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Draw bore mortise and tenon, the usurped king?

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Brian Barney 2 months, 3 weeks ago.

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    Jac Norton

    I have some questions about Mortise and tenon joints and draw bores.

    Paul calls the mortise and tenon the king of the joints, it’s a wonderful technique no doubt. Since making a few myself I find myself always looking at doors and window frames for its tell tail sign of good joinery. Searching for new and old hand made examples. I’m amazed at how common it is, new and old, all over the world! I’m in Peru now and whilst wondering around the 16th century churches I’m always drawn to the huge doors, pushing them open to check the massive joints (locals and tourists alike looking on mystified why this gringo is so engrossed with an old door).

    Having watched Paul’s video on Draw bore mortise and tenons, I found myself looking for examples of this neat technique.
    I’m from Australia and have never seen a door made with draw bore mortise and tenon there.
    But in France I’ve seen many doors made with this technique, they often seem like older examples (also in their timber house framing it seems common). Also here in Peru it seems very prevalent even for new doors.

    I wonder if anyone (or maybe Paul) could shed some light on the draw bore technique and it’s history.
    Paul mentioned that it was common when clamps were expensive, is that all there is to it?
    Perhaps it’s not as effective (to get a neat shoulder line) or more difficult? Perhaps not as strong or stronger? Maybe a tenon with 2 drawer bores would last longer then one just glued as over time it would hold up once the glue lines fracture?
    Would you ever use the draw bore if you had a clamp big enough, why?
    Is the drawer bore mortise and tenon still common for doors in Europe? Or perhaps only for hand tool enthusiasts?
    Maybe it’s more common here in Peru where perhaps clamps are hard to come by?

    Sorry for so many questions, perhaps an explanation will answer most. It’s all terribly interesting, craftsmen all over the world, spanning many centuries using the same technique! Where are they all now…

    I like the idea that you can make a rock solid frame for anything without the use of clamps. I’m building the door for my tool box when I get home to Australia and intend to use the draw bore technique even though I have clamps.




    there are times when it is essential, for example timber framing on massive oak beams using green oak, because there’s no way even a team of men could clamp oak weighing tonnes without it, also I’ve seen it on garden gates and occasionally on fencing to hold the tenons in place. You do see it here in the UK but it’s less common than it was when I was growing up, I’ve seen some incredible medieval doors in places like cantebury kent and in castles in wales but that’s because the doors are very old. I also like the draw bore technique and would like to see far more of it, not only is it aesteically very pleasing, it is very strong.



    Thanks for that question Jac. Once you start using hand tools, you get curious about these things. You definitely got me curious. I would guess that the value of draw boring depends on a number of factors. Given those factors, it is not so important for anything I have ever made (though I am still new to this) or am likely to make in the near future other than, maybe, heavy tables or workbenches. My guess is that one of its main value is for pulling mortise and tenon joints together if you do not have clamps, or for relatively heavy constructions for which clamping is simply not an option, as in timber framing or some such. (Joel, at Tools for Working Wood, mentions that draw bore pins are used today to pull steel beams together. He actually sells metal draw bore pins for woodworking. I do not know how useful they are, but they sound cool.) Draw boring would also be important to hold M & T joints mechanically when glues were less reliable or simply irrelevant. I doubt any glue would have been used in those old heavy oak doors you mention and I am certain it would not have been used for the massive constructions involved in old wooden ships! Even smaller, lighter things might benefit from draw boring if (as you say) clamps were expensive and glues likely to fail over a century or so. So my guess is that we do not see so much draw boring today because at least some of the problems that were solved by draw boring are now solved in other ways.


    Jac Norton

    Thanks for the replies guys.

    Interesting to think there is no glue for these larger joints?!

    Just walking down the steet here in Peru, seems every door and window has a draw bore.

    Btyreman, you say draw bore was common when you were growing up?
    Perhaps it went out when the machines came in?



    when I say they were more common, what I mean is you’d see older doors in the 1990s, this was the time when people were ripping out old front doors and replacing them with horrible PVC plastic ones, same thing with sash or wooden windows, I am not old only in my 30s lol


    Brian Barney

    I realize this is an old post but as a ‘professional’ in the woodworking industry I have always had an interest in the history of woodworking so take this as my training, research, and opinion.
    1) Treenails were used historically because the only glue available was hide glue which while it has many positive aspects, it is not waterproof so not suitable for anything liable to be exposed to the elements or be immersed constantly.
    2) As modern adhesives became available i.e., urea-formaldehyde, resourcinal, and PVA, the thru mortise and other ‘deep’ tennon joints were replaced by less expensive and easier-to-make-with-machines, stub tennons held together with adhesive.
    I too prefer the drawbored M&T joint for its beauty and tradition.


    Jac Norton

    Thanks for the info. Interesting, makes sense then that draw bore tenons would be used for exposed windows and doors.

    Making a bed soon, even though I hope it will never be used outside, I’m using draw bore tenons 🙂


    Andrew Sinclair

    Interesting thread.

    I wonder if there is ever a tendency to fit the drawbores pins retrospectively for aesthetic reasons, without them being proper drawbores? I.e. by simply drilling a mortise and tenon after its glued and hammering a dowel in. Presumably that would still add security and strength?


    Brian Barney

    Adding pegs to a glued up mortise and tenon would make it stronger. And yes the are pegs sometimes added that are purely aesthetic, I recently finished an arts and crafts from plans by Norm that have a fake square ebony peg at each M/T joint. I think there were about 50 of them. See also Green&Green.



    [quote quote=555181]Adding pegs to a glued up mortise and tenon would make it stronger. And yes the are pegs sometimes added that are purely aesthetic, I recently finished an arts and crafts from plans by Norm that have a fake square ebony peg at each M/T joint. I think there were about 50 of them. See also Green&Green.[/quote]

    My personal opinion is that the beauty of a handmade piece comes from its construction and functionality I wouldn’t be happy to find out a piece I bought that looked like it had drawbores … didn’t. I get why people want to embelish, but don’t fake it.


    Allen Schell

    So Drawbore m&t joints are not glued?


    Brian Barney

    I do glue the mortise and tenon joint even when it is draw bored. Added strength is always good.

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