Mortise and Tenon Joinery at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

I’ve learned a lot about mortise and tenon joinery over the years. It’s my mainstay joint for chairs, and as I mentioned in my previous post, it can get pretty gnarly. But many of the techniques, tips and tricks I’ve learned can be a big help even on the everyday mortise and tenon joint. I’m teaching how to cut the basic joint and some of its variations by hand next month at a Lie-Nielsen Weekend Workshop (September 28th and 29th, at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Warren Maine), and there are still some spaces available. Give the folks a Lie-Nielsen a call if you’re interested.


The Complex Joinery of the Toccata Chair

double, or twin tenons IMG_0624I worked on the stretchers for my Toccata chair today. This is probably the most difficult part of this chair. Each stretcher is a bent lamination, which gets let into a groove in the rear leg, and then joins with the front leg with what turns out to be a compound-angled twin tenon (into a curved part). And there’s a little twist (in the stretcher) thrown in for ‘fun’.

I guess the first question is “why?” Well, after messing around with various options as I was designing the chair, I settled on this as by far the strongest way to do the stretcher. It also allows for the stretcher to grow out of the rear leg visually, and adds the strength of a lamination to a vulnerable part of the rear leg. The twin tenon? Again, it’s the strongest joint for the job. There’s lots of good glue surface in the two short mortises and tenons that run vertically. A horizontal tenon would leave lots of endgrain in the mortise, which adds almost nothing to the joint strength. And the compound angles? Well, that  happens a lot on chair stretchers.

I try not to let technical issues get in the way of what I want to do with a design. Once I know what I want the chair to look like (which certainly can take a while), I figure out what I think is the best way to do it. This single thing – not designing within my limits – has done more than anything else to improve my woodworking skills.

I don’t really worry about joints like this any more. I’ve seen these over and over as a chair maker, and I’ve learned to deal with them in many different ways. Most of the work here was by hand. The trickiest part of the day was scribing the shoulder of the twin tenon to match the leg. I’m still developing my own tools for this, but here I relied on a thin knife blade and a spacer. Then came paring back to the scribed lines. Toccata Chair from J. Miller Handcrafted Furniture

Pleasant Hill Shaker Community

Pleasant Hill Shaker Community Quilt Pattern

In an attempt to stave off the post-French Oak Roubo Project depression, I decided to visit the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill on my way home from Georgia. The community is about half an hour southwest of Lexington Kentucky; conveniently just beyond the halfway mark on my trip back to Chicago.

What a spectacular place! I actually enjoyed the overall setting as much as the Shaker furniture on display. It was a beautiful summer day, everything was green, and the rolling hills of the surrounding area were simply beautiful.Pleasant Hill Shaker Community Brethrens House and Bath HousePleasant Hill Shaker Community

The various buildings were very impressive, in an austere, Shaker sort of way (and then, with the Spiral Staircase, in an austere, Shaker, and really dramatic way).  It was exciting to get a close look at so much of the furniture, which I’ve mostly seen in books. There was a bed and a beautiful small chest that I may have to build (and perhaps write about). But mostly, it was fascinating to get a glimpse of how the Shakers might have been inspired by their surroundings, their community and their beliefs to create such wonderful things.Spiral Stairs in the Trustee's Office at Pleasant Hill Shaker Community

Some small chests at the Pleasant Hill Shaker Community