I recently bought an old oak church pew on eBay. I had it cut down
somewhat for shipping so I did not see how the seat was joined to the
two ends. How do I get the seat and back to sit in the rabbited groove
in the sides without drilling screws from each end?
I have some that were reclaimed strictly for the lumber. On mine the
end panels had a groove the shape of the seat and back assembly routed
into it. The seat/back boards were then held in place by glue. If the
glue joint were to ever fail the ends "mortised" in a good inch into
either side and would have been bolted down keeping the whole thing
together. If yours is similar and you intend to leave it free standing
I would think you would want to have something besides the glue. How
about cleats on the underside of the seat? They only have to ensure
the end doesn't separate if the seat and back are joined and resting in
a mortised groove.
No idea without seeing it - you can date old pews by the style of
joinery used to attach the parts. Early Victorians used joinery, later
ones had a simple glued and screwed butt-block underneath. Typically
there's simply a couples of big grooves cut in the end panels (sometimes
a sliding dovetail) and two or three of the long rails (but not the main
seat boards) would have a single large dovetail cut into them to hold
the end panels from moving apart.
If you're feeling medieval and you have some seat length to spare, you
can even cut big tenons on the ends of the seat panels, mortices in the
ends and hold it together with wedges ("tusks") through the tenons.
(Maybe not quite as big as those - Paul oversizes his tusks)
The sliding dovetail, as already noted, is an excellent option, in my
A variation of the dovetail AND mortise & tenon, in combination, an
oriental (method) joint long used in building pagodas, may be another
excellent option in your case. Cut a slimmed down version of a
dovetail, ie. about 7 degree angle cuts instead of the normal angles.
Cut a "V" shaped slot, about 4 degrees, in the end of the dovetail.
Cut your mortise slot with about 10 degree angled sides, ie. a bit
wider than your slim dovetail. Cut a "V" shaped wedge, about 10
degrees. Insert wedge into modified mortise as you insert modified
dovetail, so that wedge slips into the slot of the dovetail. As you
further insert dovetail into mortise, the wedge will further insert
itself into the slot, and at some point the wedge will begin to push
sideways against the two sides of the slotted dovetail. When dovetail
is completely inserted, the wedge will have applied pressure against
dovetail sides such that the dovetail sides will have, in turn, snugged
themselves against the mortise sides. No glue required, but certainly
The ends of the pews were most likely screwed to the floor with angle
brackets, trapping the seat and back between them in the rabbeted grooves.
If you want the pew free-standing, you have all sorts of choices to attach
the ends to the seat and back. Personally, I'd concentrate on attaching
only the seat to the ends and let the back float in the grooves.
Michael Latcha - at home in Redford, MI
Thank you very much for your replies and advice.
Michael is correct, there are screw holes in the ends that would have
gone into the floor. There is also no glue in the mortised ends so I
presume they were jointed as Andy pointed out. There is a tiny dovetail
angle to the mortised end that I did not notice the first time around,
but to complicate things the seat base is curved to accommodate the
parishioners backsides so I won't be able to slide the seat into the
sides from the front. The back is flat though and there are screw holes
at the base of the back where it was screwed to the seat.
1. Cut inch-wide pieces off the seat and use them as a simple block to
go underneath the seat, screwed to the side and the seat
2. Put small wedges in the underside of the seat to push it up, thus
leaving no visible gap in the seat base. (I don't think I'm smart
enough to do Sonny's excellent suggestion
3. Make a dovetail out of the back and slide the back down its
dovetailed groove in the side
4. Screw the back to the seat
Does this seem reasonable?
All my best
Michael Latcha wrote:
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