Machining and Tooling for Large Tenon Production

Woodworkers suggest workable setups for high-volume production of large tenons for heavy doors. April 24, 2006

We are in the process of updating our shop and are looking for a machine to use in our tenoning station. We have built solid wood mortise and tenon doors and have always cut tenons on a table saw (yes, labor!). Our doors are 2-3" thick and we have in the past made 3-4" tenons. Our clients are used to our old world construction and I don't think the response would be good if we changed to dowels or stick and cope joints. Does anybody have ideas for a tenoning station that can create these large solid wood tenons quickly without a $15,000 machine? We have looked down the large shaper road and seen that we cannot create a tenon longer than 2" even with a 10hp machine.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor G:
I may be wrong on this one, but... I seem to remember seeing small sawblades that you can put on a shaper arbor to make the cheek cuts with. You could double stack them to produce your tenon in one pass (sliding table would be nice), then move parts to any cabinet saw, set up to make the shoulder cuts.

From contributor K:
If you have a heavy shaper with a sliding table, there are aluminum tenoning discs available in the range of 3/4-1" thick by 10-12" diameter, that take corrugated-back knives. I think we paid something like $1000 for a set that will cut 3-1/4" tenons on our 1-1/4" spindle shaper. They work great, but they need a heavy machine and a big shroud. There are used single-end tenoners available - check

From contributor O:
How about loose tenons? I mortise the stiles with a vertical mortiser (square) and the rail ends with a horizontal borer (rounded ends), then mill up the tenons and bull nose half of one end on the router table. Knowing what I know now, I would have gotten a MAKA horizontal oscillating mortiser at the start (single head), but they are still 6K secondhand. My 2 machines were under 2K. The Maka is very fast in comparison.

From contributor J:
Garniga has 304mm diameter tenon heads for shapers. Stacked on an 80mm sleeve, that would give a 112mm length tenon. Just over 4 inches. We have a double tenon head that was made for 2 5/8 thick doors. They are very well balanced cutters and also have slots to accept radius and chamfer inserts. Those are nice for the old world shaped look at the joint. It does take a good shaper to spin these. Martin USA is the dealer for Garniga. A good old used single end tenoner would do the job, also.

From contributor D:
I like an old Powermatic 2-A single end. It has two horizontal heads that the tenon passes between with a solid sliding table. Some machines have a top and bottom cope, originally fitted with square heads and bolt-on cope knives (dangerous). Most machines also have a saw to final size tenon to length. I have been using the same machine for 25 years, and have replaced the original tenon heads with Schmidt carbide tip heads, and a few belts. We don't have the cope heads or sawblade. We cope on the shapers. I love this machine. Quick and easy to set up, with only a minor quirk or two, you can do 1/8" thick x 6" long x 16" wide tenons up to 2" thick. The cutting action coming from spindles parallel to the face of the rail is very easy on machine and operator, and gives an extremely accurate tenon. Those large tenon discs on shapers work very well also, but the 2-A is dedicated and very effective. No longer made (why?), they are available from $1500.00 to $3000.00 used - Ex-factory usually has a few. Replace spindle bearings, clean and paint, and add two digital readouts and you are ready to roll, for a lot less than $15,000.00. If you have been sawing tenons, you will learn to love the thing in no time.

From contributor B:
I have a question for all who use long machined tennons - are you still using cope and stick pattern cutters on shapers for your stiles and rails? If so, how do you get the cope cut alongside the long tennon? The tennon would interfere unless your cutters were huge in diameter. I use slot mortises and a loose tennon for this exact reason. I am very curious because I think a machined tennon may be better.

From contributor O:
I have also heard of using a dado set (from a tablesaw) on a shaper with a spacer of the required tennon thickness. But I've never tried it, although I just did some through M&T and wedged doors and if I could make the tenon in one pass over the shaper, instead of many passes over the tablesaw with a dado set in, then that might work in the future. I wonder what kind of guard I would need?

From contributor M:
I found out that to extend your tenon from the basic tenon created with the cope and stick cutter, you need a special stub spindle and stub spindle cope cutter that matches your existing cope profile. You cut your mortise and tenon and then cut the cope on the rail with the tenon extending over the cutter. You make a separate fence that is thinner than the cope thickness. There is a picture of this in Lonnie Bird's The Shaper Book. Freeborn will custom make a cutter to fit.

From contributor K:
With the tenoning discs we use, we have so far only used them for square-shouldered tenons, but the corrugated-back knives can be ground in a cope configuration to cut the tenon and cope in one go. We got them through Connecticut Saw&Tool (

From contributorJ:
Using a stub spindle setup on a shaper sounds very labor intensive. 2 setups and 3 passes through the shaper, with a lot of room for error. I spent some time researching what it would take to do true mortise and tenon profitably on all our doors, windows and frames. After looking at everything involved, I went for quality dowel construction. If you only have to do one or two profiles, a set like the Garniga listed above used on a shaper would be pretty effective. But if you run a variety of profiles and thickness, the Colombo or SCM type numeric tenoners with stacked tooling are hard to beat. On our Martin shaper for tenoning tools over 250mm diameter the regular fence is swung away and a large hood replaces it. Most European shapers have this option. For 250mm or less the Aigner fence plates make for a very safe setup.