Mortises Before Turning – Genius


Apologies for the following statement, but “The Woodworker: The Charles Hayward Years” is a gold mine of craft knowledge. Even though we were mired in the project for more than seven years (and I should despise it), the finished books are incredibly useful in my everyday work.

Yesterday proved that point. You might remember this blog entry where I reprinted a 1964 article on making a staked stool that was one of the thousands of articles we sorted through for our two-volume set.

In that article, S.H. Glenister recommended boring mortises for a staked stool before shaping the legs. This is exactly how I work with square mortise-and-tenon projects, but is the opposite of how I work when building post-and-rung assemblies with round tenons and mortises.

I can’t say why it never occurred to me to bore the round mortises first when the stock was square. Just a brain defect, I guess.

So when making the post-and-rung base for a new design for a chest of drawers, I followed Mr. Glenister’s advice. It worked brilliantly and everything turned out perfectly square and centered with little fuss.

The only hiccup was when turning the mortised bits. You need to lighten up your pressure on the tool as you pass the tool by the mortises. I didn’t have any of them catch, but if you use consistent pressure the areas around your mortises will end up a little skinnier.

Give it a try next time.

By the way, we are hard at work at designing the next two volumes of “The Woodworker.” Vol. III on joinery is now completely designed and needs only a final edit. Meghan Bates, the designer, is now laying out Vol. IV, which is on the workshop and furniture. There is still a lot of work ahead, but we are plowing forward.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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13 Responses to Mortises Before Turning – Genius

  1. waltamb says:

    Both methods of before or after work fine.
    I prefer after because if you bore before you can ger massive blowouts or at least some tear out of unsupported fibers around the bore hole.
    Once again… many roads lead to the same result.
    Try every method and then just go with what works best for you.

    • I agree…both methods do work…However, in my experience, working with several “traditional woodworkers”…this method seems to be the most common…

      The “pre-mortise” are simply “plugged” (several very easy methods that are removable) and then the turning is much easier and with little issue with tear or blow out…

      All in all…(for the most part)…the preferred method in most applications…

  2. I suppose plugging the hole with a spare tenon held in with a dab of hide glue might help.

  3. I am an enthused by the lost art concept. Hand tools are so much quieter, safer and just plain more enjoyable to use. I have several lost art books and am in the middle of making my Roubo style bench. Chris, you are giving me fits using scraping tools while turning. I know your busy, but man, use a skew, they are just so much better once you know how to properly sharpen and use them. Same as planes, chisels etc. If you lived near me I’d have to simply have you over and set things right.


    • Dave,

      I learned on traditional tools (on a spring pole). I know how to sharpen and use them very well. I use these EasyWood tools entirely by choice.

    • Ah…???…scraping tools (among others) are standard practice in….”traditional turning”…not all this…’turning work”…is performed with the typical tools we now see today…This (to me) harkens back to how I see most folks use a “drawknife” 90% of the time with the bevel up…which is the opposite of the actual “traditional” method of use…which is bevel down about 60% of the time and only “skewing” and using it bevel up about 40% of the time for certain grained woods…

      Scrapers (et al) in turning work was (…is???…or should be) very common and works well…

  4. Why not turn the area near the mortises (only), then bore, then finish turning?

    The unturned ends serve to square everything up, and provide easy clamp locations.

    Yes, it’s an extra setup, but…it’s not like I’m winning any speed records anyway… 🙂

  5. Rachael Boyd says:

    I have used both methods.a lot of thinking and planing on which method would work best for each job.for me time works into this also.

  6. FIG Woodworks says:

    I have always done it this way, some how it seemed the normal thing to do!

  7. I always do the mortises prior to turning the spindle. I do the tenons first also. I do a few extra tenons regardless of them being round, square or rectangular and cut them off and use the cut-offs as plugs for the mortises, securing them with some double-sided tape. After turning the spindles a screw awl plucks them out effortlessly.

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