168 – Drawbored Mortise & Tenon

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The mortise and tenon is one of the strongest fundamental joints available to woodworkers, but there are a couple of ways we can make the joint even stronger and longer-lasting. One option is to simply reinforce with pegs. While this doesn’t really make the joint all that much stronger, it does help hold the parts together in the event of glue failure. I have repaired numerous chairs where the only thing preventing the piece from catastrophic joint failure was a small 1/4″ dowel driven through a key tenon. So if you don’t mind the way it looks, pegging your mortise & tenon joints is not a bad idea. But we can do even better.

The Drawbored Mortise & Tenon

A drawbored mortise & tenon joint is similar to the pegged version, only the hole in the tenon is slightly offset so that when the peg is driven home, it pulls the tenon further into the mortise. Most of the time, a joint with this much mechanical strength really doesn’t even require glue! But being the “belt and suspenders” kind of guy that I am, I like to use glue anyway.

This technique can be used on anything from door frames to workbenches. I’m using the drawboring technique on all of my mortise & tenon joints on my Roubo workbench. I want this sucker to be bullet-proof!

How to Drawbore

Drilling through the moritseTo drawbore, you need to have a finished mortise and tenon that is already cut and ready to go. Drill two holes through the mortise piece, making sure you go deep enough to penetrate the material on the other side of the mortise.

Offset Marks in the TenonDry assemble the joint and use a brad point bit to locate and transfer the hole centers in the tenon. Disassemble the joint and for better visibility, use a pencil to darken the marks in the cheek of the tenon.

Drawbore Offset HolesMeasure and mark the offset (the offset should be located closer to the shoulder of the tenon). How much offset depends on the wood and the application. A softer wood and a more demanding application might require a 1/8″ offset. A small door frame made from a dense exotic hardwood might require only 1/32″. But I would say on average, 1/16″ offset is probably a safe bet. Drill holes in the tenon at the new offset marks.

Homemade Dowel Pins

You can use commercial dowel stock for the pins but I find it much more fun to use a dowel plate to create my own. The advantage here is that you can use any species you have in your shop! Once the pins are cut to length, use a chisel or utility knife to sharpen one end to a blunt point. If you don’t do this, the pin will never be able to maneuver around the offset and you could very well break the pin or the tenon.

Lie-Nielsen Dowel Plate Drawbore Pegs Made With a Dowel Plate

Hammer it Home!

Drawbore Flush CutHammering the pins in place does take a little more effort than you are probably used to but keep at it. When the pin contacts the offset hole you will actually notice it starts tilting slightly. Once you reach the stock on the other side of the tenon, the pin straightens out again and bottoms out. Simply let the glue dry (if you used glue), and then use a flush trim saw to trim the excess pin stock.

I recommend practicing this technique a few times before trying it on an important project. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be drawboring mortise & tenon joints till the cows come home. I don’t own any cows so I’m guessing that’s going to be a really long time for me.

Category: Techniques

Comments

  1. craig turner March 27, 2012

    Once again, a stunning video. Simplicity – with a touch of class.

  2. Simon March 27, 2012

    Hi Marc,

    I just about finished watching all the episodes on your site (just recently discovered it). Great stuff! No let me correct that, REALLY great stuff! Thank you so much for al your tips on design, techniques, buying wood (Nicole steals the show as the girl behind the counter LOL), finishing, etc.

    I wish I saw your last video a couple of months earlier. I just finished an outdoor table and used the drawbore method for al my mortise and tenon joints. I didn’t rely on outdoor glues alone for them to hold the joints. And I found out the trick for tapering the tip the hard way and broke one peg. Well Iive and learn I believe you guys say over there.

    Thanks again for another great video.

    Simon
    The Netherlands

    PS: those ddos attacks make you wonder: do those people have nothing better to do?? Make some wood dust instead!

  3. Aaron March 27, 2012

    I love this technique. I use it all the time on cedar planters as I have yet find a glue that can handle Alberta weather all year.

  4. Danny Yarbrough March 27, 2012

    Mark, nice video, but I cringed when I saw the drawstring from your hoodie hanging down at the table saw! :-)

  5. that’s one sweet t-shirt!

  6. I meant the star wars shirt at the beginning

  7. Trevor Angell March 27, 2012

    If there is lots of grain run-out in your dowels, then you should select other stock as the peg/dowel could break along the grain half way down the length. The grain should run from one end of your peg to the other – the traditional way to do this is to split the material from oak, such that the entire peg is continuous grain.

