the rest of mortising: beyond boring

There’s more to mortises than the boring machine, as enticing as that device is, it’s only the start. I wait until there’s several joints laid out, then bore all of them…then tuck the machine away & go on from there. 


boring detail

Here’s one of the through-mortises that’s all bored, three 2″ diameter holes:

mortise bored

Then it’s chisel work. This is actually a different mortise, but the principal is the same. Here I’m chopping the end grain. 

chopping end grain

And here paring the side walls/cheeks of the mortise. 

paring cheeks

I went to pick up my 2″chisel the other day, and there’s a ladybug crawling around. In January?

lady bug

This mortise is chopped. Now the timber needs to be reduced to 5 3/4″ at the joint. It’s how we compensate for the various sizes of 6x6s in the frame. 


First, saw down to the scribed lines, 

sawing housing

then knock out the waste with the chisels, 

chisel waste

then pare it flat. 


then cut a bevel along the bottom end of the mortise, where a corresponding one on the tenoned piece meets it. 




I haven’t written here in a while. It’s a long story, another time perhaps. Meanwhile, I’m knocked out with something just under the flu. One thing on my to-be-done list has been  learning how to convert JPEGs to PDFs, not for woodworking, but for the many books Rose has written.

But I practiced on Felebien first. So as a thank-you to all the blog readers here for their patience while I was busy bungling the latest tool sale, I’m posting the Felebien stuff I have here. The PDF here is the chapter on joiner’s work, from a reprint of the 1699 edition. Felebien’s first edition was 1676, i.e. pre-Moxon.

So while you’re waiting for Chris to finish up on the Roubo volume, now you can reach back to an earlier time in Paris, and see what Moxon was copying some of his stuff from…

plate 30

Felebien PDF

Now, somewhere I have some attempts at translation done for Alexander & I almost 15 years ago. Paula Marcoux (now the Magnificent Leaven ) took a whack at it for us… so here is a “warts n’ all” translation. this is done as a Word document, I have had enough, so I’m not converting it to anything. Have fun.

Felibien w edits accepted


red tailed hawk backlit & leaving


I haven’t had a chance lately to sift through some of the Jennie Alexander tools I have left for sale. Had a little time yesterday to get  some photos taken. Now I have posted some braces and a few odds and ends today. First come, first etc. Shipping’s on you. Any questions, email me. If you want any of these, leave a comment, or send an email to me at



walnut high chair assembly pt next

Well, it’s time to finish a few things, or I will be over-run and have to admit defeat. First off is the walnut high chair. I finished the drawboring and pinning of the frame, and made the seat for it yesterday.

 We’ve looked at drawboring before of course, it is critical to this way of woodworking. Here I am marking the location of the pin hole on the tenon.

marking drawboring


tenon marked for its pin hole

Then I knock the joint back apart, and bore this hole slightly closer to the tenon shoulder than the marks indicate.

a little closer to the shoulder

Here I am shaving pin stock, my method uses a large framing chisel; this one’s 2” wide and about 15” long. It’s quite heavy. The weight of the chisel helps with the downward momentum; I find that when I use a lighter chisel I have to push harder. It took some careful culling to get straight-enough grain in the walnut to split the pin stock. 

shaving pins

Assembling the frame is a matter of pulling the joints tight with temporary metal drawbore pins, then one by one driving in the tapered wooden pins.

final assembly

A really good fit will shred the pins like this one did:

tight fit w pin

I made the seat from a piece of the resawn walnut – didn’t get photos of that process; but it took much fiddling to get the fit the way I wanted it…now to peg it to the seat rails, then fasten the arms in place.

seat in place

once more about pins…then I’ll stop for now

well, if you can stand it, here’s more about the pins that secure drawbored mortise-and-tenon joinery in 17th-century oak furniture. Pin shape, splits in the stock, deformation in the holes as a result of using the period bits, what Jennie Alexander & I call “piercer” bits, based on the most common term for bits in joiners’ inventories at that time. Not that the phrase is all that common, just that it’s used more than others. Here, see the pins have split the stile in a joined chest, this happens mostly on the tangential face of the oak. The splits start at the point in the hole where the bit tears up the end grain as it comes around…
small splits between two pins

Some joiners make very carefully-shaped pins, others use faceted ovals, even square shapes. As Alexander has pointed out, the facet/point usually hugs into the “spruck” where the bit comes around from long grain to end grain; you can see it here on this joined chest from Dedham, MA.

pins, etc, joined chest Dedham MA 1650-1680

Another Dedham chest shows pins that are effectively square. The split here is from a pin too large for its hole, and the use of the mitered shoulder, which has less bearing surface than a 90-degree shoulder.  

square pins

Here’s a slide shot by JA years ago, showing three types of bits, and their respective holes bored in oak.

gimlet & piercers
Next one’s pretty grubby, but shows the pin filling the weird shape of the hole. (See the top right hand part, just past 12 0’clock on this pin)
Savell cupboard
The next one has two kinds of pins; round-ish ones to secure the M&T joints, and square ones to attach the joined front of this chest to the board sides. Note the top round pin snapped when it was being trimmed, probably with a chisel.
Savell chest, joined front fixed to board sides
My take on pins is this. They are usually round, mostly, sometimes almost square, and often octagonal-to-round. there’s a lot of them in a joined chest. It does not pay to get too carried away making them carefully shaped. One detail that Alexander is always after me about, and rightfully so, is that the pin fills the holes. Mine tend to be tapered too quickly and therefore fill the hole sooner on the face of the joint, and not so much on the inside. Here is a joined stool from Essex County MA showing the pins on the inside. I’m working on mine.
17th-century joined stool; pins

For more about this subject in general, see and if you missed the beginning of this leg of this subject, here is the previous post on it

Plymouth Colony joinery again

Here’s a continuation of a post from the other night, concerning Plymouth Colony joinery.

