I'm attempting to build (and learn at the same time) a craftsman / arts and crafts style coffee table. It's a smaller project to learn on, before I start taking on more complex projects. I've made some good progress so far, building everything out of oak. The legs are built out of quarter sawn oak planks, using a lock-miter router bit to get them to all have the correct face looking outwards.

I've hit a couple of major snags, and the project has stalled for quite a while, but I'd like to get back into it. The snags are with the hole in the cross rail through which the shelf on the bottom of the table passes through (see second image), and the holes in the legs into which the cross rail passes through. I've attached my sketchup drawings for reference, the first is the picture of the whole table, and the second is of the specific areas where I'm stalled.

The specific issue that I'm having is how to make the holes in the wood, and have them come out square. Unfortunately, I don't have access to a dedicated mortising machine (and I'm not sure that would be the answer anyway). I do have a drill press with a mortising attachment, which worked really well for some of the other (smaller) holes that I had to make.

I started the hole on one cross rail with the drill press and the mortising bit, but it didn't come out square (if you can imaging drilling a small square hole, moving the piece down a bit, drilling the next hole, and repeating until the dimensions of the hole are complete, that's what I did). The edges are all very jagged, and I'm having a very difficult time getting them smooth.

How does one usually make these sorts of holes? I'm hesitant to keep going and screw up more parts of the table.

coffee table overview table leg joints

  • Are you using a fence on your drill press table? And is it and the workpiece clamped down strongly enough? If these are able to move a little bit, that could cause some unevenness. When making mortises using forstner bits, you space the holes out first then go back in to clean out the in between spots (instead of going straight through from one side to the next) in order to help prevent the bit from wandering. I've never used a mortifying bit, but it might be worth trying that way too.
    – aaron
    Jan 17, 2015 at 4:25

1 Answer 1


You're cutting a mortise. The classic method is to drill a succession of overlapping holes, using a bit that's approximately the width of your desired mortise. You then clean it up/square it up with a (SHARP!) wood chisel.

Youtube it and you can see it being done.

I would advise you one small thing: I wouldn't run a mortise and tenon joint through the middle of a hollow leg. I'd fill the hollow part with wood, at least at the point that the tenon will penetrate.

  • I think I was caught by the fact that the local hardware store didn't carry a large enough mortising bit (to match the size of the stock passing through the hole). I just did an amazon search, and found that there are much larger mortising bits than I had been using. You made mention of filling the hollow leg for the tenon penetration. I'm assuming (but want to be sure) that you're suggesting this as a temporary filler while cutting the mortise, to be removed later, or is it more of a permanent thing?
    – Robert K
    Jan 17, 2015 at 4:14
  • I'd keep it in there permanently... Especially if that peg is not just decorative.
    – aaron
    Jan 17, 2015 at 4:21
  • A SHARP chisel will make your work more precise and is easier to use. Chisels from the factory (out of the package) are never sharp, so learn to sharpen them.
    – Mark
    Jan 17, 2015 at 4:35
  • I just watched a couple of youtube videos (as Bob, the Original poster had suggested), and totally missed the mark of his comment. I was using Mortising drill bits (like this one: link), and it looks like I just needed a standard drill bit, and a good set of chisels. I understand now the reasoning behind the filler stock in the hollow leg if I use a hand-chisel, it makes sense. Thanks for all the help!
    – Robert K
    Jan 17, 2015 at 4:39

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