Create precisely milled mortises quickly and accurately
In terms of structure, function and strength a loose tenon (a.k.a. floating tenon) joint is virtually indistinguishable from a mortise and tenon joint. And just as important, it’s quicker and easier to make, particularly for anyone new to woodworking.
JessEM Pocket Mill Pro Loose Tenon System
MSRP: $439.99 (basic kit); $649.99 (enhanced kit); $699.99 (full kit)
What distinguishes the Canadian-made JessEM Pocket Mill Pro (PMP) from other joinery machines is that it uses a power drill equipped with an endmill bit to cut the mortises.
The PMP, like all JessEM products, is superbly machined from anodized aluminum and stainless steel. You can purchase the jig with a mounting angle that enables you to attach the PMP to a workbench using clamps or a bench vise. If you only use tenon joinery occasionally, this is the version to get. However, if you use tenon joinery on a regular basis you’ll want to purchase the jig with a Baltic birch workstation (which includes a mitre attachment). You’ll need two track saw-style clamps to use with the workstation. If you don’t have them JessEM offers a pair of Micro-Jig clamps for an additional $50. Track saw clamps from other brands won’t work on the workstation.
It took me about five minutes to assemble the jig and workstation. (Hint: read the manual beforehand.) The PMP includes a premium-quality 6mm carbide endmill with a drill extension and stop collar. With this bit you can cut mortises up to 0.69″ (17mm) deep and 0.83″ (21mm) wide. JessEM also has 5mm, 8mm, 10mm, 1/4″ and 3/8″ endmill bits from $57.99 to $105.99. You can make your own tenon stock or save even more time (and get a fit tight enough to be used in exposed joinery) by purchasing precision-milled hardwood tenon stock. JessEM sells economically priced hardwood tenon stock starting at $12.99 for six feet (six 12″ lengths).
I found the workstation made it easier and quicker to secure stock for mortising. As well, the integrated mitre attachment enables you to tilt the jig so you can cut mortises at any angle from 0° to 45°.
The first time you use the PMP the sequence of steps might seem a tad labyrinthine, but once you’ve cut a few mortises you’ll find it straightforward. You begin by marking vertical centrelines on your stock and then horizontal lines where the mid-points of the mortises are located. Then clamp the stock to the workstation and position the PMP over the stock so the registration marks line up with the centrelines on your stock. Before drilling the mortises ensure you’ve moved the shaft mount base forward to avoid drilling into the mounting plate. Turn your drill to its highest speed setting, insert the bit into the jig and as you pull the trigger on the drill move the jig handle side-to-side; the carriage that holds the bit moves downward on each pass to cut the mortise. After the mortise is cut you need to press the carriage release button to raise the carriage back to its starting position.
You can easily adjust mortise depth by means of a brass depth adjuster. To drill a mortise to full depth using the 6mm endmill takes about 20 side-to-side handle movements, or about 12 seconds. The other endmills have different cutting depths. For example, the 3/8″ bit cuts mortises up to 1″ (25.4mm) deep.
With the PMP you can cut mortises up to 2″ from the face side or edge of stock, making it suitable for a wide variety of joinery, including cabinet door rails and stiles, table aprons, and chair and table legs. However, JessEM also sells a milling attachment that enables you to cut mortises in the center of the stock, up to 8″ from an edge.
You definitely need to use a dust extractor with the PMP, otherwise the debris won’t exit the mortise as it’s cut.
I’ve been using the JessEM Pocket Mill Pro for several weeks and am very satisfied with its performance. There will be inevitable comparisons to the Festool Domino, which I’ve also used. One obvious difference is that you can bring the Domino to your workpiece rather than bringing the workpiece to the tool (as with the PMP). The Domino is quicker and easier to use on large stock and when you’re placing mortises in the centre of large panels. When working with small stock the PMP has a distinct advantage. And at just under $700 for a fully decked out PMP that creates a common and strong joint it’s an affordable tool for most hobbyist woodworkers.
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