|Foot powered mortiser by J.A.Fay & Co.,
Keene, New Hampshire. Possibly of the design patented in
1842. On display in Weston Vermont at the grist mill, Weston
Historical Society, Weston, Vermont. Source: Old
"Mortises and tenons are the nuts and bolts of woodworking,
essential for joining separate pieces of wood to create rigid
frames in houses, windows, doors, and furniture. They are of
various sizes, shapes, and positions, most fairly simple but
some extraordinarily complex.
"The mortise is a hollowed space of appropriate size to
receive a rectangular shaped tenon. To make a mortise by hand,
a woodworker used a marking gauge to scribe a rectangle that
defined the area that would form the sides and ends of the mortise.
He then bored a hole the same width as the mortise in the center
of this space. If the mortise was large, additional holes were
drilled to remove most of the wood. In the nineteenth century,
house carpenters cut mortises with portable rotary and oscillating
boring machines that functioned much like an egg beater, but
with two handles. Once the hole or holes were bored, chisels
were used to finish the sides and square the corners of the
"Successful tenoning machines for simple tasks were first
produced in the United States by Joseph Fay in 1831. The machine
operated manually, cutting tenons in pieces that were 2-by-12
inches (5 cm by 30.5 cm) or less. One lever drove two cutters
against a workpiece secured to a table, while a second lever
lowered the cutters against the piece and then raised them to
allow for a return. The motion was repeated with each thrust,
cutting in a manner just like that of a rabbet plane. Furniture-makers;
sash, door, and blind manufacturers; and carriage and railroad
car shops used these machines to produce large numbers of identical
parts. By the 1850s, machines could tenon two sides of a piece
to produce standard parts for doors and windows.
Power-driven tenoning machines consisted of two basic types.
Circular-saw tenoners used arrangements of circular saws working
at right angles to each other, one set of saws cutting the shoulder
of the tenon, the other cutting its length. Unlike the manually
operated machine, the wood moved on a carriage past the cutters
rather than the cutters moving past the wood. Circular-saw tenoners
were capable of cutting large timbers.
The most common method for cutting tenons involved a rotary
action. In such machines, two cutter heads with multiple knives
revolved around a spindle. As the piece moved toward the cutters,
they cut a square or rectangular tenon equal to the distance
between the cutter heads. This machine operated much like a
planing machine. This same principle also produced circular
tenons by securing two cutters in a hollow frame that could
be adjusted for cutting tenons of various diameters.
and Tenoning Machines, Facts
On File, inc.
The first practical Mortising Machines were made in 1807 in
England and used at the Portsmouth dockyard.
In 1826 A. Branch, of New York, invented a mortising auger
for making square holes, which was described in the Franklin
Journal of Philadelphia. The explanation of the patent
clearly describes the hollow chisel mortise cutters of today.
H. B. Smith in 1853 patented a reversible reciprocating Mortiser,
and for many classes of work this type of machine is now in
Tenoning is inseparably connected with Mortising, and the two
machines were invented and developed together. Credit is given
to J. A. Fay for the invention of the modern type of Tenoner
with rotary cutters about 1840. The framing was then made of
C. B. Rogers at Norwich later patented an arrangement for adjusting
cutter head yokes, either independently or together. With the
addition of the roller table, vertical spindles for coping and
cut-off saws for squaring the ends of the stock, we have the
present day machine with all its attachments.
A Short History
of Woodworking Machinery, from the 1920 edition of the
William H. Field Company Field's Wood Working Machinery
Reference Book, Old Woodworking Machines
H. Branch Mortising Machine, New York, 1826, Patent No.
"This is the first patent for a hollow-chisel mortiser,
although the patent title suggests that the hollow chisels were
not covered by the claims. (As is the case for many X-series
patents, only a drawing survives; in fact, most of the drawings
were made from the patent models after the 1836 patent-office
fire.) The drawing shows multiple chisel-and-bit sets mounted
horizontally and driven by a crank through gearing. As the mortising
bits are cranked around, the workpiece advances towards the
bits. It seems that this invention was not successful, and Greenlee
Brothers & Co. can rightly claim (as they do in a 1942 mortiser
brochure) that 'in 1876 the first successful mortiser was developed
by Greenlee Bros. & Co.'"
Mortising Machine; Aug. 07, 1826; Patent No. 4,509X,
Old Woodworking Machines