
Drill out the waste, then use a unique chiseling technique to handle the rest
Synopsis: The time-honored practice of cutting mortises with a drill and chisel can be frustrating, mainly because the process of chiseling out the waste between drilled holes takes time and can easily go awry. Furniture maker Christian Becksvoort has refined the technique over the years to a four-step process that delivers clean, accurate mortises in no time at all. He begins with careful layout, then drills out the waste. Third-and this is key-he uses a mortising chisel and an unconventional technique to lever out most of the waste. And finally, he cleans up the mortise with a bench chisel. Simple, effective, and consistent.
From Fine Woodworking #200
Many woodworkers cut mortises by drilling away much of the waste with a drill press, then cleaning up what remains using a bench chisel. The technique is popular because it doesn’t require a special machine or jig. It’s a challenge, though, mainly because the chiseling process is slow and easily goes awry.
I’ve been building furniture full time for more than 30 years, and I still use drilling and chiseling to make many of my mortises. But I’ve managed to refine the process to just a few surefire steps.
The tools are simple. After removing most of the waste using the drill press, I use a mortising chisel to square an end and lever away—in one shot—most of the waste. A bench chisel quickly cleans up what’s left.
This method delivers clean, accurate mortises, and quickly. Including the drillpress work, I can finish a 3⁄8-in.-thick by 1 1⁄2-in.-wide by 1 1⁄2-in.-deep mortise in about 4 to 5 minutes. By the way, if you don’t have a drill press, use a doweling jig and handheld drill to remove the waste accurately.
Mortise chisel is the star: A bench chisel…