Tools & Equipment

Mortising Machine

The construction of large communal Shaker buildings required joiners to make numerous windows and doors.

These were assembled using mortise and tenon joints, that is, two pieces of wood are joined by inserting a square or rectangular tenon cut on the end of one piece of wood into a matching square or rectangular hole, a mortise, in another piece.

A typical four-panel door, for example, requires the joiner to make ten of these joints.

  • 80 ½ x 58 x 48 ½”
  • Wood, metal
  • Accession Number: 1961.12843.1

To make cutting the mortises easier, Brother Orren Haskins of the Church Family at Mount Lebanon, traveled to Pittsfield, Massachusetts on January 30, 1842, with two other Shaker brothers, “to see a mortising machine with the expectation of making one.”

During the month of February, Haskins was at work, “making a mortising machine to mortise the doors and window sash for the new shop that is to be erected next summer. Brother Arba Noyes, a blacksmith for the family, did the iron work for the machine.

Although not inscribed by Haskins, this is undoubtedly the mortising machine made by Haskins.

The mortising machine employs the mechanical advantage of compound levers and the weight of the operator transferred through a foot pedal to force a chisel into the wood to cut the mortise. Often a single hole would be drilled at one end of the mortise to provide a space for the wood shavings as the operator makes repeated chisel cuts along the length of the mortise. The heavy spring pulls the chisel back out of the wood ready for the next stroke. The wooden hand screws adjust a fence to properly position the materials being mortised.

The mortising machine was purchased by the Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon at the Darrow School auction on August 5, 1961.