Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Build the Milkman's Mortise Gauge

I had a whole day to waste in the shop today.  My plan was to finish up the base of my Shaker side table, as it has been three weeks since I got to do anything to it.  Weird how life can get in the way of your shop time.

I used my new mortise gauge that Jonas sent me.

Milkman's Mortise Gauge
It worked fantastic for laying out the mortises on the legs.  I started chopping mortises, and immediately got a guilty conscience because I was making so much noise in the storage room of my apartment building.  We are allowed to pound nails and drill holes except from noon until three in our building.  But really, pounding mortises is LOUD.  

I came up with a system that would work holding the legs to my sawbench, and I could do it outside. 


Except it was now past noon, and I thought I probably should wait until three before pissing off not only my building, but the whole neighborhood.

Instead, I decided to build a replica of Jonas' mortise gauge.

Unfortunately, I left my camera in Garmisch again, so you'll have to live with these pics from my phone.

This thing was a blast to make.  I finished it, but wound up with no more time for chopping mortises.  Perhaps next week.

I bored holes in the stock with a brace and a 1/2" bit.  The practice I got doing dogholes on my workbench paid off.  These were pretty straight.  I went halfway through, turned the piece over and finished the hole from the other side.  A little rasping with a rattail rasp and that was done.  The center bit was cut out with a coping saw (I couldn't figure out how to get the blade out of my turning saw, it would have worked better), and cleaned up the saw cuts with some floats.

The best part was making the dowels for the movable rods.  I had never made dowels with a plane before, and was looking forward to it.  It is just like making chamfers with a block plane.  Once they would roll on the bench, I finished the dowel with some sand paper.

I chose to make the two rods from contrasting woods, because another blogger, Kees, mentioned he sometimes forgets which gauge he is using and messes up the mark.  Perhaps this will help.

The wedges I basically copied from the original.  I accidentally cut the middle wedge a bit short and am thinking of doing that over.

The cutters are some steel nails I had in my stash, that had some black enamel on them.  I ground them down until I couldn't statnd it anymore (they are still a bit long).  They are sharpened on one side, and installed so each post has a cutter with the sharpened side facing opposite directions.  Something I didn't think about is countersinking these nails, as the heads stick out a bit.  If you put the gauge close to the stock, the nail sticks out and interferes with the wedge.  It still seems to hold, though.

Lastly, I burnished all of the pieces with my polisoir, and then finished with DICK wax.  I think this stuff is fantastic!

Oh, and I call it the Milkman's Mortise Gauge because Jonas is the guy who took pictures of his dad's portable bench and sent the photos to Chris Schwarz, who has made this bench go viral.  Perhaps the gauge came from the same guy!

Overall, I am pretty happy with it.  I will probably make another one now that I have some of this figured out.


  1. How come that your pictures look a lot better than mine, even when you use your phone?
    (I suppose the answer could be my miserable camera).

    I think you have done one heckufajob! It looks really good. And it is amazing that you managed to make it in one day. Well done!

    Regarding the noise: That is one of the best reasons for living far out in the countryside. I can run a chainsaw at 10 pm and no one will find it odd or even complain about it.

    Other "good" reasons for country living includes the probability to become stuck when there is a blizzard, and have a close encounter when the farmers spread manure or slurry on the fields. But you can't have it all :-)

    1. Haha! I always make sure to edit my photos before posting. That seems to help. I'll send you a tutorial I did a while back for using the Gimp (free software). But on these I just pushe the 'enhance' button on my photo manager. That seems to help.

      Us city folk know these things...

  2. Looks good!

    Another idea to avoid confusing the two pins is to always shove the one not in use against the stock.

    1. That might look a little less odd. This one has those big nail heads that make pusing the cutter up against the stock not so practical. I'll need to figure something else out.

  3. Hi Brian
    nice post again! good to call it the milkman's mortise gauge! Thanks also for posting Jonas's pictures on his dad's portable workbench. CS did write a nice piece (as always!) on PW regarding this particular workbench. However I didn't like the "modern" way he is using to attach the bench to a table top, I do prefer the traditional way as depicted here : http://lostartpress.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/workbenchattsite.jpg