How to Get More out of Your Benchtop Mortiser (Plus 10 Essential Safety Tips)

Image Credit: Delta Machinery

The benchtop mortise machine is one of the best investments a woodworker can make. If you have one in your shop, you will already know the benefits first hand.

If you are looking to buy one, head here for our opinion on some of the current market leaders.

The fact is, if your projects involve a lot of mortising, a good benchtop machine will not only save you time, but increase the accuracy of your results.

And that’s what all craftsmen should strive for at the end of the day.

5 Tips to get more out of your benchtop mortise machine

The following tips will not only help you get more out of your benchtop mortiser, but will also ensure you operate it safely.

1. Add a hold-in device to secure your work piece

If you are using budget end mortise machine, it may lack built-in rollers to hold the workpiece tight against the fence. (Many premium models have these as an additional spec).

Not to worry, it is still possible to hold your work in position with the same reliability as a user of a top end machine.

Simply add that workholding ability using a couple of Magswitch MagJigs.

Secure the two MagJigs onto the cast-iron base of your mortiser. The magnetic property of the jig will then firmly fix it into position, allowing for the work-piece to be held against the fence without any danger of marring.

2. Cut your mortises slightly deeper than required

A handy little tip to save you time.

When cutting your mortises, set the depth stop to bore into the wood 18” deeper than the length of the tenon.

This will stop you from having to clean up the bottom of the mortise with a chisel in order for the tenon to fit fully into place.

3. How to install your bit and chisel for best results

The square hollow chisel on the mortiser works in tandem with the drill bit located inside.

The principle is simple enough; the bit is used to remove the waste as the chisel pares away the edges and corners. The end result is our wonderful mortise.

The important factor in all of this is to have the correct spacing between the chisel tips and bit.

To make sure this is the case you need to install them properly.

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  • Slide the chisel (with the bit inside) into the mortiser collar, while also inserting a dime in order to keep it from fully seating.
  • Raise the drill bit into the chuck until it seats against the chisel.
  • Tighten up the chuck.
  • Loosen the setscrew and then remove the dime.
  • Seat the chisel tightly against the collar; at the same time square it to the mortiser fence.
  • Tighten the setscrew, and away you go.


4. Slow and steady when performing deep cuts

When performing deeper cuts patience is a virtue.

To ensure that chisel and bit do not over heat and potentially mar the inside of your mortise, (or worse still, malfunction) periodically back the mortiser up and out.

This will also help clean out the deep hole for better results.

5. Lubricate the column

The majority of benchtop mortiser heads work by sliding up and down on a dovetailed column. It is very likely that yours will too.

This is an area where metal-on-metal friction can cause wear and tear on your machine. To minimize this, apply a lubricant that dries without leaving a residue.

This is important because an oily lubricant will attract wood dust and potentially cause more maintenance problems that you are trying to solve.

10 Mortise Machine Safety Tips

  • We’ll start with the number safety tip all woodworkers should follow: wear safety glasses when operating any power tool.
  • When chiselling through the stock completely, ensure that you have placed a wood pad beneath the stock so that there is no danger that the chisel will damage the table.
  • Never force the mortising chisel and bit into the stock.
  • All adjustments should be made with the power firmly off.
  • Always double check that the bit and chisel have tightened firmly. The chuck key should always be removed before the power is turned on.
  • Never hold the stock down with your hand, that’s what clamps are designed for.
  • Simple common sense here, but ensure that your work area is clean and free of wood chips or any other debris while you work. At the end of every session, clear the worktable completely.
  • Manually turn the bit spindle around 360 degrees prior to turning on the power.
  • The auger bit should be turned so that it extends 1/16″ to 1/8″ beyond the end of the chisel.
  • Give yourself the basic rule that your hands are never any closer than 3″ away from the chisel while the power is on.

Image Credits: Delta Machinery, Canadian Woodworker

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