  8. Tim March 27, 2012

    excellent technique, Thanks Marc for sharing this. I did not know of this until today, and i have had the need for this on a few of my projects.
    As always i learn something new almost every time I visit this site!

  9. Ed March 27, 2012

    Good piece of info. I am In the process of doing M/T right now on a couple of planters!! Couldn’t believe the co-incidence!!

  10. This is a little off subject but what if you wanted mortise and tenon that you could take a part from time to time? Like if you wanted to move something like a workbench to a new location. There are many metal hardware options but are there any all wood options you might suggest?

  11. Sean Rubino March 27, 2012

    Great video, Marc. I saw Shannon’s video during his Roubo build and he made the pins too. I liked how you showed the off set tenon and explained that the pin had to be slightly tapered to guide itself into the offset hole. I may have missed that detail when I watched Shannon’s video.

  12. Great video, like always. I was starting to go into withdrawals. My buddy is coming up to the house tomorrow to build a workbench ,gonna try these out. Thanks!

  13. Aaron Edwards March 28, 2012

    Wow, incredible.
    Marc I have not seen that form of ten and mortise before. Thanks so much, incredible video. I have seen pegs, but not off set like that and your description of why they are so good, well, great!
    Thanks so much.

  14. Gary Bell March 28, 2012

    Great segment. Really like the square peg in a round hole thing. There is also another tool you can use to make those pegs; it

  15. Jackie March 28, 2012

    Is that A Domino XL in the background?

  16. Mark Loughran March 28, 2012

    Brilliant video Marc as always, that bench is seriously nice!! Glad the DDOS business is behind you now, long live The Wood Whisperer!!!

  17. I love your videos and I am seriously considering signing up! I have one little request though that I think you can accommodate.. When you use certain tools (like the pusher and dowel creator) can you post links to the products? I know you already have a deal with Rockler and it would be awesome just to be able to quick jump out and find the same tool you are using. I always end up at Rockler anyway but it would be nice for you to get the credit for it.

    P.S. Why would anyone want to DoS. attack you? Maybe to get a hold of customer records?

    •  

      Hey Paul. I generally do post links to any relevant products used in the show, whether they are from a sponsor or not. Look in the article above under the video. You’ll see the box at the left as a section for Products Used. Sometimes I miss a product, like the GRR-Ripper so I can add that one. But the dowel plate link is indeed there.

      As for the DDoS, it isn’t every about extracting information. Not to mention really retain any customer information. At this point, we don’t know who or why and we probably never will.

  18. Luc March 28, 2012

    Great video.! Have you looked into using Veritas Dowel Tenon cutters? Veritas

  19. Eric March 28, 2012

    Hey Marc,
    Great video as always. Was just getting ready to do a pegged M&T, but will now try the drawbore method. Had a question though. I have a one & 3/8″ wide tenon going into a 4×4 pine post for my workbench. Wondering if I should sqeeze two 3/8″ dowels into that or if I should just use one in the center? Or two 1/4″ dowels?

    •  

      well putting two is starting to push it and I would definitely stay away from the 3/8″ pegs for this. Consider the 1/4″ or even 3/16″ instead. With the 3/16″, I think you could definitely get away with two. A 1 3/8″ tenon sounds a little on the small side for something like a workbench. What are the overall dimensions of that rail?

  20. John Verreault (aka JohnnyVee) March 28, 2012

    Great video segment from the Guild build. Just one thought on tapering the pegs–I use a good, old-fashioned pencil sharpener that does the trick like a hot damn. It’s screwed to my shop wall anyway so getting multiple uses out of a tool just makes that much better. ;^)
    Glad the DDoS attacks are under control (fingers crossed).
    Take care and thank you for the amazing amount of work you always put into your products.

    Cheers,
    John

    • John Davidson March 28, 2012

      I was thinking the same thing.

  21. Chad The Tool Guy March 28, 2012

    I was just researching this last week. Couldn’t ask for better timing.

    Thanks again

  22. Phillip Moore March 28, 2012

    I love it when I find techniques and tools I never knew about, and would probably never even know to look up. Both this technique and the fact that a dowel plate even exist were awesome. I’m going to get one of those dowel plates for sure. Before you whipped it out I was imagining you were going to make dowels on the router table.. but this is much cooler.

  23. John Davidson March 28, 2012

    Very cool technique. I have read a bit about different joints and I don’t think I have seen this one.

