How to Make Quick Mortises with Simple Tools

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This Walnut Ping Pong table had a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time using walnut in furniture (I've previously only used it for cutting boards), my first time doing mortise and tenon joinery and it was my first time doing an inlay. Doing something for the first time is always scary, but in the end it's always worth it. 

Watch the full build video below!


I started this build with the mortises thinking it would be easy. It's just making a hole in wood, right? Wrong.

I don't have a mortising machine, or a drill press or a plunge router, so I had to get creative. I made a couple of failed jigs before I came to process that actually worked.

Here's what I did:

1) I marked out where I wanted the mortise to go.


2) I attached a hard board guide to one edge of my markings using double stick tape.

3) I made a depth stop/gauge by double stick taping a 2x4 on a scrap that was the same height as my workpiece. and lined it up with the other side of my mortise. 

4) I drilled away with a forstner bit and hogged out most of the material that was between the hardboard edge guide and the 2x4 stop/gauge.

5) And I looked at the ugly mess I just made...

6)  I cleaned it up really quick and dirty with a chisel. This step is SUPER important for safety reasons. Step 8 requires putting a router into the mortise, you do NOT want to put a router into a mortise that has all those pointy pieces left over from the forstner bit. 

7) I took the 2x4 stop away and replaced it with another piece of double stick taped hardboard to act as another edge guide. 

(This picture is actually After I used the router. But it shows the other hardboard guide. 

(This picture is actually After I used the router. But it shows the other hardboard guide. 

8) using a pattern bit on my router, I ran along the two pieces of hardboard to clean up the sides. I kept lowering bit a little at a time until I got to my desired depth. 

Voila! The birth of a mortise!

Moral of the story, you don't need all the fancy specialty tools to make high quality furniture. Yes, one can argue, this can all just be done by hand with a chisel, but who has time for that??