mortise & tenon; marking the joints

I was working last week or so on the stool book project. That’s why I assembled a small joined stool the other day, it was to shoot trimming the feet.  While I was at it, I shot some stuff concerning the “joint ID” that we will present in the text. This is what I mean:

II goes in II


If you have read my blog, or even had the displeasure of being a victim of  mine in a workshop…then you know I won’t use a pencil to mark these joints. but marking them somehow does help to keep them straight. All these pieces look the same when stacked on the bench. But I have never seen a joined stool with its pieces marked out for assembly. But these sorts of marks are quite common on larger pieces of furniture; chests, cupboards and such. And they are found in carpenters’ work all the time as well. Carpenters need a more detailed method of marking, having so many joints to keep track of…but us joiners have it pretty easy. Alexander & I decided years ago to use chisels and gouges to mark a stool, borrowing the method from other joinery.

The picture above is a stretcher (lower rail) meeting a stile – it is marked with the 5/16″ mortise chisel that cut the stool’s mortises. I have stumbled along until I have a method that only uses numbers I & II. I mark one “frame” of the stool with the mortise chisel, the oppostie frame with a gouge.

joint ID wth gouge


The aprons (upper rails) and stretchers (lower rails) are not interchangeable, thus can each be I & II. With one set done with the chisel, the other with the gouge, they are distinct.

The angled end rails then are marked according to where they fall in the stool; one end with a chisel, the other with the gouge. simple.

Once I get the front & rear frames  assembled, I set them on the bench with their feet together…then I can set the end rails in one section…

foot to foot


and drop the other on top…

like this…


4 thoughts on “mortise & tenon; marking the joints

  1. Peter:
    Yes, you and I observed many kinds of joinery marking systems. Yes, we tried some out. But it was you who developed the nifty simple system for joint stools-chisel on one long frame, gouge for the other. True we haven’t seen markings on stools, but it is easy in these frenetic, distracting days to mix things up. Then, sometimes also. See the 17th century low English oak stool with one stile upside down! Early British Chairs and Seats, Tobias Jellinek, Antique Collector’s Club, 2009, Plate 341 a, p.252. Ironically, even your marking system wouldnot have prevented this mishap. Perhaps you would like to illustrate this stool on your Blog.

  2. the idea for chisels and gouges comes from a period chest from Dedham, MA.

    I think my marking system would catch the upside-down stile. You make the mistake when turning the decoration; after the mortises are cut. At the time of assembly, you would notice that one “frame” has chisel marks on one stile and gouge marks on the other. The question is, do you go ahead & assemble the stool with an upside-down stile…I have done it on a table before, and I went ahead & assembled it that way. Another time, I caught it, checked with the customer, and I gave her the option to have some fun, or have me re-do it. She chose the latter. I’ll see if I have the pictures anywhere.

  3. Peter,

    Just wanted to thank you for the idea of marking mating parts with chisel strikes. I’ve taken that approach on board, using an inexpensive narrow chisel and narrow gouge that are otherwise inadequate: they don’t hold an edge well enough for chisel work, but they’re sharp enough for making straight lines and arcs, little T-shaped ”mushroom” shapes, and etc.


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