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Joinery Journey

My wife Susan gave me some wonderful books on woodworking for Christmas. One of them is geared as a beginner’s course in basic skills. Cutting mortise and tenons by hand is of course one of the exercises. I’ve yet found time to work on this skill. I did purchase a set of Lie-Neilson chisels and set up my Scary Sharp sharpening station. Still I’m very much intimidated by the process, so much so that I began looking for less skilled joinery methods. I continue to discover them a month later.

Pocket Holes – The cat’s meow for speed and strength. They are suitable for everything except what I would ignorantly call “fine” woodworking. Kreg makes the gold standard but believe it or not, Harbor Freight makes a nice jig for 1/3 the price that is very serviceable. Use the Kreg screws! Yes, HF is mostly shite but you can select wisely (read the customer reviews) and find servicable items for cheap.

Dowls – the good news, joining with dowels would seem very easy to do and quite inexpensive to setup. The downside is that this is not the strongest of joints and has a tendency to allow twisting. I also bought a HF doweling jigs because they were cheap and I wanted to learn how to use this technique.

Festool Domino – OK I don’t yet have a table saw so I won’t be purchasing a $1,200 Domino anytime soon. I did see that it is a great device and clearly superior to biscuit joiners.

Biscuit Joiners – Not cheap but not terribly expensive either. Clearly a mainstream joining method but criticized greatly for lacking strength. Further confusion comes from the reviews of customers, just when you think you’ve found a great model someone points out it weaknesses. So the more I read the more I looked to other joinery methods. Why spend $200 on a compromise? At least at this point in my journey?

Floating Tenons – What if I wanted to use the Domino concept but without the $1,000 machine to cut the mortises? Guess what, others have thought of this and there are ways to do it!

JessEm Mortise Mill – I think I like this jig. I’m not sure if if I would buy the Zip Slot Mortise Mill I or the Pocket Mortise Mill II. Both look like they would really work well.

Beadlock System – Another approach to the floating tenon is the Beadlock jig. Uses a standard drill bit and the jig to form a beaded mortise. The tenon stock can either be purchased or you can route you own using a special bit. Looks very interesting and I bet the joints are spectacularly strong. Yet I still question how flexible this system is.

General Tools 870 EZ Pro Mortise and Tenon Jig – Just saw this guy which cuts a round tenon and mortise with the same jig.  Automatically centers stock from 1/2″ to 1-1/2″ cutting 1/4″ or 1/2″ mortises. Use your plunge router with a straight cut bit.

The journey continues.…

Categories: Woodworking Tags: ,
  1. February 4, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    I have some suggestions if you don’t mind. The Jess em works well, I don’t have one but I messed with one before. Stay away from biscuit jointers unless you are making countertops. They work great for allignment but that’s about it. Get the best table saw you can afford but unless you have the room in the shop for a true cabinet saw that won’t move I would stick with a contractor style saw. The contractor saws usually have cast iron tables, a nice clearance between the blade and the actual front of the table, they are accurate enough for most woodworking especially if you pick up an after market miter fence, and they usually have casters so you can wheel them out of the way when you are finished. If you get a cabinet saw, you are either going to have to leave it stationary or pick up some type of caster system which usually run 200-300 dollars. You can generally pick up a contractor saw for 600-1000 that will perform just fine for woodworking.
    Hope that I helped a little.

    • February 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

      Thanks for the feedback Bill, that advice coincides with a book I’m reading. Whereas Delta, Powermatic and sometimes SawStop seem to be top choices for cabinet saws, I haven’t yet researched the top players or models in the contractor or hybrid arena. Maybe you have thoughts on this? Thanks again!

  2. February 5, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    I had a Delta that I picked up used that was a good saw but the fence was in bad shape. My boss bought me a Rigid contractor style saw as a gift. It’s technically on the lower end of the scale when considering contractor saws, they probably cost around $550 give or take. But the saw is definitely powerful enough with an accurate fence. I have an Osborne miter gauge and I simply upgraded the saw blade and the saw has performed like a much higher level saw. I’ll admit that I wouldn’t have picked the Rigid myself, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it. With about $200 in upgrades it’s working like a $1000 saw.
    If money is no object SawStop makes a top quality contractor style saw that is about $500 more than the nearest model. I used one at a class and it is a great saw, but you can go with a Grizzly or Delta for under a $1000 that are both perfectly good saws. Knowing what I know now, how I did it isn’t such a bad way to go. Keep in mind that I got my saw for free, but even if I had paid for it I only had to spend about $200 to get it to work like a much more expensive saw. So for under $800 you can get a pretty good saw that will last a long time.
    I hope that helps

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