Top Mortise Tips

An easy way to cut mortises is by drilling a series of overlapping holes at the drill press. Then you can use a chisel to remove the ridges on the sides and ends.

The drawings below show how to guide the chisel to pare away the waste. This technique leaves smooth walls for a better-fitting mortise and a flat glue surface.

Illustrations

I start with a wide chisel on the sides. A wide blade helps keep the surface smooth, with no “steps” between cuts. Take thin shavings, starting at the tips of the ridges and move back until the wall of the mortise is smooth. By controlling the downward pressure with your dominant hand and using your opposite hand to direct the blade, you’ll quickly get a feel for it. Pivoting the chisel allows you to make fine paring cuts for a smooth wall.

With the sides cleaned up, switch to a chisel that matches the width of the mortise to square the ends.

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