mortise & tenon, seventeenth century

mortise & tenon, w integral mitered molding
mortise & tenon, w integral mitered molding

To my eye, one of the biggest differences between joinery in England and  New England in the seventeenth century is the details around the mortise and tenon joints. This is a detail of the English cupboard door in the previous entry. The stock for the door frame has two moldings run on it. The edge molding is the one I am concerned with at this point. It affects the joinery in that this molding is mitered where the mortise & tenon meet, making some extra work at fitting the joint. The mortised stock needs to be cut back some to allow the tenoned rail’s molding to meet the other at 45 degrees.

 Here’s a particularly nice example from Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. You might at first think the moldings are applied, but look at the location of the pegs securing the joints – these are the clear giveaway that this joint is mitered.

mitered mortise & tenon Haddon Hall
mitered mortise & tenon Haddon Hall

Much simpler, and almost universal in New England joinery is the straight-edged mortise and tenon joint like this one from Massachusetts:

mortise & tenon, straight shoulders
mortise & tenon, straight shoulders

One difference is that this joint has no edge molding. Joiners often kept the straight-edged joint, but worked either a molding, or as in this case, a bevel, that did not reach all the way to the joint, like this one from another Massachusetts chest:

mortise & tenon, w beveled edges
mortise & tenon, w beveled edges


One more for now, then tomorrow I hope to get some shots of dis-assembled repro joints to further confound this subject. Here is a chair back, from a wainscot chair made in Yorkshire. The edges of the stiles and rails are beveled, and the shoulder of the tenon is thus undercut at 45 degrees to slip over this bevel. With this joint, you almost always get the pegs right at the shoulder where the tenoned rail meets the mortise.

beveled mortise & tenon detail
beveled mortise & tenon detail

4 thoughts on “mortise & tenon, seventeenth century

  1. Peter,

    Is the molding done in the center of the rails done with a scratch stock? If so is it just free handed to keep the line straight or do scratch stock for that have a fence?


  2. Thanks for illustrating the joint details Peter. I had not really noticed these differences. The joint on the chair back from Yorkshire is like the ones on”Hadley” chest fronts, yes? Is that bevel joint a regional detail in England?

  3. Steve

    the joint on the Yorkshire chair is the same as that used on the front sections of Hadley chests. No, it is not regional in England, it appears everywhere. Almost universal there, even on poor quality stuff. All the more reason why it’s unusual to only appear in N.E. on a few objects other than the Hadley chests.

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