151 – Mortiser? I Hardly Know Her!

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If you make a lot of mortise and tenon joints, a Hollow Chisel Mortiser is a tool you should really consider. It makes quick work of the repetitive task of batching out mortises. And unlike the router, it leaves nice square ends that pair perfectly with tenons made at the table saw or cut by hand. This is a fairly comprehensive video and tells you pretty much everything you need to know to purchase, set up, and use a hollow chisel mortiser.

All tools and materials shown in the video are available via the links to the left.

Category: Tool Setup


  1. Bryan V July 1, 2011

    Loved the moon walk. Very informative, though i don’t think i’ll ever been needing one… but that could change

    thanks Marc!

  2. Chris July 1, 2011

    yay! free content, always love it. very in depth on the mortiser. Out of curiosity, are there any options to use a drill press as effectively a hollow chisel mortiser?

  3. Aaron July 1, 2011

    Great Video Marc, I think I may need to add a hollow chisel mortiser to my shop now.

  4. I am very impressed with the quality of the free content you put out there. You must put a lot of effort into it! Thanks a ton, Marc!

  5. Bill Akins July 1, 2011

    Wow! You did slide the moon walk into a video. The ultimate hollow chisel mortised video, I want one now. Thanks for the late night video.

  6. Hey Marc,

    Just an aside for a solution that works for me. All of my woodworking equipment is in a 2 car garage and I just don’t have space for a dedicated hollow chisel mortiser (Actually, I’m out of room for just about everything). My solution was to use a mortising attachment kit on my drill press and it works great! I bought mine from a Craigslist ad, but the same one can be had at Woodcraft for 100 bucks.

  7. Doug McPherson July 2, 2011

    Not being an owner of this tool, you cleared up a lot of the mystery. Very thorough, you are! Good video work, good teaching! That’s why you site is leading the way.

  8. What perfect timing! I just picked up a used delta drill press with mortising attachment yesterday.
    Thanks Wood Whisperer!

  9. Kent E. July 2, 2011

    Another excellent job. Not only informative, but very entertaining. Thank you.

  10. Scott July 2, 2011

    I thought I tuned my mortiser, boy was I wrong! To the shop I go.
    Thanks Marc.

  11. Jason July 2, 2011

    What a great and thorough video. Your video editing skills, while already great, just keep improving with each video

  12. I have a mortising attachment for my drill press. It fits my needs but setup is a pain. I only set it up when I have a lot of mortises to do. The biggest problem is that my quill is sloppy so I have to layout the hole with pencil marks and make sure the edge of the chisel lines up every time.

    I prefer the old hammer and mortising chisel.

  13. Lone_Wolf July 2, 2011

    Marc, great video. It never dawned on me to flatten the outside of my chisels. I’ll get right on that and see how much of a difference it makes.


    • Lone_Wolf July 2, 2011

      Relating to the Shapton stones. What is the highest grit you would use to sharpen regular chisels? At what point does the effort not gain you much? I see they have stones up to 30,000 grit.

      I have a Tormek T-3 and love it. I just upgraded to a higher quality stone and it made worlds of difference. Do chisels get much sharper than that?

      Just wondering.

  14. George Barry July 2, 2011

    Nice job Marc…very informative and entertaining. Some of the comments answered my question which was what about a mortising attachment for a drill press. Just wondering if it works as well or what the drawbacks may be. Thanks

  15. Michhes July 2, 2011

    Tom Hintz has a general review of drill press attachments:


    To save you the time reading the review, he hates them ;-)

  16. Slasher July 3, 2011

    Great video. I have never used a hollow chisel mortiser nor seen it in real life and thought that the square part was vibrating to get down in the wood. Was surprised that you press it by hand.

    As a cheap alternative, is it possible to drill the holes in a drill press and then take the hollow chisel and make the square sides by hammering it down? Just like and ordinary chisel but you get the square directly. Would that be practically possible?

