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Shed Doors 1: Huge Mortises


I built a shed last summer, as a small addition to my turn-of-the-century one-car garage. I've been a woodworker for umpteen years now, but I've never done any carpentry work before. Go figure.

I couldn't resist the challenge of building custom doors for the shed–a pair of tall, skinny ones with frame-and-panel construction. I had a bunch of 8/4 cypress left over from making the trim, and the weather was turning cold, so I thought, what the heck, I'll make them this winter. Meanwhile, I slapped together some doors from plywood and hung them with barn hinges.

They work for now, but man, are they ugly.

Here's the story of making the real doors. Each one is about 7 feet tall, and only 18 inches wide. That means dealing with some big stock, and making stout, substantial joinery. Gotta build for the ages, right?

After milling the lumber to size, I cut a groove down the inside edges of all the stiles and rails. I used a magnetic featherboard to hold the pieces tight to the fence, and roller stands on both sides of the saw. Those big pieces can really be unwieldy!

Now on to the mortises. They're 1/2" wide (the same width as the groove) and 2-1/2" deep. That's a heck of a big hole, so I removed most of the waste using the drill press and a 7/16" bit.

I clamped two guide boards to the drill press table to ensure that the stile stayed perpendicular and remained centered on the bit. I also made a holder for a vacuum hose, which was really slick. Virtually all the chips just disappeared as I drilled. Neat!

Here are the holes, with the layout lines. The squiggles indicate where the mortises go, of course. With so many lines, it's easy to forget which lines to drill between!

You can also see in this photo that the rails will have double tenons, rather than one huge one. This makes for a stronger joint, even at the expense of some glue surface area. One huge mortise can really weaken a stile.

Here's the mortising setup, using a 1/2" chisel. With most of the waste already removed, this operation was a breeze. I determined the 2-1/2" depth of the mortises by the length of the chisel-that's as deep as it would go!

This machine, by the way, is really sweet. One of my favorites in our shop here at American Woodworker, in fact. It's a Powermatic, about 5 years old. Its best feature is an X-Y table, which has two huge benefits.

First, you can literally dial in the distance from the chisel to the fence. The crank at the bottom of the photo moves the whole table in and out.

Second, to reposition the workpiece after each cut, all you have to do is turn the big crank under the table. This moves the table side to side. There's at least 8" of travel–plenty for any mortise.

One last thought–the groove helps position the chisel, so you don't get staggered holes. That's why I generally cut a panel groove before cutting the mortises.

Next stop–the tenons. I'll write about them in another blog.

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