A Strong Argument for Loose
English's Biographical Page
Thursday Jul 12, 2001
most popular furniture joint just got a whole lot easier. The new
beadLOCK™ system is a dream to work with and delivers perfect
mortise and tenon joints every time. Aside from their patented jig,
the only tool required is a drill — no more chisels, mortising
machines, table saw jigs or endless shaving to get that exquisitely
cut joint. All you have to do is clamp the jig in place and drill
a few holes, then insert a length of the company’s pre-milled
tenon stock. It truly is that easy.
Why a Loose Tenon?
I shop tested the beadLOCK™ system and discovered a number
of surprises — not the least of which was that the system also
makes a wonderful doweling jig for standard 1/2" and 3/8" dowel
stock. But its true value lies with its designed function: creating
mortises for the company’s premanufactured hardwood loose tenons.
All loose tenons floats in the space formed by two opposing mortises,
but beadLOCK’s version has a number of advantages over a standard
squared tenon. The multiple flutes are, in effect, the equivalent
of joining either three 1/2" dowels or five 3/8" dowels
together. The innovative shape offers a large amount of side-grain
gluing surface, for an extremely strong joint. The design also prevents
the joint from wiggling from side to side and working itself loose
over the years.
the beadLOCK is clamped in place it’s a simple matter to
switch from position A to position B and drill the holes required
A holes are shown in blue;
Position B holes are shown in red.
Some Workshop Observations
Back in my shop, I took a long, hard look at the beadLOCK
its matching moldings. The kit I tested was the top of the line
version, which included everything necessary to construct joints
with both 3/8" and 1/2" thick tenon stock. The first
thing I discovered was both the plate and the two guide blocks
were made in the USA of hardened steel, so they’re as durable
as they need to be for years of regular use. Block machining was
top quality, and the set screws were big enough to grip and use.
The matching hardwood stock I received in my kit tested at 6 percent
moisture, which is just about as dry as it can be in this part of
the country. That’s good — if the molding shrinks too
much after assembly you’ll end up with a loose fitting joint.
The birch molding lay straight as a die on my bench, and came packed
in 12" lengths. The individual 1/2" and 3/8" kits
each contain two feet of molding.
One nice thing I discovered was the length of the tenon is only
limited by the length of your drill bit. The beadLOCK jig itself
places no limits on length. That means that, for small assemblies,
you can use perhaps an inch of molding, while in large joints like
tables or desks, a three or four inch long tenon can be used.
About the only thing I didn’t like about this system is that
the shim package, designed to offset the jig for stock that’s
thicker than 3/4", was made of plastic. I would have preferred
I made several mortise and tenon joints in various species and thicknesses
of stock, all without any mishap. Each of the joints I constructed
fit like a glove. I followed the manufacturer’s instructions
(beadLOCK is made by the Journeyman Tool Company of Horicon, Wisconsin)
and trimmed the tenon stock 1/8" shorter than the combined
depth of the two mortises: doing this, all my joints closed perfectly
under clamping pressure. It didn’t take long to discover
that such tight joinery doesn’t require a whole lot of extra
glue. My suggestion is to mask the joint to collect the excess
Once the beadLOCK is clamped in place it’s a simple matter
to switch from position A to position B and drill the holes required
for your tenon stock.The system requires that you clamp the jig to
the work, then lock the guide block in place and drill three holes
for the 3/8" stock (or just two for the 1/2" molding).
Then you loosen the jig, slide the block to the right and lock it
down before drilling the last two holes. I found the holes come out
more evenly if you drill the first set of holes twice before moving
the block, then slow the drill speed down on the second set of holes.
All in all, my impressions of the beadLOCK
system were overwhelmingly
positive. This simple jig brings mortise and tenon joinery within
the reach of all skill levels, providing an inexpensive way to produce
perfectly fitting, repeatable, error-free joints every time, with
nothing but a drill and saw.
are three steps to using beadLOCK's system. With the stock to cut
to size, begin by drawing a witness mark across both pieces, right
where the center of the joint should lie.
Next, clamp the jig to each part in turn, lining it up with the
witness marks. Drill holes with the jig at the "A" setting,
then switch to the "B" setting and complete the drilling.
third step is to cut the tenon stock to length and dry assemble
the joint to check the fit. Then you're ready to glue up and clamp
the mortise and tenon joint together.
tenon stock (available in 3/8" and 1/2" dowel diameters)
should be trimmed about 1/8" shorter than the combined depths
of the mortise to allow for glue relief. For offset joints, where
the mortise isn't centered on a standard piece of 3/4" thick
stock, the factory provides a set of shims.
Copyright Woodworker's Journal Volume 24, Issue
1 February 2000