Cutting the Tenons on the Workbench Stretchers.

I debated for a while about how I would cut the tenons on the end of the workbench stretchers.  I thought about laying them out and cutting them by hand, but I’m not much of a sawyer yet and I felt that this was not the time to risk screwing things up.  I don’t have any spare stretcher material.

In short, I chickened out and stuck to the way I felt most comfortable.

I had to get a feel for the best way to approach this process and tried to takes loads of photos as I went.  I cut a tenon on one end of each stretcher and at the end of the day, I copied all of the photos to the computer and reviewed them.  It was not good.  I didn’t get photos of each step as I had wanted and thought it best not to use any of the photos.

So, the next day is where we start here.  Tenons have been cut only on one end of each stretcher.  In showing you how I cut the second tenon, you’ll get the gist of how I started. This post will be heavy on pictures, but I hope they’re worth the load time.

First thing I did was to set-up my cross-cut sled on the table-saw and raise the blade to 2 inches.  Using a marking knife, I laid out the location for the second shoulder to ensure that the base (allowing for the legs) will be the exact same width and the benchtop.

I raised the blade to 2 inches.

I raised the blade to 2 inches.

I took the two short stretchers, turned them upside down on the sled, and lightly clamped them together

Clamping the stretchers together to ensure they stay flush.

Clamping the stretchers together to ensure they stay flush.

I flushed up the existing shoulders to make sure that the stretchers come out the same length and then tightened the clamps.

Making sure the shoulders are perfectly lined up.

Making sure the shoulders are perfectly lined up.

I lined up the layout line with the kerf in the cross-cut sled.

Aligning the cross-cut sled with the marking knife line.

Aligning the cross-cut sled with the marking knife line.

And then checked the edge of the tooth to make sure it just touched the line.

Checking that the carbide tooth will just touch the knife line.

Checking that the carbide tooth will just touch the knife line.

One last check of everything before I commit and make the cut.

Preparing to cut the other shoulder.

Preparing to cut the other shoulder.

I carefully gang cut both shoulders.

I carefully gang cut both shoulders.

By gang cutting both stretchers at once, I can make sure that they are the exact same length from shoulder to shoulder.

As soon as the first cut was made, I removed the clamps and one of the stretchers.

Everything that I do from this point, is on only one stretcher at a time.

With out making any changes to the setup, I continued to make repeated cuts towards the end of the tenon.  Stay well away from the initial shoulder cut.

Make repeated cuts toward the waste side.

Make repeated cuts toward the waste side.

Next, I lowered the blade to a height that matches the depth of the dado.

Lower the blade to the height of the dado.

Lower the blade to the height of the dado.

I made a test cut at the end of the stretcher to make sure I have the height set correctly.

A quick test cut to check for proper blade height.

A quick test cut to check for proper blade height.

Yep, that’s got it.

Results of the test cut.

Results of the test cut.

With the height properly set, I carefully aligned the tablesaw blade in the kerf made when I first cut the shoulder.  I adjusted the stretcher until the blade would turn freely in the kerf without catching on either side.  It’s important to take your time and get this shoulder cut right.  The rest of the cuts are just to remove material and the spacing of those doesn’t matter and can be made quickly.

Align the blade in the kerf of the first shoulder cut.

Align the blade in the kerf of the first shoulder cut.

After cutting the shoulder, I made a bunch more cuts to get rid of the waste.

Repeated cuts toward the waste side.

Repeated cuts toward the waste side.

I should point out that the bottom of the stretcher is the reference surface.  This is important to remember.  The shoulder cuts are 90° to the bottom.  If I rotated the stretcher at this point to cut the other side, and I put the top of the stretcher against the cross-cut sled fence, the shoulder cuts might not end up square.  So, instead of rotating the stretcher, I flipped it end for end to keep the stretcher bottom against the sled fence. Again, I took the time to make sure the blade aligns perfectly with the original shoulder cut.

Using the same blade height, align the blade carefully in the kerf of the shoulder cut.

Using the same blade height, align the blade carefully in the kerf of the shoulder cut.

With the shoulder cut, repeat as before to remove the waste.

The bottom of the tenon was the last part to be cut.

I lowered the blade to align with the bottom of the dado.  If my initial set-up was correct, this should be 3/8 inch.

Lower the blade to the height of the bottom of the dado. This should be 3/8".

Lower the blade to the height of the bottom of the dado. This should be 3/8″.

I made a test cut in the end of the stretcher to make sure that the set-up is correct.

A test cut to make sure the height is right.

A test cut to make sure the height is right.

