172 – Tenons on the Bandsaw

Video - May 10, 2012

The tablesaw has really come under fire in the last few years in terms of its overall safety. As a result, some folks are going sans tablesaw in their wood shops. This is a little hard for me to imagine since I use my tablesaw of pretty much every project, but to each his/her own right?

If you are one of those folks who wants to begin detaching from the tablesaw, you’re going to need to find alternative methods for doing the things that we typically use the tablesaw for, such as cutting tenons. Fortunately, the bandsaw is a very good alternative.

Preparation and Stuff

To cut tenons at the bandsaw, you’ll need a few simple things:

  • Realiable Bandsaw Fence – A good fence is a must for this operation. It needs to be rock solid and adjustable for the blade drift calibration. The fence should also be perfectly perpendicular to the table surface.
  • Simple Miter Gauge – You really don’t need a fancy schmancy miter gauge for this. The stock unit that comes with your bandsaw should suffice. If your workpieces are really wide though, you might consider adding a tall fence to the gauge.
  • Stop Block and Clamp – A stop block made from scrap wood will allow us to make multiple cuts of a consistent depth. This is crucial for getting good results. It’s also a good idea to chamfer the bottom of the stop block so that dust can escape and wont interfere with workpiece registration.
  • Featherboard – A featherboard will hold the workpiece securely against the fence. Not absolutely necessary but highly recommended.

The last thing you need to do, and perhaps the most important, is to make sure your bandsaw is fully calibrated and tuned up. If you haven’t tuned your bandsaw yet, watch this video!

The Process

1. Layout the tenons using a fine pencil and a marking gauge.
2. Set up the stop block for the appropriate depth of cut, using the shoulder line as a guide. Clamp the stop block securely to the fence.
3. To cut the cheeks, set the fence so that you are cutting just outside the pencil line that is closest to the fence, keeping the blade in the waste. Remember, you can always do a little cleanup later with hand tools.
4. With a featherboard in place, make the first cut. Once you make contact with the stop block, wait a second or two before retracting the workpiece. This allows the blade to come back to its “home” position giving you the full depth of cut.
5. Flip the piece and make the second cut.
6. To cut the tenon sides, adjust your fence to the appropriate position and make both cuts. If your shoulder is the same on all four sides, you won’t need to move your fence at all.
7. To cut the shoulders, set up the stop block as a “stopped” fence. In other words, clamp it to the fence BEFORE the blade. This will allow us to make our shoulder cuts while safely releasing the off-cut into an open area. Using the fence directly would result in the off-cut being trapped between the blade and the fence, which is never a great idea. Set the fence so that the blade is cutting just inside the shoulder line, again with the blade in the waste. Using the miter gauge, cut the shoulders on all four sides of the board. You might even consider clamping the workpiece to the miter gauge for even better results. Keep in mind there is no stop being used during this step because when you see a piece fall off the board, you know you’ve gone far enough.

Your results could very well be perfect right off the saw, but you want to inspect the joint just to be sure. Using a shoulder plane and/or a rabbeting block plane, you can clean up the shoulders and the cheeks. A chisel should help you easily fine tune the tenon sides.

I recommend running a couple of test pieces to get the feel for the process. Once set up, cut all of your tenons at once for the most consistency possible. All told, this process is arguably just as fast as the tablesaw method. So if you’re looking for a high quality substitute for tablesaw tenons (that still involves power tools), give your bandsaw a shot!

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