  24. Very strong technique, most of our houses carpentry here in Europe are assembled in this way, some are here for more than 1000 years and still standing proud. It can be seen in lot’s of antique furniture too. One of the reason of this longevity is that it is not a permanent join, if one part append to fail for any reason you can just replace it (not if you use glue).

    That makes me think that pegs on those antiques works are almost never round, the tricks you shown with the blockplane gives you an octagonal peg which is most of the time round enough. I personally think it gives a more rustic look that I like – even better if not flush trimmed.

  25. Claude Stewart March 29, 2012

    What kind of creep would want to bring this site down? I figured it might be something like that when I kept getting can’t connect errors. Hopefully they’re at an end and I think I’ll be trying this joint sometime in the future.

  26. Brian March 29, 2012

    Great video. I am definitely gonna try this method. That dowel plate is awesome. Thank you for all the work you put in. I can’t join the guild yet but I am going to do some shopping through your amazon link to try to help out. I’ll bet Shannon and Matt were behind the DDoS! There just jealous. Just kidding of course the effort that you three put in just to bring both education and entertainment to the rest of us is amazing. Thank you again.

  27. thefinnishguy March 31, 2012

    Excelent as allways marc! The moment i saw the downstrings from your hoodie getting close to the tablesaw… ;D -TheFinnishGuy
    PS: atm writing on lumia 800!

  28. Eric April 1, 2012

    Just tried this method. Worked beautifully! Thx.

  29. Brian Schmid April 1, 2012

    Have you tried using the pencil sharpener-like cuttter that Matt Vanderlist used to make his own dowels? The plate seems better for individual pegs but the other one looks like you could make full size dowels in one shot and cut out all of your pegs lickety split. Love the site and thanks for all the great info!

  30. Selwyn Adelson April 2, 2012

    I just wonder whether you have considered the amount of stress that must be taking place within that mortice and tenon joint whilst you are hammering home your drawbore peg. I wonder how many of the tenons are being cracked or broken in the process because when you think about it if your joint is cut correctly there should be no gap between the shoulder of the tenon and the shoulder of the mortice so the only way you can get the drawbore peg in place must be to break something inside.

    •  

      Don’t forget, wood compresses. Of course, if you make your offset too large, you could very well break something. But in a properly-sized joint the wood will compress to some extent making the joint incredibly strong and pulling the shoulder nice and tight against the adjoining piece. I don’t make this stuff up. The technique is very very old. :)

  31. Selwyn Adelson April 2, 2012

    Then surely the distance of the offset must depend on the degree of hardness of the wood used for the joint, With softer woods the offset should presumably be larger than with hard woods.

  32. Mark Brown April 3, 2012

    Nice video. You can find some more information about this technique here: Draw Boring

  33. Jay O'Neill April 6, 2012

    Another great video Marc. Would this joint work on softer woods or would there be too much compression leading to a loose fit?

  34. jHop April 9, 2012

    Got a question about the pegs themselves. I noticed during the video that the pegs “orientation,” or the angle they were going through the draw plate, changed during the process. Does this affect the created dowel in any way? For example, do you end up with a slightly kinked, curved, or warped dowel? Or does the pressure and force on the dowel not require a consistent straight angle?

    It should be obvious I haven’t used a dowel plate before, having purchased a lot of dowel stock from various sources. (I have used them for other projects, ranging from axle pegs to wands.)

    •  

      Im sure it does affect the final shape and straightness of the dowel to some extent. Using the straightest grain possible will help ensure it drives true. Also, getting some practice with one’s hammering technique will help too. :) But ultimately I don’t think any of this affects the final fit, finish and effectiveness of the joint unless we’re talking about a severe issue.

  35. Phil (Pith) Collins April 9, 2012

    Hi Mark, just wished to say what a quality video this was, just so happened i was going to do the same drawbored mortice and tenoned joint, i was a little nervious about it and then found your posting, watched and rewatched, it worked out great ty sooooo much, keep up the good work. we all appreicate your titbits.
    regards
    Pith

  36. AJ April 24, 2012

    That’s so sad that someone would ddos attack you! Why? Thanks for the vid, i’m new to this and found it very informitive

  37. About glue and dowels: you mention (around 14.30) that avoiding the glue might make it posible to take the joint apart later on by drilling the dowels out. Unfortunately, this will lose the ‘draw’ effect in any case, so the second assembly will have to be the last (with glue) – or I missed something..

