When I make chairs with an old-school feel, it’s nice to leave the through-tenons on both the arms and seat a little proud. Lots of old chairs have proud tenons, which is likely a result of things shrinking and getting worn.
For years, I shaped my proud tenons with a shallow gouge (or a chisel) and a mallet. It worked, but if I struck the mallet too hard there were times that the grain would get torn up and the tenon would be ugly-ish.
Years ago I changed my technique to what is shown here. I think it’s easier and produces better results, but I’m not the best woodworker in Covington.
Step 1: Seal the Surrounding Surface
When I use proud tenons on a chair with a clear finish, I first seal the surrounding surface with two coats of shellac to prevent glue from fouling the arm or seat. It’s a quick process. I rag two thin coats of shellac on the unassembled arm or seat.
After the shellac is dry, I assemble the chair as usual, wedge the tenons and remove any excess glue with hot water and a toothbrush.
Step 2: Saw the Tenons
After the chair is assembled, I saw the tenons so they are all 3/16” (about 5mm) proud of the arm or seat. On the seat, I just eyeball it with a saw. On the arms, I take a scrap of crap 5mm plywood and drill a 3/4” hole through the center. Place the scrap over the wedged tenon and saw it flush to the scrap.
Step 3: Shape the Tenons
Now the fun part. I tape around the tenon. The tape prevents the surface from getting dented. Then I chip away at the tenon with my scorp. I press the scorp’s cutting edge against the tenon and lever the handles up, removing a chip. I work all around the tenon until it looks like I want it to.
Then I pull up the mass of tape with care and place it over the next tenon.
When all the tenons are shaped, I decide if I need to remove the shellac. If I am adding a film finish (such as shellac or lacquer) then I leave the shellac as-is. If I am finishing the chair with an oil/wax blend, I need to remove the shellac. This is easily done by flooding the surface with alcohol and wiping it up with a rag. I do this a couple of times, then lightly sand around the tenons.
— Christopher Schwarz
6 thoughts on “Through-tenons with Texture”
Nice look, adds a bit of class and accentuates the “hand-worked feeling without going too “crafty”..
Do you drill first then rag on the shellac or the other way around? How important is shellac in the mortises to glue adhesion?
I apply the shellac right before assembly. So after drilling and shaping.
To avoid getting shellac in the mortises, you can fill the mortises with packing peanuts. I just take care not to flood shellac into the mortise.
I think it’s an excellent look.
I will remember this technique.
I do like the look.
I do the shaping by placing a thin card scraper/piece of spring steel over the tenon. It has a hole drilled out the size of the tenon. Then use a chisel, bevel down and referenced on the scraper to lever up same as you doing with Scorp.
Using the scraper saves all the tape peeling.
Used to call this “pillowing” the tenon in our shop bc of the shape it leaves on square tenons.
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