Moravian Workbench

Was it the wrong process or the wrong tool?

I have been a woodworker for more than 33 years and during these many years, and as you would expect, I have learned a lot about woodworking. I like to think that I can simply look at an interesting piece of furniture and, in my mind, begin to build it. Run through the steps I’d take to create my version of it. For me, part of the fun of woodworking is coming up with a sound process for making an object.

I posted the photo above on Instagram and was proud of what the photo portrayed. The image shows the front and rear stretchers for my new workbench coming to life. There is an organized workbench, my new tool cabinet in the background and the stretchers well on their way towards completion. The photo made me smile for these reasons, but also because I had conquered a design dilemma which had been secretly troubling me for several weeks.

Original front/back stretcher design.

My dilemma: Find a better way to cut the wedge mortises on the front and rear stretchers. The wedges need an angled mortise as seen above. My original plan for making these four mortises meant I would have to make eight angled dadoes using two boards for each stretcher; an extremely error prone exercise.

One morning, while driving out of my neighborhood, a stroke of genius hit me. I would make the stretchers three boards wide and design the center board so that room is made for the wedge…

The new front/rear stretcher design (a copy pulled forward for easier viewing).

A detailed view, new design, front and rear stretchers.

This new design uses a total of five parts: two outer boards shown in blue above and an inner core made of three parts shown in red and yellow. The logic of this design was mostly driven by my desire for an easier way to make the mortise for the wedges (shown in green), avoiding a lot of chopping the mortises with a chisel – the wood is red oak. And this new design enables me to add some width to the stretchers.

The process I concocted for achieving the final stretcher was this:

  1. Glue a red board to a blue board.
  2. Glue the yellow parts to the same blue board.
  3. Run the combined boards through the planer. The blue boards are 7/8″ thick. The red and yellow parts are 3/4″ thick.
  4. Then glue on the second blue board and send the completed stretcher through the planer to get 7/8″ on the second blue board.
  5. With a router, cut away the material at each end to create the long tenon.

After completing steps one and two, I began to plane this two board thick glue-up. This all began to go wrong when I sent the side with the wedge mortise through my planer. The cut-out for the mortise made it possible for the two board glue-up to move around considerably in the planer creating a terrible scoop in three places. See the illustration which best shows the result…

Note the scalloped shape before and after the wedge mortise cut-out.

Now, a planer is usually one of the loudest tools in the workshop when everything is going well. It is much louder when it is taking a deep, nasty cut all at one time. A deep cut is what happened when I sent this stretcher through the planer which essentially made it unusable.

Note the nasty cut.

So, I quickly went from a moment of being Instagram proud to a feeling of workshop stupidity. Even after 33 years of experience, woodworking can be so incredibly humbling. I thought there was a possibility that something would go wrong when the planer met the wedge mortise, but I wasn’t sure what would happen. I am lucky a more serious problem didn’t happen.

I think my process or the how I wanted to create these stretchers is sound, but I simply picked the wrong tool for the job. Since I had a second stretcher to complete (which hadn’t been ruined), I made a few passes over my power jointer which easily gave me the result I wanted. I did not originally choose my jointer for this task because the jointer can be somewhat inaccurate (like a tapered cut).

Now I am in the process of making a replacement stretcher for the one I messed up. By tonight the replacement will be ready for the outer board to be glued in place and I’ll be back on track. I hope to have the tenons for each end of the stretchers formed by the end of the week.

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Have a question or comment about this post? Leave me a comment below; but I also like email. Use my contact form to send me an email (click here).

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During the week, I sell flooring products for The Dixie Group. Weekends, you'll find me in my basement workshop making furniture.


  1. Ouch! As a teacher I used to tell my students quite often that you learn from your mistakes — sometimes I’d add: “that’s why I’m so smart — I’ve made lots of mistakes!” Glad you didn’t get hurt in the process.

  2. David Chang says

    I’m a very beginning woodworker and enjoy reading your posts. I have much to learn and appreciate your sharing of both good and not-so-good results. I too believe that everyone can learn from mistakes. Thank you for being honest. Keep up the good work, it is inspiring.

    • Hey David, thanks for commenting. It is just funny how a turn of events can totally change things for the worse. Anyway, a learning experience for sure.

  3. Hate it when that happens. Seriously annoying. Still, worse things can happen – didn’t see any blood so it can’t be that bad. đŸ˜‰ At least you just out time and materials and not medical bills.

    • Andrew, yes on it could have been worse. The noise my planer made even caused my wife to ask if everything was OK. đŸ˜²

  4. Chuck Decker says

    I assume you know what went wrong.

    I am guessing that there was not enough support for the board. The board was pulled into the machine by the roller as normal but lost its grip when it encountered the gap. The board still outside the machine dropped and the part that was in the machine was pushed up into the cutter and it dug a hole.

    Maybe feeding it at an extreme angle would have helped. (That’s what I always do anyway. I never feed a board straight in.)

    Another idea would be to temporally fill that gap with a piece of scrap using a few dots of glue or 2-sided tape. Then remove it after the milling is done.

    Either way, better support would probably help.

    Another thought:
    You would have been disappointed since there would have been a snipe at both ends of the board. But again, I’m assuming you were feeding the finished length of the piece.


    • Chuck, all of your guesses are correct. It’s like you were there when it happened. I have thought about building more heavy duty in-feed and out-feed supports so that long boards work better. Afterwards, I did consider using a scrap with hot melt glue to fill the gap, but the jointer was actually easy. Thanks for the comment.

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