Mortise and Tenon: The Quintessence of Carpentry

December 1, 2021


At Accent Truss, our expertise lies in creating heavy timber components and trusses. We regularly use large timbers that weigh upwards of one thousand pounds. Yet, the same joinery technique that fashions your grandmother’s kitchen table is the same joinery method used to connect these colossal beams.  In the art of timber framing, there are many techniques and concepts that recur in the broad craft of woodworking.

One of the oldest and most dependable methods of fastening material together is called “mortise and tenon”.  This technique utilizes the strength of a wood’s grain direction and surface-to-surface contact to create a strong lock. With mortise and tenon, a recess is cut into one member (mortise) while the other member is cut to resemble a tongue or key (tenon). The tenon is then inserted into the mortise where it is then either glued or held fast by driving a peg through the collective mortise and tenon. That is what “joinery” accomplishes, locking members of a body together in a strong and efficient way.

To understand anything on a large scale, it is always easier to scale-down the concept essentially to increments that are easy to explain. That is what lands us in the craft of furniture making. Not only is it physically smaller, but the art of furniture making is easier to rotate and observe in our minds. There is incredible overlap between furniture building and timber framing. For example, think of your grandmother’s wooden kitchen table.  The connection from a cross-member of a table support, called a “rail”, to a table leg typically uses mortise and tenon. Substantial significance is placed on the mortise and tenon, because it is the backbone of both timber frame and furniture carpentry.

In fact, from determining a project’s worth, to estimating materials needed, designing, fabricating, and finishing, timber framing and furniture making are exactly the same. Their difference lies in the application. In one, the project takes many hands and daylight. While in the other, one could hold the entire project in their own hands. The difference is notable, but furniture making holds a respected place in our timber-framed heart. So whether you’re looking to manifest your dream project with us or thinking of building a piece of furniture, we hope you find inspiration from our work.


“ Architecture should speak of it’s time and place, yet yearn for timelessness. ”

– Frank Gehry

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