  17. George Barry July 3, 2011

    Thanks Michhes. That was what I thought it would be and based on prior explerience…you get what you pay for”. With precision tools and something you will probably only buy once, you should get the best your budget will allow.
    Thanks again.

  18. I had a hollow chisel attachment for my delta drill press and used that for several years. It will get the job done but there are a lot of down sides. The biggest is the setup time and then your drill press is tied up until you disassemble it again. Also the handles on a drill press tend to be much shorter so it takes a lot of effort to drive it into the wood. With hard maple and a

  19. VERY Nice video! These tools can seem (at first glance) like massive over kill. Like do you really need a 2HP drill, just to drill relatively small holes? On the other hand, you showed they make very fast handy work of the job they do best – especially in a production environment. The drill press, if set to the right speed for the job seems like a nice option, but one would need the right fence and hold downs/clamping/stops/etc to come even close to what your machine does. One might also be limited on the amount of leverage on the drill press also. Perhaps it all that potential leverage cranking down that makes 2hp a helpful feature. Did you get a new camera? Your closeups are first rate, very sharp and clear. Your set (your shop) seems very well lit (bright and perhaps color balanced) also. Thanks again as always…


      Thanks my friend! Same camera, but the new shop is designed to allow me to get the best shots possible. More room to work and better lighting overall. Still trying to work out the color kinks but it should continue to improve with each video. Takes quite a few videos in a space before I get to know its color characteristics.

      • I was worried early on when I saw the orange window shades in the shop. Not sure if they are still there.
        I think that was in the new (old) shop?
        White would be more color correct but you have to avoid blowing out the shot with too bright of light from that Arizona sun in the back ground as you know. You might need thick/dense white or even gray to not cast color. 5500K lights help on all accounts. So far though, many (perhaps all) of the images I see (on your site) seem so well lit – like wow nice – you are getting close to over lit. Video is usually starved for light as video cameras have small sensors, so you have come a long long ways. You might have to start powdering (corn silk) your face on hot days as your starting to get reflection on your forehead! Inspired as always, great job all in all. Any criticism is only of the smallest (like really small) detail – and said in support only – the overall, is second to none…


          I actually do still have the blinds up. They are a cherry wood color so I guess that’s orangy. :)
          To tell you the truth, I do most of my color correction in post and I don’t worry about it so much in the shop. If I make the filming process too much work, it really becomes distracting. Filming has to be easy for me otherwise I quickly lose interest. So I learn more about the space as I work with it and I learn how to avoid major problems using automatic settings as I go, but I really don’t sweat the details. And I can safely say white blinds would absolutely cause me problems with the color. Its the same reason I never wear white shirts: the auto iris adjustment will make my life miserable. So having more dark objects in the picture doesn’t really affect the color balance so much as the overall light.

          I’m excited to play more with the new Final Cut X since it has some nice automatic color correction features. We’ll see how well it does.

  20. John Verreault (aka Johnny_Vee) July 4, 2011

    Very nice job Marc. Very nice. I have a newer Delta bench-top mortiser and it is a nice unit but compared to the beauty you own, it pales. Not just in looks as I have used the large floor model units before in some woodworking classes I’ve taken at the local college, but in performance and features–bigger and beefier is better at least where mortisers are concerned. One thing you forgot to mention that may spook some people who’ve never seen it, is that on species, like oak for instance, there tends to be a certain amount of smoke when you bear down to bore through….
    You know you should give that 1″ bit a go, just of the hell of it if nothing else.

    Cheers and happy 4th of July.

  21. Stu Douglas July 4, 2011

    I’ll second the experience of making some smoke along with some chips, many a mortising chisel has been blued in our production shop. You can count on it when using that one inch chisel. One more note for those who have never used one before…some of these bits, even when set up properly will SCREAM. The dry lube is what we use to keep the noise down but inevitably a chip will get caught in the chisel instead of being ejected and will make quite a bit of high pitched noise.

