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.)

mortise & tenon work

driving the pins
driving the pins

The post about making the pins for drawbored mortise & tenon joints brought a couple of comments, and a couple of questions. First & foremost, the moisture content of the pins – bone dry…gotta be. I shave mine dry. I split excess straight-grained oak into pin blanks and then store it around the shop. They are small-cross-sections, so dry quickly…but in any event, I always have several piles of them around – from green to dry.

They do have to fit the holes, but the taper in their length makes this easy enough to acheive. It doesn’t hurt to have a piece of scrap stock with a test-hole bored in it, and check your first dozen or so pins in that hole…typically beginners make the pins too stout.

Alexander points out that using a shaving horse & drawknife to make them makes the taper easier to achieve.  But JA is working from stock that is easily 3 times the length I use. It’s a trade-off.  As far as my method requiring experience and skill, well…I am reminded of a quote I once heard the folksinger Claudia Schmidt repeat:

“Good judgement is the result of experience. Experience is the result of poor judgement.”

(I figured it’s from Yip Harburg [If I Only had a Brain] but on the web I’ve seen it attributed to Twain. Don’t think it’s him…but maybe need to look at Puddn’head Wilson again)

Hmm. I adopted this method of shaving pins when I saw it in a sixteenth-century woodcut. I find it really works, and splitting the stock is very easy in such short lengths. You can often split it down to nearly the size you need.  I say make your pins that way, and you’ll get good at ’em. Shaving them from long stock with a drawknife will get you good at shaving them from long stock with a drawknife…either way, make them dry, make them tapered.

It is not a wet/dry joint like in Alexander’s post & rung chairs. The action of the drawboring is what makes the joint work, not a moisture content differential. for more on the drawboring, see

(on the right-hand side of this blog is a search button, way down towards the bottom. Let’s see if the above link works to get readers to the previous entries on the subject.)

drawbore pins
drawbore pins


I do use drawbore pins to pull the joint together first, this allows me to check the joints and make sure everthing is as it should be, before I put any wooden pins in. Some folks think these steel pins will wreck the drawbore, but I’ve never had a problem with them. Alexander found these pins at Sears many years ago, and handled them for me. Cheap & effective.


joint ID
joint ID

I also often use a numbering system for making certain that the correct tenon is in the mortise. Here just the mortise chisel chops Roman numerals to ID the joint.


Here’s the inside of a recent stool showing the trimmed pins, the fore plane surface on the inside face of the rail; and the inner shoulder of the rail not quite hitting the stile. Also these pins are staggered in height, so as to not interfere with each other.

interior of stool frame
interior of stool frame

drawbored peg & chest restoration

drawbored peg
drawbored peg

A few years ago I was fortunate to acquire a seventeenth-century joined chest with drawer, made by William Savell, (1652-1699/1700) of Braintree, Massachusetts. It needed some restoration, but was well worth the trouble. One long rail had been removed from the bottom section of the chest and replaced by an incorrect restoration. The new rail was toenailed in, not tenoned into the stiles. When I removed it I found that the tenons for the original rail were still in place in the mortises. I had to remove these tenons to be able to insert my new replacement rail. Easier said than done. Each tenon was secured with one draw-bored peg; none came out easily, and only this one came out intact. The others I had to bore through them, and shred them to get them out. Each one took over 30 minutes to remove.

joined chest, incorrect restoration
joined chest, incorrect restoration

This is the chest as it was when it came to my shop. Essentially the carcass is correct, but several other parts were wrong. There are 2 drawers where there should be one, the rail below these drawers is the replacement I had to remove. The lid is also incorrect. The floor and rear boards were also replaced. I’ve done all the woodwork for the restoration; all that remains is the coloring. Having the chest in the shop is a great way to really see how it is made.  Here are the floor rails where they meet at the stiles. The groove for the floor is visible; and the floor rails are pentagonal, the thicker edge at the bottom is to strengthen the rail where the joiner cut the groove in it.

floor rails, pentagonal cross section
floor rails, pentagonal cross section

This is the new pine floor boards being installed. They are beveled to fit into the grooves, and sit on a lower rear rail. Tongue & grooved at their edges. The middle one is tapered in width to spread the floor right & left.

floor boards in chest
floor boards in chest


The chest as it stands now is pretty close to what it should be (other than those silly castors)  I am going to bring it back to the shop at some point to color it, but in the meantime we have pressed it into duty here at home. To me it’s fitting that the only piece of antique furniture we have is one I have been studying for 20 years now.   The article on these chests is online at chipstone’s website.  Follow their pages to American Furniture, 1996 and it’s in that issue.

Braintree chest restored
Braintree chest restored

pegging the drawbored joint

drving pegs in drawbored joint
drving pegs in drawbored joint


I wanted this picture in last night’s post about drawboring, but couldn’t find it. So today, while sorting pictures for my trip to Colonial Williamsburg, there it was.

I am driving the tapered oak pegs into the drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints. You can see four more pegs lying on the bench; mine are not all that long, about 5″ or even less.  They are the driest stock in the shop, shaved from riven stock, never sawn.  There will be lots more of this.