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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 Woodworking Machines

"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 mortise...."

"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.

Mortising 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 demand.

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 wood.

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. 4,509X, Directory of American Tools and Machinery Patents.

H. Branch Mortising Machine, New York, 1826, Patent No. 4,509X

"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.'"
Harden Branch Mortising Machine; Aug. 07, 1826; Patent No. 4,509X, Old Woodworking Machines

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