Drilling Centered Tenons – Lost Art Press

Centering the tenon on a stick can be a challenge.

One of the biggest hurdles chairmaking students face when making their stretchers and sticks is drilling the tenon on the end of the stick. I use the Veritas Power Tenon cutters for this. And we do it freehand with the cutter in a drill.

So some skill and practice is required.

(Yes, I know I can mount the tenon cutters in a lathe and build a platform for the stick so the tenon is perfect every time. A lot of students don’t have or want a lathe. And my goal is to teach this craft with as few tools and jigs as possible. Why? It’s just how the Grasshopper God made me.)

Some students get the feel for it after a few sticks. One student burned through – no lie – more than 30 sticks, and he still didn’t get it right.

I’m always asking other chairmakers for tips on how to teach people to use this tool. From my own experience, here are the important steps:

  1. Level the stick in the vise.
  2. Level the tenon cutter using its bubble level.
  3. Press firmly forward.
  4. Advance steadily, and check to ensure you are still level and the cutter is perpendicular to the stick.

Chairmaker Travis Curtis offered this helpful suggestion: Try to observe the whole operation – don’t narrow your focus to one small area in front of the cutter. This will help you steer straighter.

It’s like driving a car (or cutting with a band saw). If you look right at the pavement in front of the hood, your steering will be erratic and you might squish the Grasshopper God inadvertently, bringing shame and a 20-year curse on your house.

But if you look a mile ahead of your car, your steering will be steady and smooth. 

This is a helpful tip. But it didn’t fix everyone’s problems.

Then Derek Jones taught his Cricket Table class here a couple weeks ago and he modified all my drills by gluing a bubble level on top of each one. (We have an entire drawer of individual bubble levels; you cannot buy just one.)

These bubble levels make the tenon-drilling process even more predictable. You can’t see the bubble level on the tenon cutter when it is spinning. But you can see the one on the drill. So you can make fine adjustments as you drill and observe the entire process in your field of vision.

Like this:

I love solving a problem using the brains of a bunch of people. Give this a try if you haven’t already.

— Christopher Schwarz

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