If you believe it is the little details that can increase the aesthetics, structure, and value of any piece of furniture, this is a tutorial you must read…Learn how-to carve a tenon!
There are many ways to carve a tenon. The most popular (because it’s the easiest and fastest) is to use a tenon cutter. Tenon cutters act much like pencil sharpeners. They spin and peel away the log leaving a perfectly round tenon followed by a perfect 45 degree collar. That sounds easy, so why a whole tutorial? This isn’t about tenon cutters. This tutorial is meant to save you from them. Why? Tenon cutters leave end fibers in that 45 degree collar that are impossible to sand smooth without ruining the tenon – not that the tenon is going to fit nice and tight to begin with. Plus, the finished product is going to look machined, not hand-made, and that makes a huge difference!
Like anything else, if you want it done right, you gotta do it yourself. That means rolling up your sleeves and digging your grandfathers draw knife out of the crawl space. Now let’s get to work!
First I’m going to use my pattern to draw circles at either end of the log. Using the same 3” drill bit I used to drill the holes in the posts, I made this pattern by drilling a hole in a piece of chip board then I used the band saw to cut out the paddle shape with a nice little handle. We’re going to also use this pattern to fit the tenon so I’m going to hang it on the lathe’s pin after my circles are drawn.
Using a draw knife I’m going to carve the log down to the circle I drew. Take long strokes with the knife so you get a nice gradual taper. Don’t take too much at once, just carefully carve away at it. As you get closer to the circle, you’ll want to take off less wood with each stroke. Try to flatten your taper towards the end of the log to form the part of the tenon that will go inside the holes you drilled in your post. While you use the draw knife, use the locking pin on the lathe to keep the log from spinning. Turn it yourself by unlocking it when you’re ready to carve a different side of the log.
Now that I’ve carved it to the circle, I’m going to use my random orbital sander with a contouring pad and 80 grit sand paper to sand the tenon smooth. You’ll want to very gently sand away the end of the tenon until the circle is gone. Don’t sand past the circle – just right up to it, then make it disappear. It’s very important from here on out to not take too much off.
Once the entire circumference of the tenon is smooth and the circle is gone, fit the pattern onto the tenon and wiggle it as far up as you can. It’ll leave marks in the tenon where it stops. Now sand up to those marks, just as you did with the circle, slowly and softly until the marks fade. Do this all around the entire tenon. Then fit the pattern on again and repeat these steps until the pattern can be pushed on a bout a half inch further than your holes are deep.
Once you have your desired depth on your tenon, sand the rest of the tenon to smooth your knife marks. Repeat all of this on the other end of the log.
Now that both tenons are complete, peel the rest of the bark off the log. Be careful not to take any wood off, just the bark. Use your sander with 80 grit sand paper to sand the rest of the log. Lastly use your sander with 120 grit sandpaper to sand the entire log – tenons and all. Don’t spend too much time on the tenons though because you don’t want to make them any smaller.
Click on the video below to view – How to Carve a Tenon
That’s a tenon you can be proud of! Here at San Juan Carpentry, our hand-drawn tenons are kind of a big deal. It’s one thing that sets us apart from most other builders. I hope this tutorial will help you make pieces that you can be extra proud of at a lower cost than the alternative. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to leave them here and I will personally answer them!
Scott Shaeffer, Owner/Operator