  22. Curt F July 4, 2011

    Great info. Thanks for showing the sharpening.

  23. Ken F July 5, 2011

    What size of chisel bits do you use most often?

  24. Bryan H July 6, 2011

    A really nice look into mortisers….I can’t see the need for one in my garage shop currently, but its always nice to have the knowledge for future investments if needed.

  25. JimE July 6, 2011


    Another great effort and interesting viewing. Don’t have a mortiser yet but have been seriously considering. Now I have some intelligent ammunition to go forth.

    Question. Where can I find some of this “schmutz” discussed at 3:17?

  26. Oh boy – I hooked up the mortiser attachment on my new drill press tonight – what a nightmare! A few things to add to all the other negative reviews of these things:

    1. Lots of setup up, alignment, and re-alignment time.
    2. Crazy deflection in every direction
    3 Barely pushes through soft woods
    4. The sliding head and fence on Marc’s mortiser looks like a slice of heaven! With the attachment, there is no good way to align the chisel parallel to the fence other than trial and error.
    5. Just about every plunge requires multiple loosenings, realignment, and re-clampings of some wingnut or other fumbly bits.

    In short, these attachments are definitely not a good solution for optimizing efficiency on a repetitive task. It seems it would be far more efficient to cut the mortise with a router and round off the corners of the tenons with a knife – even squaring the rounded mortise would be quicker!

  27. Tim g July 6, 2011

    Thank for this. I recently picked up a mortiser off Craigslist at a price that couldn’t be beat. This is so informative and appreciated, so thanks again for such quality work.

  28. Billy.B July 7, 2011

    For sharpening the inside of chisel – mount the diamond sharpner in the drill press (for perfect vertical fit) and turn it by hand inside the chisel mounted in vice underneath?

  29. Kevin July 7, 2011

    Thank you very much for the video Marc. I learned more about hollow chisel mortisers in these 30 minutes than I had in all research I have done on these units.


  30. Gary Hanson July 8, 2011


    Your review made me feel a lot better about my purchase of the Powermatic bench top mortiser several months ago. After doing a lot of research a choice the Powermatic made the most sense as far as features and benefits.

    Another reason I am happy with my choice was a little hic-up with the machine. The Powermatic has a 5 year warranty and I had an incident with the handle collar. I put too much pressure on the handle after bottoming out when I was making do a through mortise. The handle collar broke due to my improperly using the handle. I called Powermatic I had a new collar three days later.

    Although I have equipment from Grizzly, Porter Cable, Bosch, etc my future purchases for equipment will be Powermatic.

  31. Rick Roades July 9, 2011

    Have to retract a statement regarding there being someone with better production. This video is repeatedly a standard for information and the way it’s delivered. Regardless of medium or platform

  32. Marc-

    Great video… I’m with @Kevin, I learned more in it than I had known before!

  33. Gary Bell July 10, 2011

    Great Video Mark!
    I’ve always wondered how to use the sharpening sets for hollow chisel mortising bits. Now I know. Like most of your commentors already, I too have an attachment that fits on my drill press. For the person who makes moritises maybe once every year or so; that is the way to go. The one from delta cost me less then a hundred and works great.

  34. You mentioned setting the chip ejection slot differently dependent on the method in use but then neglected to tell us which way it would face for your method – it seemed on the video to be facing the same way for both styles of cutting…..


      I should have clarified that a little better. What I meant was that depending on your methodology, meaning left to right or right to left. I always keep the slot facing left or right. Although I have been known to occasionally face it forward when my head is in another place. :) I do know folks who face it forward at all times, but I don’t think this is a real great idea, generally speaking. Not only do you never get the advantage of an open mortise for the chips to go into, you are essentially ejecting chips toward you.

  35. Chester July 12, 2011

    Marc –

    Very timely …
    I picked up an almost-new Delta benchtop model last spring from Craigs List. I installed it in a fixed position between my Chop saw and the RAS. I like to keep all tools that move over stationary wood … in line. This works very well.

