Loose Tenon vs Mortise & Tenon AND/OR Who Do You Believe?


Loose Tenon vs Mortise & Tenon AND/OR Who Do You Believe?
In the Q&A section of the April 2006 issue of Popular Woodworking, a reader asked if you could draw bore loose tenons. In his response, the editor, Christopher Schwarz, states “Part of my problem ... Is that I’m not a fan of loose tenons. They are a good option for some special applications, but I really don’t see them as easier than the traditional joint. Mortising that end grain is no small thing (in my opinion) and the jiggery to mortise the ends of rails is sometimes complex.”
I guess he’s thinking in terms of mortising with a mortising chisel - it ain’t easy to do that without splitting the end grain part, or he’s thinking of a vertical mortising machine, with square chisel and bit (now how the hell do I get the end of this this bed rail up under that chisel and bit?). But if he is referrring to a router jig and plunge router or a horizontal boring/mortising machine, I’m not sure where the “complex” comes in. You have to layout the mortise regardless of how they’re going to be cut and the width of the mortise is pretty much defined by the closest chisel, chisel/bit set or router bit (actually, end mills work best) - so that’s a push. That leaves aligning the bit to a layout line and setting the left and right stops for a jig - neither one being “complex”.
Now consider making a table - the apron, a pair of stretchers between the end legs and maybe a stretcher between the two end stretchers. That’s fourteen mortises and fourteen tenons to cut. It’s the tenon that are the higher risk operation, whether you do them by hand, on a router table or with the table saw ( with or without a dado blade ). It’s not the tenon that’s the problem, it’s the shoulders. Any tear out or over cut will more than likely be on a visible face (see Murphy’s Laws). That means either making another part or lowering the shoulders - on ALL the matched parts. Not a problem with loose tenons. The “shoulders” can be cut on a miter saw - the best way to insure the ends are square. And if, for some reason, you cut a tenon long - then all the rest must also be cut long OR you make another part to replace the one you blew. By “cut long” I mean the tenon length. With loose tenons this isn’t even an issue. If you cut the loose tenon too long you just cut it shorter - or if it’s too short you cut another one - off a strip of stock you’ve made. AND, with loose tenons, each part’s “visble length” is the same as its “length” - no adding tenon lengthS (emphasis on multiples - normally two per tenoned part) to the “visible length”.
Then there’s the Fixing F**K Ups. With loose tenons, you can tweek the fit by tweeking both halves of the loose tenon, shave the front and adding a piece of veneer to the back on one side, shave the back and veneer the front on the other. Granted the joint will be a little weaker - but not significantly weaker.
Ironically, Mr. Schwarz’s editorial page got into “who do you believe”, noting that the earliest joinery “how to” book in english, which some today take as The Bible of Joinery, was written by a printer / type setter who may, or may not, have every cut a joint in his life. A subsequent book, written by a Master Joiner, alas, is only available in French. Who do you believe - the No First Hand Knowledge or the Experienced Craftsman?
And that gets into another subject - the skills of a good author & editor vs the skills of a good craftsman author and editor. A good author, with no hands on experience with a subject, can often describe the subject better than a person who has plenty of hands on experience with the subject - but can’t write for spit. The best of both worlds is the combination of someone who can write well but has no hands on experience with a person who has plenty of hands on experience but limited writing skills. The writer can ask questions and fill in “common knowledge” gaps that the “hands on experienced” person may not think worth noting. A keen observer will ask the “why did you” questions that can fill in critical, but often not mentioned because of the “common knowledge” thing gaps.
Back in The Good Old Days, knowledge and skills were often passed on to the next generation via apprenticeships. It was in the best interest of the Master Craftsman to train his apprentice well, initially freeing him from a great deal of grunt work (shop clean up, running errands, heavy lifting, stock prep, ...) and over time, increasing the shop’s output - and profit.
Then there’s Doug Stowe, Mark Adams, Tage Frid and Frank Klausz (ok so Mr. Klausz does videos not books - but he and Mark Adams are great at communicating - as was Tage Frid). Though I haven’t seen Charles Self’s current book, I’m betting he’s a good combination of writing skills and hands on experience. (Still looking for his bench reference book though).
Two topics in one post - Loose vs Traditional M&T and/or Who Do You Believe?
Charlie b
And now I’m going out to finish making a rabbit hutch for the kid on the corner - appropriate for Easter Sunday yes?
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From one Charlie to another "Well Done". I think you have covered it all.
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Charley

"charlie b" < snipped-for-privacy@accesscom.com> wrote in message
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"charlie b" wrote in message

I haven't seen the article, but just to add a couple of cents ... loose tenon joinery is often preferred by many on compound angled joints, like those found in chair components, as a good case can be made that, depending upon the piece of wood, you can often get a stronger joint with loose tenons due to grain direction/aberrations on tenons if cut in a more traditional manner.
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