One more time, carefully align the blade with the shoulder kerf.  I cut the shoulder line and made the repeated cuts to remove the waste.

One more time, carefully align the blade in the kerf of the shoulder cut.

One more time, carefully align the blade in the kerf of the shoulder cut.

The results of all these cuts look like a mess, but I assure you there is a nice tenon hidden within.

Here's what's left.

Here’s what’s left.

Time to remove all the waste and reveal the tenon within.

Time to remove all the waste and reveal the tenon within.

I took a wide chisel and began to chop away the majority of the waste wood.  I was careful to not dig into the tenon, as you can’t put it back.

Using a large chisel to remove the waste wood.

Using a large chisel to remove the waste wood.

Remove most of the waste, but don't cut into the tenon.

Remove most of the waste, but don’t cut into the tenon.

After the initial chopping, this was left:

After the initial chiseling, a rough looking tenon is left.

After the initial chiseling, a rough looking tenon is left.

This will need to be cleaned up by paring.

This will need to be cleaned up by paring.

I used the same large chisel to pare across the rough remaining ribs.  Because I cut all the kerfs with an Alternating Top Bevel (ATB) blade, the tips of the teeth left little scoring marks in the wood.  These are very helpful as they allow me to pare to a consistent level all over the tenon.  I pared until all of the ribs were gone, but some of the scoring lines remained.  This should help me get a better fit in the mortise.

Most of the roughness pared away.

Most of the roughness pared away.

I used the chisel to break the sharp edges on the tenon.

I also slightly eased the corners of the tenon.

I also slightly eased the corners of the tenon.

You can just see some of the score marks left by the ATB blade.

You can just see some of the score marks left by the ATB blade.

The other extra step that I took was to undercut the shoulders.  This isn’t necessarily needed, but it should help to ensure that the joint pulls together tightly when I draw bore it together.

I start with the chisel a little way in from the edge of the shoulder and pare towards the tenon.  I’m not looking to remove much material, maybe only a 1/64th of an inch.  This should be just enough to make the edge of the shoulder pull up tight to the leg.

Under-cutting the shoulders to ensure a tight joint.

Under-cutting the shoulders to ensure a tight joint.

You don't have to remove much, just make sure you don't touch the edge.

You don’t have to remove much, just make sure you don’t touch the edge.

To show you where the wood is being removed, I added some pencil lines.

Here's some pencil lines to demonstrate what is being removed.

Here’s some pencil lines to demonstrate what is being removed.

After paring, you can see that the pencil lines remain at the edge of the shoulder but towards the tenon, they are gone.

After undercutting with the chisel.

After undercutting with the chisel.

I pared the end-grain to undercut the shoulder line all the way around the tenon.

I undercut all the way around the tenon.

I undercut all the way around the tenon.

All done.

All done.

The tenon on this end of the stretcher is way too long.  This is because I made the stretchers longer than needed and cut the shoulder to shoulder distance exactly as needed.  I will trim the tenons to final length once I have cut and fitted the mortises.   Depending on how the mortising process goes, I may miter the ends of the tenons to meet inside of the legs.

This tenon is still way too long, but I will cut it to length when I fit it to the leg mortise.

This tenon is still way too long, but I will cut it to length when I fit it to the leg mortise.

It took some time, but I cut all eight tenons and undercut all of the shoulders.  Paring the end-grain of this wood with a very sharp chisel leaves it shiny and really shows what the grain looks like. There are a lot of nice ,wide, latewood rings.  That’s the darker part that you can see in the photo above.  Latewood (or autumn wood) is much denser and stronger than earlywood (the light bands) and the large amount of latewood in this lumber indicates it will be very strong.

Well, next I’ll have to move on to mortising the legs.  But first I think I’d better soak my table saw blade in some cleaning solution.  All these cuts have gunked it up pretty well.

More soon.

– Jonathan White

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don't build enough - I need help!
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3 Responses to Cutting the Tenons on the Workbench Stretchers.

  1. mschror says:

    Try a tennon saw. The only way you get good at sawing is to practice. And besides, its only a tennon, they dont have to be a NASA fit, especially if you are drawboring them.

    A tennon saw is much quieter, safer, faster, and loads more fun. Not to mention the satisfaction you get from cutting by hand…

    Just my 2 cents

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the comment. I get your point, and I cant really disagree with anything that you’ve said. I just went with a method I was comfortable with. I am in the process of cutting the legs to length and square, and I’m using my hand saws for that. I will also cut the tenons on the top of the legs by hand.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

  2. Pingback: The Workbench Base Slowly Continues | The Bench Blog

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