    Your video …
    This is the best that I have seen. There is not much out there on the set-up and use of a HCM machine. Even the manual that came with the machine was lacking. Norm used an HCM quite often but spent almost no time really explaining its issues. Again, you knocked this one out!


  36. Julian July 12, 2011

    I recently purchased a bench top mortiser from Craigslist and need to clean it up, including the mortising bits. Your vidoe was very helpful.
    Side Note: Awesome shop and equipment. Jealous of all the Powermatic equipment. Did you spend a fortune or did Powermatic loan them to you?

  37. Jeff July 15, 2011

    I’ve been looking at for a mortiser for a table project I am starting. I am wondering what brands would be good. Like Julian, i think I will have to look at Craigs List

  38. karl July 15, 2011

    Marc, can you do a video on how to sharpen normal chisels and hand plane blades.

  39. Rick July 15, 2011

    Marc does a brief in episode 28, but that’s just the touch up.

  40. Chris July 29, 2011


    Really enjoy the website and information you provide. Can you comment on how you would make thru mortise tenon joints, as seen in the Arts and Crafts style? Would you use the hollow chisel mortiser for this?

  41. Brad July 30, 2011

    Awesome vid as usual Marc. Thank you so much for all you do to keep us excited about woodworking!

  42. Fantastico v

  43. TerryMck August 12, 2011

    I just got a benchtop model from a relative, as he could no longer use it due to ill health, along with a wood lathe c/w tools and a scroll saw (the whole lot with a few extras was

  44. Chris October 31, 2011

    What brand of chisels do you use? Just purchased a Powermatic and I am debating about whether to purchase the premium Lee Valley bits or the Powermatic, or maybe something else I don’t know about. Thanks for all the info, you really influenced me on making a good choice with the mortiser.


      Hey Chris. All my chisels are Powermatic brand. I haven’t had the need to upgrade yet so I haven’t tried other brands like the Lee Valley ones. But so far, the PM chisels too quite well once honed.

  45. Hi Marc !

    I’ve purchased a mortiser and received it yesterday.
    What amagic tool !!

    But, I still face a problem : Very often, the wood chips get stuck in the head of the mortising bit (the rotating one), and so the chips doesn’t get out properly.

    Do you have an idea to get this problem out ? Is this because of a mis-setup chisel ?

    Regards !

  46. Kenji Horvath December 7, 2012

    Even though I don’t own one of these in my shop I’ve always thought about an easy way to make smooth walled mortises. If you use a hollow chisel mortiser to make both ends of the mortise you could use a router to connect the two square holes giving you the best of both worlds for making a mortise. Smooth walls from the router and square corners from the hollow chisel mortiser. By going this route as well you will save wear and tear on your mortising bits which look to be a pain to sharpen.

  47. Javier Petrelli December 19, 2012

    Excelent video! in mi country these tool are very expensive, but i see one mortiser machine made by Matias Wandel in YouTube and it gaves me a lot of ideas to start making one for my shop, now im investigating the most importans parts disponibility!
    Saludos desde Venezuela

  48. Brandon December 26, 2012

    I wish I had seen this video about ten years ago. It would have prevented a huge headache. One question though, why use a non silicone based lubricant on the chisel?

  49. Bryon D. Agin April 18, 2013

    Nothing important left unsaid. When I finally get one… setup will be a breeze. Thank you Marc

  50. Ron Maltz April 18, 2014

    Hi Mark – I’m new to the website and I can’t tell how much I enjoy it – can’t get enough of watching your videos – extremely entertaining, thorough and informative! My question relates to the silicon free dry lubricant referred to in the hollow-mortising video I just watched – can you tell me what brand is in your hand or at least give a recommendation for one? many thanks


  51. Ron April 19, 2014

    of course that’s Marc with a “C” – my dyslexic mistake!

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