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Thread: Methods to the Mortise Madness

  1. #1
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    Methods to the Mortise Madness

    My bench project is progressing slowly but surely being juggled with many other chores.

    Currently the labor revolves around building the leg structures. The stretchers from front to back are 4x4 material.

    The mortises & tenons are 1 X 2-1/2 X 3" deep.

    Some of the mortises have been made by chopping only with a chisel and some have been made by drilling out a lot of the waste with auger bits first.

    Yesterday and today the two methods were timed. Surprise! It took me about the same amount of time either way. The chisel only method also seems to end up with a little bit cleaner side walls.

    Three 1" chisels were used during the mortising. Yesterday and today one of my beater chisels was given a try. It is one that came in a group bought on ebay.

    Amazing how my sharpening skill has improved since my last attempt to use this chisel. It seems to work great on mortising.

    My method with the chisel was the Vee method from the center making a deeper Vee progressively. With the auger bit a thin layer was removed with a chisel before drilling.

    The chisel is marked W Mix & Co:

    W Mix & Co Chisel top view.jpg

    At the top of the bevel it is a bit more than 7/32" thick:

    W Mix & Co 1%22 Chisel side view.jpg

    The chisel is ~3-1/4" at the shoulder. That makes a good way to know the depth has been achieved.

    With the auger first method there seemed more likely for the chisel to twist in the cut. It also seemed to need more side wall clean up.

    jtk
    Last edited by Jim Koepke; 06-02-2020 at 2:12 AM.
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  2. #2
    Jim,

    I will use both ways as well but if I have a chisel that is wide enough chisel only is my preferred way. Chisel only is just as fast with good technique (don't go all Conan on your chisel) and I also think gives a cleaner mortise. Good luck on the bench build.

    ken

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    Quote Originally Posted by ken hatch View Post
    Jim,

    I will use both ways as well but if I have a chisel that is wide enough chisel only is my preferred way. Chisel only is just as fast with good technique (don't go all Conan on your chisel) and I also think gives a cleaner mortise. Good luck on the bench build.

    ken
    Thanks Ken. One of my mortising habits is to listen to the feedback from the chisel. It makes a different sound when it is actually moving wood as opposed to when it is about to get stuck in the wood. Not getting stuck can save a lot of time.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  4. #4
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    I remember that when cutting my bench mortises, that the all chisel method resulted in a cleaner mortise for me.

  5. #5
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    It's the same with me (cleaner mortises with just a chisel). I also have an interesting (to me) observation. 10 years ago I bought an old Scottish tool chest filled with 19th century tools. With the chest came a set of pig-sticker type, oval-handled, English patterned mortise chisels, 1/8-inch up to 3/4-inch IIRC. These chisels were in fantastic condition for their age. I noticed three things about them, the first was that the tool was very slightly trapezoidal in cross-section. The second thing was that the arris where the bevel met the top edge of the tool had a radius (in fact all of the chisels in the chest had them, well over 20 chisels). The final thing was that there were decorative "nicks" filed into the top edge at various locations on some of the smaller mortise chisels. I didn't think too much of these things until I started using them (recently).

    The trapezoid shape relieves binding in the cut and makes levering out the waste easier.

    The rounded bevel at the top also makes levering out the waste easier and it doesn't mark up the end wall of the mortise as much.

    The decorative "nicks" in the chisel at the top edge often corresponded with the mortise depths I was chopping. I notice this the last time I used them and I think that Mr. William Ogilvie (the original owner of the chest) had put these nicks into the chisels as a depth gauge! Clever man!

    Using these chisels, as I now believe they were intended, has cut the time it takes me to chop out a mortise easily in half!

    DC

  6. #6
    Thanks for this thread I am about to do the same mortises on my bench and have been wondering about drilling vs just chiseling. Seems like chisel is the way to go. Thanks again

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Izzy Camire View Post
    Thanks for this thread I am about to do the same mortises on my bench and have been wondering about drilling vs just chiseling. Seems like chisel is the way to go. Thanks again
    Izzy,

    All depends on having the correct sized chisel.

    ken

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    David, wow, having an vintage tool chest with the tools in place is amazing. Can you take some photos and show and describe the tools?

    Thanks and regards,

    Stew

  9. #9
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    After having difficulty with chisels twisting as Jim describes I have settled on a way I think is better. Drilling adds time to the task for me. With deep and wide mortises I drill just the ends. I then chisel with the bevel facing the far hole. This lets the bevel push the waste into the hole. It all but eliminates the twisting and you can take a good bite usually almost to depth without sticking problems.

  10. #10
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    I was trained to let the bevel "lead the way".

    At the end, drag the chisel backwards to scrape the sides clean. Tap the tenon on a small hardwood "anvil" to compress it before glue is applied.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stew Denton View Post
    David, wow, having an vintage tool chest with the tools in place is amazing. Can you take some photos and show and describe the tools?

    Thanks and regards,

    Stew
    I'll be happy to! I'm in the process of moving my shop to a more permanent location. Right now, the chest is in storage, but I'll be bringing it to the new shop soon. I'll start a thread about it when that happens.

    The back story is that I had intended to build a replica of the Seaton Tool Chest and fill it with reproduction or period tools. I bought some planes from Clark & Williams, saws from Mike Wenzloff and had intended to get a set of pig stickers from Ray Iles, (Tools for Working Wood). This was when Ray Iles first started making them and they were sought after and scarce. I noticed, on one of Patrick Leach's lists, a full set of old ones and I tried to get them, but was too late. I mentioned to Patrick that I wanted a set, and he said he'd be on the lookout. Within a couple of weeks he got back to me and said he had found a set and was willing to sell them to me for the same price as the one I missed. He added that he hated to break up the FULL SET (!!) of tools in the original chest he'd purchased in Scotland, but for me he'd be willing to do it... unless I happened to want the chest, and he'd give me a good price. The man knows his business, or at least he can spot a sucker from his emails! So I ended up buying the chest! It is absolutely not a gloat as I paid quite a chunk for it. But he could certainly have made more money if he broke it up and sold it by the piece.

    Nearly all of the tools are stamped with the owners name, and from what I can tell all fall within the 1825 - 1875 time frame. There's one back saw that dates after 1900, but that one hasn't been name stamped, so it's unclear if it was his or not. All were sharp and ready to use, though covered thickly in cosmoline.

    I use the tools (gently) and over the years I've added some appropriate replacement tools to fill it out. I also determined I don't like working out of a traditional chest, so some of the tools live in other chests and cabinets. Such is the case with the mortise chisels.

    I have been meaning (for the past dozen years) to post pictures and try to figure out what part of the trade was his specialty, as it's unclear what exactly he did with these tools. But haven't yet gotten to it. But as I near retirement I should have more time. Stay tuned!

    DC

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