Shop made reamer and tenon cutter


I am currently  in an unwanted limbo phase in my shop. My electrical planer was sent to a workshop to get fixed end of last year with the idea that they can get it sorted while I am away on holiday. Unfortunately the curse of Namibia has befallen the planer. They are waiting for parts from some other godforsaken place before they can finish the job. That has forced me to keep myself busy with some of those little jobs that you keep on putting off while working on bigger projects.

One of the fairly quick projects I got stuck into on the weekend was to build a reamer and tenon cutter set. I bought an electronic version of Christopher Schwarz’s new book “The Anarchist Design Book” (highly recommended by the way) last week, which reminded me that I wanted to build such a set. A few people have already written stuff on the detail of how to build such a reamer so I will not repeat all that. Here are a few links that I found helpful.


Peter Galbert

Tim Manney

Gluing Assegaai (Curtisia dentata) for the reamer.


While that was curing, I used a piece of hacksaw blade to shape the blade. It seems that most of the authorities (including the Schwarz) prefer a 6° angle for the blade. That is exactly what I decided on. It took ages to shape this blade as it is ridiculously hard and I did not want to ruin the temper.


The next day the Assegaai shaft was turned on the lathe.


The most frightening thing about making one of these reamers is cutting the kerf to accommodate the blade. The only handsaw I own that would be able to cut such a deep rip is my humungous Disston no. 12 26″ 6 tpi. Now imagine cutting such a precise kerf in a relatively delicate piece of wood with a saw like that. I had to first consume a few drops of usquebaugh before making the cut.


… and Bob’s your uncle!


Then the idea is to use your new reamer to produce a perfectly matched conical tenon cutter. For this purpose I went foraging for a suitable blade. Was I not over the moon to find this beauty. One of the dilapidated old wooden planes I bought some time ago for decorative purposes happened to sport this blade/chipbreaker combination. As you can see we have a Robt Sorby blade with a A. Mathieson & Son chipbreaker.  As far as I know, this is seriously good stuff.


Scrap piece of Tasmanian Blackwood.


5/8″ hole drilled through it.


Reamed out to the point where the blade is only just touching the edges of the far side of the hole.


Despite cutting a type of escape rout for the shavings in front of the blade (as recommended by the gurus), I found that you have to stop quite often to remove clogged up debris.  Despite that it is a legend of a tool to use. You have perfect control and no loud noise or dust to contend with.


I think I need to get a few more pointers from Jonathan White (The Bench Blog) on photography, because I could for the life of me not capture this nicely. The reamer managed to ream out a hole that has sidewalls as smooth as the usquebaugh I consumed earlier. I had to put on sunglasses to deal with the glare of the midsummer sun rays bouncing off of it.


Opening up the hole carefully by planing away the waste. Initially quite aggressively so.


Then quite carefully with my David Charlesworth powered no 5½.


I used the following methode to secure the blade into position.


Then you only need to turn a dummy tenon as close to the correct size/shape as possible on your lathe. The dummy becomes the first victim of your tenon cutter and can be used as a guide to check your progress while reaming mortises in future.

OK, time for some more usquebaugh.