Today I Chopped 16 Mortise Holes

Yesterday I chopped 16 mortise holes again, together with the tenons to fill them. It was quite the full day for me, lots of support work in preparation, but I enjoyed the work as ever. But there was a time when I thought I never would get used to making mortise and tenons by hand. Mostly in my mod teens when i had so many to do. The older I get the more I enjoy it now. I think it’s because the work demands my skill and muscle, my dexterity in mind and body. When I say that I mean it’s a high demand input that requires tenacity and stamina. It’s my half marathon and my marathon. Keep looking forward as the numbers diminish but without the markers. Today I cut 16 more mortises. There are 32 mortise holes in my waste bin (not that I binned them but I am making a waste bin) and the wood I am using is white oak.

The rhythm begins quite quickly for me. I always work from left to right with the mortising. I have built muscle memory into the whole of my upper body. Knifewalls to the ends of the holes set the start and stop and my work begins with my newly sharpened knife and chisels. The holes are quarter inch. I use the 1/4″ bevel edged chisel for chopping, a 3/16″ for excavating waste, and a 1/8″ chisel alongside that for awkward spots where the waste sometimes gets wedged between the walls. Minimising opposition gives me added peace as I work. It took 2 hours to layout the 16 mortise holes today. Yesterday I chopped 8 of the 16 mortise holes an inch long, and an inch deep in 17minutes and 1 second. It might have taken me 20 minutes for one at one time. The tenons took twice as long and each tenon will fit interchangeably in any mortise exactly to width with a friction fit except one which was a little off.


  1. Anthony on 7 August 2018 at 9:55 pm

    16 in one day?! Wow. I’ve been chopping some myself for a tool dresser that contains 14. I can’t do them in one day though. Impressive Paul. Does your neck hurt? Mine does after chopping mortises.

    • David Dunnison on 13 August 2018 at 7:17 pm

      16 in one day?

      How about eight in 17 minutes!!!

      Dunno what he did for the rest of the day once he finished the other eight during the bottom of the hour.

      I think I can relate to the two hour layout time, and in a very, very long day, maybe even closing in on an all-nighter, I could probably match an output of 16. But 2 minutes per mortise hole?

      Holy cow!

  2. Kurt Schultz on 7 August 2018 at 11:07 pm

    Methinks….trash bin to replace the plastic one previously occupying.

  3. Kurt Schultz on 7 August 2018 at 11:13 pm

    LOL. And so Paul does state this! (Missed it as I reread). Do hope to see how you corral the lumbering the near future.

  4. Aaron Michalka on 8 August 2018 at 11:41 am

    Hardest for me is keeping the ends square and plumb.

    • Aaron Michalka on 8 August 2018 at 11:42 am

      **hardest for me…

  5. Anthony on 8 August 2018 at 11:48 pm

    First thing I learned from Paul, is the tools have to be sharp. I’m not proficient yet, but My first practice mortise and tenon, I was banging and chopping, nothing was happening, lol. I thought my chisels were sharp, scratching my head, thinking ” there’s something wrong with the wood” then After several weeks I got the chisels, prepared properly and sharp. Oh. That’s what sharp chisels are like. Great to look back and see my improvement so far.

  6. Max™ on 9 August 2018 at 5:37 am

    I shudder over the oak, I had a bad experience trying to split a white oak log and all I had was a side strike chisel. It got bound and while I was trying to free it I learned that earlier while setting up cuts on the sides to guide the split I had whacked my ring and index finger hard enough to bruise them so they didn’t really grip the chisel at all.

    Naturally this was a big surprise when it came loose, up around the back of my hand and bounced off the back of my left hand… wish I hadn’t sharpened it so well right then.

  7. sla on 9 August 2018 at 9:47 am

    I’m living in the town, neighbours will be happy to hear me chopping … how to make it quite?

    • Seb R on 10 August 2018 at 4:52 pm

      Remove the bulk with a brace and use chisels for paring.

  8. John Cadd on 14 August 2018 at 9:01 am

    The banging would drive the ladies mad. I cheat and use an electric drill with some tape as a depth stop . A Brace and Bit is more authentic than electric though .
    For the tenons or for letting in door hinges I use a piece of straight scrap wood with a sharp screw as a scratcher. Very adjustable for depth and narrow enough for restricted space .
    I used to have a jig holding a spare plane blade clamped level at tennon cutout thickness to knock the tennon onto the blade edge . Well ,close enough to leave final adjustment for last.

  9. Mike on 19 August 2018 at 5:17 am

    I hope I to be able to do the same someday.

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