    •  

      Depending on the joint, you might be able to drill from both ends to dislodge the dowel and pull out the tenon. Then you could re-use the joint as is. It might be messy, and in some cases, you might do a bit of damage in the process. But I think in most cases, if you’re drawboring, you are safer considering it a permanent joint.

  38. Eric the French June 26, 2012

    Here is France we traditionally use drawbored tenons in timber framing, we just do it a bit different.
    Now keep in mind that I’m talking about the way we do it in timber framing, so big piece of wood with 16mm (about 3/4 diameter) pointed peg going all the way through the mortised piece and left proud.

    First you drill the peg hole, by doing it before mortising you get clean holes inside the mortise.
    Then you do you tenon and dry fit it to mark the hole on the tenon, you either use a pencil when the holes are big enough or the same drill bit you use to drill the hole only turning the “wrong” ways (anti clockwise), this would just leave a mark on the tenon without going in.
    You then take the tenon out and proceed on drilling. Now here’s the trick, you offset your drill bit just a bit toward the shoulder of the tenon and once the bit has enough grip you tilt your drill at an angle as if you were trying to hit the opposite shoulder of your tenon. So if you’re facing your tenoned piece you’re pulling the drill toward you.
    Be careful though, if you over do it your peg or tenon can break, or in soft woods the peg can very well make it’s own hole on the other side (been there…).
    Another thing to consider when using this technique, your pegs only go in from one side, the one you drilled from.

    Voila, now the things I like about this technique are that you can , with a little experience, gauge how much of a draw you are putting on the tenon, the draw can be applied gradually if you decide to do it on a blind bore, and in timber framing, when the pegs are a bit tapered and left proud, you can decades after come back and drive the pegs a bit deeper and retighten the joint once more.

  39. Eric the French June 26, 2012

    BTW Excellent website, we are sorely lacking site like yours in french.

  40. Hey there, love the info. I’m going to try this on an oregon dining table build. Would half inch pegs be too big? My mortises are 3″ high.

  41. Mason December 10, 2012

    I absolutely love this technique, and the skill and precision at which you do it makes it even better!

  42. Javier Petrelli December 19, 2012

    Great technique!

    Saludos desde Venezuela

  43. Henk January 13, 2013

    Wow, great technique and very well explained.
    Thanks!

  44. Christophe Dean, DC February 15, 2013

    Lie-Nielsen makes a drawbore pin set which can be used to horse the tenon in tight and slightly flairs the hole in the tenon cheek to make dowel insertion a little easier. An additional advantage of using a pin is that if the joint does not look quite right, it is easy to remove the pin and tweek it before final assembly

  45. Mario Ellul February 27, 2013

    great technique and very well explained.
    Thanks!

  46. Alex (http://n/a) July 1, 2013

    Hello, I am interested in making a workbench using the draw boring technique.

    would recycled oregon legs and treated pine stretches be suitable timber?

    I am just wondering, my legs are about 100x100mm square, is the draw boring technique possible with this? wouldn’t the pins in each corner of the legs collide with each other?

    Thank you.

    Alex.

  47. Dave January 15, 2014

    Thanks for this great demonstration of drawboring!
    I know this is a bit of an old topic, but I’m hoping you can answer my question.
    My current project is an arts and crafts dining table. In the shop drawing I have, the legs are clearly pinned, not sure if drawbored as well. The legs will be made up of four pieces of 3/4″ stock mitered (with a domino) in order to make all four sides quarter-sawn. The final legs are 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ but I’m wondering if drawboring will pull the tenon so forcefully that it might blow the miter joint out. Any idea how much force this technique applies to the tenon shoulder?

    Thanks again for sharing such wonderful content!

    •  

      This is one of those things that’s difficult to quantitate meaningfully. The wood species and the amount of offset for the drawbore will both have significant impact on how much force is applied. That said, the job of the drawbore is to just pull it the shoulder snug. It really shouldn’t provide so much force as to cause something to snap. So my instinct says you’ll be fine. If you’re really concerned, make your offset very small. And remember, you don’t have to offset at all. You can simply drive a couple of dowels through. They won’t make the joint any tighter but they will prevent joint failure if the glue ever fails down the road.

  48. Frédéric September 8, 2014

    Thanks for the great info!

    So, suppose I do have chairs where the only thing preventing the piece from catastrophic joint failure is small 1/4″ dowels driven through a key tenon. How do I repair it so it won’t wobble anymore?

    Thanks again,
    Fred

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