Strong Tenons in Skinny Legs
Get sturdy joints without compromising your design
Synopsis: There’s a reason why the mortise-and-tenon is a go-to joint for a leg-to-apron joint—it’s strong, and it resists racking. But if your furniture designs feature slender, curving legs, there sometimes is not room for a traditional mortise-and-tenon. That’s when Timothy Coleman gets creative, employing different arrangements from each side of the leg, and varying the length, thickness, and number of tenons. With a wide apron, he stacks and interlocks long tenons, taking advantage of the greater glue surface, When the apron is not wide, he sometimes makes it thicker and uses double tenons. When even more strength is needed, he adds a stretcher.
For a table or cabinet-on-stand, my preferred joinery method is the mortise and tenon. The typical arrangement is to have two single tenons of the same thickness entering the leg at the same setback from its face. This simplifies the process for cutting both mortises and tenons because the machine setups are the same for both sides of the leg and both aprons. But my furniture designs often have slender, curving legs, and I frequently shape the top of the leg as it joins the apron. With these narrow or shaped legs, the room for adequate joinery quickly shrinks, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
In these situations I need to be creative in the way I lay out the tenons, using different arrangements from each side of the leg, and varying the length, thickness, and number of tenons. This is the best way I’ve found to pack a lot of joinery into these small spaces without compromising the strength of the leg or having to beef up the dimensions of the parts and ruin the light appearance I’m after. By the way, these solutions work for narrow frame members of…