With the mortises cut to shape, it was time to turn my attention to the tenons. As I mentioned in the last article, I planned on 1/4″ shoulders on the ends of the tenons, but only 1/8″ shoulders on the sides. With a softer wood, I might have needed a wider shoulder, but I wanted to see how a wider tenon would look, and hickory was perfect for this. The question is, how to cut it? 1/8″ was barely a saw kerf, and handsaws track very badly when the wood on one side of the cut is thin to nonexistent.
This was the place to try my new Veritas skew rabbet plane. Since only a small amount of material had to be removed, planing would be relatively efficient, and the tool’s 1 1/2″ width would handle my 1 inch-long tenon with ease. This approach was not without its risks, however. While the plane is almost 10″ long, the stretcher is only 3″ wide. The resultant small registration area meant that the risk of mis-shaping the tenon was very real. Being aware of this, I left the tenons slightly oversize for final fitting.
As you can see, the tenon shoulder is quite narrow. I honestly don’t think you could do it with a saw. If you look carefully, you’ll see the number “3” at the shoulder line. This indicates that this is the bottom face of the stretcher for mortise number 3. You’ve always been told to mark your pieces – this is especially true for hand joinery, where each joint can (and usually does) have its own unique character. In this case, tenon 1 would probably not be a good match for mortise 3.
For final fitting, I again turned to my router plane. This technique, which I recommend highly, allows me to correct for any tilt that might have crept in from using a long plane on a short surface. It also lets me fit each tenon precisely to its matching hand-cut mortise. Remember what I said about marking your joints?
For the photographically-minded among you, the unique lighting in the above picture comes from a kerosene lantern. You can see the edge of its base in the lower-left corner of the frame. I often use a lantern for spot-lighting on gloomy days. It also provides a wonderful soft raking light for checking a surface for flaws.
Once the tenons were fit to the mortises, I sawed the end-shoulders on the tenons and sawed the grooves for the wedges. I’m of the school that bores relief holes at the end of the wedge kerf to minimize splitting. I realize that this debate is right up there with pins-first, tails first dovetails, but in this camp I come down firmly on the side of the relief holes. It’s true that the ends of the mortise support the wedged wood, but the very fact that you’ve put a wedge in the wood means that you’ve stressed the fibers beyond the the end of the kerf, giving the potential for the split to run. Besides, as far as I know, there’s no downside to boring the holes. If any readers want to weigh in on this, I’d love to hear your views.
Next time, we’ll put the whole thing together. Stay tuned!