Montreat Side Table
Comments 6

How I Made 34 Precision Mortises in White Oak

If you have been a woodworker even for a short period of time, you’ve no doubt come to realize that building furniture has a lot to do with problem solving. I have been in this craft for more than 35 years and I can still make the most boneheaded mistake (as if I were a drop dead beginner). As mistakes happen, problem solving takes place. Solving problems isn’t simply due to mistakes though. For example, achieving a pleasing design or resolving complicated joinery issues require problem solving. Problems can be disappointing or frustrating, but solving them often leads to a big smile.

One recent problem involved the numerous slats found in the sides and the back of my side table; specifically how to join the slats to the rest of the table. The only real way for me to do this is with mortise and tenon joinery. But I then had to decide how I would make these joints. The material I’m using is white oak and I have 34 mortises to make. Because the slats have tenons on each end which fit into different components, I’ll need to find a way to make a lot of very accurate mortises in some pretty tough wood – quite a task.

What I’ll need is repeatability. Let’s say I picked the left side stretcher to make the needed five mortises. I would then need to repeat this task to make five identical mortises in the right side apron. Next, I’d need to do this same operation all over again for the left side stretcher and apron. Then, there are seven slats for the back.

I decided to make mortises via template routing which requires accurate templates and for this table, two different template configurations. Check out the video below (click the icon in the bottom right of the video player to make it full screen)…

I began this step by marking the mortise positions on some 1/4″ plywood template material. I then enlarged the mortises 3/16″ to allow for the collar in the base of my plunge router. You can see the offset for the collar in the pencil lines below.


I notch out one side of the template and then glue the opposite side.


The side template ready to go.


Note how the router has a small collar inserted in the base. The bit is protruding through it.


The collar moves within the cut out in the template and the router bit removes the white oak.


One side stretcher completed. I’ll repeat this process for the side apron. Then repeat for the opposite side.


A different template is created for the back stretcher and apron.


Two templates in back and the various stretchers and aprons.




Stretchers close-up.

My 34 mortise problem is solved! And yes, I did smile after first removing the template from the left side stretcher. The mortises were evenly spaced and the correct depth and as seen in the photo of the components laying on my workbench, the mortises line up between the left side stretcher and the corresponding apron. Pretty sweet.

Next, I’ll begin work on the slats which will be an exercise in creating tenons. These slats will be made of walnut adding a second color to the table. After completing the slats and adding the angular detail to the stretchers, I’ll finally be ready to glue all these various parts together.

ONE LAST NOTE: I am happy to report I’ve made the decision to remove WordPress advertising from my blog. The monthly advertising money I was earning wasn’t worth the frustration caused by these super annoying ads.

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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. Chuck Decker says

    Jeff, that is an absolutely elegant jig – great solution! ๐Ÿ™‚๐Ÿ‘Œ
    Just to tease you a little, I’m surprised that you don’t have a single dowel in this piece. ๐Ÿ˜

    Do you intend to do your finishing after assembly?

    I know that a lot of people do it that way. However, I rather do all my sanding, staining, and finishing to individual components, such as your stretchers and slats. Final gluing and assembly comes last. For me it is much easier and I avoid sanding in tight corners. Of course this means that I must protect the mortises and tenons from getting finish on them. I stuff tissue or foam into the mortises, and cover the tenons with tape. When it comes time for assembly, I have to protect the finished parts with masking tape. I think this actually takes longer, but I get better results.

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to share your projects. Even though I have been doing this since I was about 7-10 years old (now going on 73), I always learn something new from you.

    May God bless,

    • The dowel joint gets no respect. ๐Ÿ™‚ But dowel joinery can have alignment problems when the two holes donโ€™t align perfectly and I need to get better at M & T. Concerning pre-finishing, I have been thinking about that and Iโ€™ve decided to pre-finish. As you say, there is some planning and thought needed when pre-finishing but I think it is the best way to go. Thanks for the compliment.

  2. I cheated the first time I made a bed for my daughter that had slats — cut a dado into the rails and then milled spacers to fit between the slats! Must of been okay because now my 8 year old grandson is sleeping in the same bed!

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