When it comes to mortise and tenon joints, things are a lot more clear-cut than the whole chicken and egg debacle.
Any time you cut a hole in a board and shape another piece to fit that hole — whether it’s a mortise and tenon joint, bridle joint, or even a round tenon…
I find it best to follow a clear order of operations.
That order? Cutting the mortises first.
Adjusting the size of a mortise to fit a tenon is tricky work.
It usually involves making super fine paring cuts with a chisel, which takes time.
And it’s even trickier if you’re dealing with a bridle recess or a round hole.
Resizing tenons to fit an existing mortise, on the other hand? Easy peasy.
You can use a ton of different tools for the job — from table saws to router tables to rabbeting hand planes.
If the tenon is too big, take a very small amount of material from both sides. I like to do test cuts at the tip before committing to adjusting the entire tenon.
And if your tenon is too small? No worries.
Just glue some scrap pieces of wood to the sides and shape it again. Since it’s hidden, no one will ever know.
That’s reason enough for me to always start with the mortise.
And if you’ve been doing the opposite, try it out and see if it makes your time in the shop easier.
Want to learn more about cutting mortise and tenon joints? Read this.