Ms J Crafts Wed Tenon Spice Rack

Tusk Tenon Art

By Chris Inman

Pay tribute to the venerable wedged tenon joint with this easy to complete weekend project in the Arts & Crafts style.

Sometimes the best way to approach a simple project is to view it as a potential learning experience. In this case, our weekend spice rack project offers an opportunity to work with an interesting joint. The wedged tenon was popularized during the English Tudor period in the 1500s. At first it was used by house framers for joining flooring timbers, and it was called the tusk tenon. Soon cabinetmakers adapted it for their own use by dropping the tusk portion of the tenon, which was no longer needed for the lighter load-bearing requirements of furniture. The wedged tenon was used primarily as a knockdown joint in large trestle tables until Arts & Crafts designers of the late 19th century, like Gustav Stickley, popularized the joint as a structural highlight on bookcases and cabinets as well.

Be sure to determine the size of the spice jars you'll be using, in case you have to alter the dimensions. If you do plan on changing the project, be sure to keep its overall height in mind — as it's sized here, the spice rack tucks neatly between standard upper and lower kitchen cabinets.

To reproduce the flavor of an Arts & Crafts era piece, I used quartersawn white oak for my spice rack. If authenticity isn't important to you, use wood that matches the woodwork in your kitchen. All you need is three board feet of 1/2" thick stock for the entire project.

Tips for Cutting Wedged Tenons

To guarantee tight-fitting joints, bear in mind three important elements of the wedged tenon. First, be sure the wedge hole in the tenon extends a hair into the mortise (see Figure 1). This overlap allows the wedge to force the two joint members tightly together. Second, watch the slope of your wedges. If the pitch is too shallow, the joints may loosen at even the slightest change in dimension due to seasonal movement; too much slope makes it hard for the wedges to bite into the joint, and they may even pop up a little when the wood expands. Third, make sure the angled wall of the wedge hole matches the slope of the wedge. "

Making the Sides

Cut your best-looking stock to size for the sides (pieces 1) and lay out the mortises, as shown in the Side Elevation below and in the Pinup Shop Drawings (see page 39). You can form the mortises with any one of several techniques — I used a drill press mortising attachment. Be sure to back up the oak with scrap wood to reduce the chance of tearout. Drill out one end, then turn the stock around and cut the other end. To cut the rest of the mortise, you need to slide the stock away from the fence.


Figure 1: Paying close attention to three key elements in your wedged tenon joints will ensure a tight-fitting spice rack assembly

Keep the slope of the wedge at about 15°.

-v Extend the wedge

J- hole a tad into the \ mortise.

■ )

/ Make sure the / wedge and hole angles match.

1/2" x 27s" x 10"

2 Shelves (2)

1/2" x 27e" x 1772"

3 Edgings (3)

1/2" x l'A" x I4V2"

4 Top Rail (1)

1/2" x 4Ve" x 14'/2"

5 Wedges (4)

1/2" x 3/4" x 1'/2"

6 Flush Mounts (2)

1/8" x 1" x 1"

Tusk Tenon Uses
Spice Rack Elevation (Front View)

Shelf Joint Elevation

(End View)


14 Vf"

h rr



Figure 2: To drill out the waste in the center of each mortise, reposition the stock under the bit by slipping strips alongside the fence.

Borrowing an old machinist trick, cut half a dozen 3/16" x 3/16" x 12" strips and use them as blocks to incrementally reposition the stock below the bit (see Figure 2). Slip a strip between the stock and the fence to drill the second hole, then add a third strip for drilling the third hole, and so on. Follow this procedure for milling all four mortises, then clean up the edges with a chisel.

Making the Shelves

Rip and crosscut more of your stock for the shelves, edging and top rail (pieces 2, 3 and 4). In addition, rip some of the leftover scrap to the same width as the shelves to use as samples when setting up your table saw for cutting tenons.

Install a 1/4" dado blade, raise it 1/4" and plow the grooves in the top rail and edging pieces, as shown in the Shelf Joint Elevation on the previous page. Next, adjust your saw and form the tongue on both edges of the shelves to fit the grooves. Be sure the fit is snug.

Switch to a 3/4" dado blade and clamp a setup block to your fence for cutting tenons on the ends of the shelves. Set the blade height to 1/8" and adjust the fence and setup block to cut IV2" long tenons (see Figure 3). Cut a tenon on one of your scrap pieces and test its fit in the side piece mortises. The tenon should slip through the mortise with only slight resistance. When you get a good test fit, cut the actual shelves.

Without moving the saw fence, raise the blade to 3/8" and cut the

Figure 4: Position a 3/4" chisel on the layout line of each wedge hole and chop at an angle to meet the edge of the starter hole.

tenon shoulders. Make test cuts first on scrap to be sure the tenons fit through the mortises smoothly but without leaving gaps.

Mortising the Tenons

Once the shelf tenons are formed you can cut the holes for the wedges. Lay out the holes as shown on the Pinup Shop Drawings, then use your drill press and 1/4" mortising bit to remove most of the waste. After cutting these, chop the sloped edge of each hole with a chisel, making sure to back up the stock with scrap wood. The difference between the hole layout and the hole formed by the 1/4" mortising bit provides a guide for chopping the slopes at the proper angle (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Position a 3/4" chisel on the layout line of each wedge hole and chop at an angle to meet the edge of the starter hole.

Shaping the Wedges

Rip some 1/2" stock into a 3/4" wide strip for making the wedges (pieces 5). Cut out the full-size wedge pattern included in the Pinup Shop Drawings on page 39. Trace the pattern onto the edge of the strip and band saw the pieces to shape. You can hold the small wedges by hand while cutting the chamfers, but hold the stock with a pliers or a small handscrew clamp while making the sloped cuts. This keeps your hands a safe distance from the blade. Cut just outside the lines, then use a chisel to plane each wedge up to the layout lines. You may need to refine the slopes slightly more for a better fit in the wedge holes.

Figure 3: Make multiple passes with a dado blade raised 1/8" to cut the cheeks of your tenons. Test your setup on scrap wood first.

Wrap up the tenoning work by chamfering the ends of the tenons with your table saw and the setup block. Tilt the blade 45°, then position the fence and setup block to align the tenons with the blade for cutting the 1/16" deep chamfers.

Now reset the blade to 0° and turn your miter gauge 45° to cut the corners on the sides and top rail, as shown in the Side and Front Elevation Drawings. Chamfer the top edges of the rail and edging pieces with a router table and chamfering bit, then sand all the pieces to 120 grit. Glue the shelves to the edging, making sure the ends of each assembly align perfectly.

Finishing Up

Assemble the spice rack to test fit all the joints, and do your fine-tuning now before you apply any finish. When everything is settled, position the flush-mount hangers on the top support and drill pilot holes for the screws. Don't mount the hardware until the finishing is completed.

Traditionally, Arts & Crafts style furniture was finished in a dark color. One easy way to achieve this look is to rub the spice rack with a few coats of Watco® Dark Walnut Oil Finish.

Put the spice rack together after the finish dries, pressing the wedges into place to create a rigid assembly. Occasionally you may have to tap the wedges in a little to compensate for seasonal changes in the wood's dimensions, just as the timber framers did back in the 1500s. @

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  • ANNA
    How to repair spice rack?
    8 years ago
    How to make a tusk through tenon?
    7 years ago

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