 Jennie Alexander wrote & asked why can’t the “lipped” tenon be draw-bored. Then we spoke on the phone & mapped out a way that it could be drawbored, but I still think it wasn’t…mainly based on the fact that it is always fastened with large, square pins, not the usual faceted octagonal pins seen in the drawbored joints.

Here’s versions of this molding/tenon from 2 different chests. This first one is a chest  I saw in the late 1990s, showing a gap between the stile and the connecting joints of the rails. To me , this indicates that there is no drawbore. (lousy slide, so I rendered it B&W to cut out distracting colors)

Plymouth Colony chest w 4 drawers


Here is one from the MFA, also shot years ago, showing a tighter connection, but I still don’t think it’s drawbored. It could be, however. First – bore the hole in the rail, BEYOND the integral tenon, insert it, & mark the location of the hole on the face of the stile. Then remove the rail, and bore the hole in the stile AWAY from the edge of the stile. The hole that engages the tenon still can’t be drawbored. Even so, if you drawbored the outer section of the rail, why then use the large, square pin? [Alexander & I have reams of paper detailing these sorts of mental exercises, as we tried over the years to discern what “they” did 350-400 years ago…]

lipped tenon, square pins


Last year’s apprentice, Bryan MacIntyre wrote & asked about the double hinges on the back of the Plymouth Colony chest I showed the other day…here is a closer detail. I assume one set of hinges came later, but I haven’t seen this chest in person, nor have I seen the interior. But I would never expect more than one set of hinges.  I have seen some that have 3 hinges, not 2. I always figure that the #3 is added. In this shot, you might be able to see the stopped chamfer on the rails also.

extra hinges


 I have notes from examaning about a dozen of these chests, and started to chart them by “index” features. This joiner/shop puts the flat face of the rear panels to the outside of the chest. Others put the flat face of the rear panels inside the chest. This also was coordinated with the degree of finish inside the chest. The guys who molded the inside framing members used the flat face of the rear panels inside the chest. Imagine someone scrutinizing your work habits that much 330 years later… 

 Here’s a detail of the front of the chest. It’s nice to have a chance to look this closely at period work; I don’t always get a chance to show this sort of object in detail. The applied turnings are standard for this group, as is the ogee molding with the fillet in the midst of it. The woods used are oak, pine, maple, cedar and sometimes some walnut for accent. Usually painted red & black too…surprise, surprise.

Plymouth Colony chest w drawers, front detail

questions about splits during drawboring


I got a question from a reader recently that I thought it would be easiest to answer in a post. It concerns drawb0ring, and the position of the pin holes in the joint.

“When doing a drawbore joint with two pegs, (in case of leg to apron joint) do you think that it is necessary to offset the mortise holes to prevent possible split in the leg? In a case where the face of the leg where the mortise holes are to be done, you can see the annual ring running down the leg(rift or quarter sawn).  I would think that one would look at the actual grain in the leg and try to put the holes so they are not over the same  “annual ring”.

Have you seen some old furniture suffering from split mortise caused by drawboring?”

In English work (this includes New England) of the seventeenth century, there is no effort made to stagger the position of the pin holes in each mortise. In other words, they are just aligned off the edge of the mortised member and kept away from the top and bottom edges of the mortise – (this latter prevents splitting of the tenon’s edge).

boring stiles for pins
pins in radial face, joined stool
pins in tangential face, joined stool


The face of the stock you bore into also dictates the likelihood of splitting. The pins that enter the tangential face are bored in the radial plane (sounds complicated, but see the pictures above) Oak splits easiest in the radial plane, so sometimes you get splits in the tangential face. In my experience these happen during the boring, not during the pinning. One exception is if the tenoned rail is not tight up against the mortised stock, then you can get a split easily. So the rails need to be pulled up tight before driving the pins, this is one function of the draw-bore pins.

driving pins for joined stool

In stools, splits from pinning are rare, the stiles are so chunky that they are tough. In joined chests, the stiles are rectangular in cross-section, so the narrower dimension sometimes can split. The one in this photo is about 1 7/8″ x 3 1/2″.

small splits between two pins
chest stile

Here’s another that split in the same plane.

splits between pins

So that’s where I expect to see them, in the narrow side view of the stiles of chests, cupboards, etc. I think it would be very unusual to see them in the radial faces of any stock…

Keep in mind the action of the period tool that cuts these holes, it’s a reaming-type cutting tool, so easily capable of splitting.  Easy does it.

piercer bit


Some of these pictures have been around before, for more on drawboring, see

 (All of that aside, I have seen some [New World] Dutch work, work shows the pins for mortise-and-tenon joints positioned diagonally, presumably just for this reason – to lessen the chance of splitting the stock. Usually it’s the tenon that is at risk.)