advice on tools for timber framing.

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13 Nov 2006
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Biddulph staffs
I've got several smallish oak frame jobs coming up and I'm wondering how best to cut the m and t's. I could try to hire a makita chain morticer if it would speed stuff up a bit. we do have a big bandsaw but would need to buy a roller stand. we have a chainsaw. I could buy other stuff if it speeds the process along.

It depends how many mortices you want to cut and in what size oak. I have a heavy duty chain morticer. They are quick but they are also scary. Personally I think they are best for through mortices or anything deeper than about 3 inches. I have tried every variation really on cutting mortice holes, including routers and auger bits. Most of the time I use a spade bit and chisel, with a 3lb Thor hammer for M&T joints.

Frankly, for doing tenons, everyone thinks they can take the timber to the bandsaw. You very quickly realise this is a daft idea and what you need is to take the tools to the oak. I cut all tenons with a big circular saw. Hilti in my case. Everyone does unless the are making frames in a barn or factory. If you can get your hands on a 12" Makita circular saw, or one of the US ones, that will speed things up no end. I also dimension beams this way. You quickly get adept at doing four cuts with a Circular saw to cut beams to length (rotating 9o degrees), with each cut meeting the next.

You only need one good big slick.

Invest in leather 3 lb and 5lb Thor hammers with iron heads. Brilliant. You night need a 10lb and 15lb hammer, but you can make these out of tree trunk off cuts (like everyone else). Good for encouraging frames to fit :cool:

Save yourself a LOT of work and get a big hand held planer. This will save you loads of time. Search my threads on the big (and cheap) Triton one, plus get a big 4" Makita sander with lots of 40 grit belts.

Think about raising the timbers. If you can afford hydraulic machinery, great. Otherwise start looking nor for big, second hand, tripod cranes.

Make or buy plenty of heavy duty trestles. But chain morticing is best done on blocks close to ground level. Chain mortices are heavy.
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what is the technique for cutting tenons using a circular saw?
I wasn't planning on much planing to be honest!
hand tools and drills we have in abundance.
Set depth on circular saw. Cut the shoulder to your line, accurately . Then cut lots of parallel cuts across the beam working away from the shoulder. Use slick (or a chisel) to get rid of the waste. Very quick and easy. I leave a few mm between each waste cut. Takes at most a few minutes to take out one half of a tenon even in a big piece of green oak.
This is probably going to sound barking, but if you have access to a small chainsaw you can fit a carving bar to it and plunge cut. You do need to be comfortable using a chainsaw, but a carving bar (small diameter tip) and low kickback chain is not nearly as hairy as it sounds.

having said all that AJB Is deffo the expert so feel free to ignore my suggestion :). It works depending on what you need, but may be a bit off the wall for most people.
I can see that (tenon) technique working im sure I remember seeing a method using a drop cut. bloody scary.
I'll definitely hire that morticer if I can though.
I'm not so familiar with chainsaws tbh.
There is a really good series of videos on You Tube posted by The Restoration Couple where he makes an oak frame pergola that is worth watching. I would echo the point above about getting a decent circular saw. I bought the Makita and couldn’t have managed without it.
thanks ajb I was convinced I would cut the tenons using our big bandsaw. but I can see that may be tricky.
the first job is a porch to get my eye in! i drew it out last week.


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Ha ha, you said you had some "smallish" frame jobs coming up! It’s all a matter of scale isn’t it, I was thinking sort of inch by two or teeny-weeny stuff like that! Ian
Ps it’s probably because I’ve been designing/drawing, and preparing umpteen 30 x 25 mm frames with acrylic sheets in to project visitors and staff to our Heritage Centre when it reopens next week – I do so hope I’m not wasting my time.
Green oak is such a pleasure to work with - hand tools, plus a cicular saw, are fine unless you're really serious about time/volume of work. As already said, the less you need to lift/move the workpiece the better, so tools to wood, rather than vice versa. The only downside really is tannin stains on hands and tools!
I have been checking out the local porches. it seems many are just huge (unnecessary) chunks of oak....full stop. these tend also to be almost lacquered there's so much varnish on! no attempts at decoration...nothing . around us its also usually accompanied by lego stonework. I have worked on green wood a bit years ago making Windsor chairs. but totally different scale tbh. I'm determined to make my frames slightly more elegant and a bit less monumental. think more guild hall less stonehenge!
I made a balcony last year - my first green oak project. For mortises I cut out the bulk using an auger bit in a cordless drill then chopped out the rest using mallet and chisel. As above I would definitely recommend a raw hide faced Thor mallet. I also made a “persuader” using an off cut of oak sleeper!

Tenons I cut by hand using a panel saw and rip saw - adjusted for fit with a plane where necessary.

This approach obviously took more time than using chain mortiser, circular saw etc but green oak is a pleasure to work with and relatively quick.

I found this book a very useful source of advice, especially around joint design and setting out which is pretty different to joinery/furniture making
Here’s a photo of the verandah that I built a few years ago. I bought a used Makita morticer, and used AJB’s methods to cut tenons. I had very sharp 1 1/2 and 2 inch chisels. I used ‘steady’ oak in an attempt to reduce shrinkage and movement - I probably wasted my money there.


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Definitely worth using a chain Morticer, hiring will probably cost more than buying as they retain their value so well. You could borrow ours but we’re a bit far away in Suffolk!
well - to get a decent used one with a non-worn out chain, you are easily looking at £600. Replacement chains and bars are expensive. They do save time (hence I have one) but as the OP is looking to do more delicate work, it may be overkill. Personal choice I guess.
ill try and rent the one at the sawmill I buy my oak at. but I'm not shy about buying one if I have to. I'm loving all you guys frames they are beauties.! ill get a copy of the book that was mentioned to.