Review By Wayne Davy  BeadLOCK Website - http://www.beadlock.com

BeadLOCK Loose Tenong Joinery System
Review
By Wayne Davy

"Welcome… to the beadLOCK Loose Tenon Joinery System. The beadLOCK system
is a quality tool used in conjunction with a hand drill for the construction of
extremely strong traditional mortise and tenon joinery."

Quote Source - BeadLOCK Website - www.beadlock.com

Manufacturer: Journeyman Tool Company, LLC
Recommended Retail Price:
 US $ 46.99

When woodworkers talk about building fine furniture, several methods will always be discussed - such as Dovetailed Drawers, Raised Panel Doors and Crown Mouldings.  But, underlying all these classic features is a carcass that will usually be assembled using traditional Mortise and Tenon joints that are commonly thought of as one of the strongest available.

Now, for most woodworkers, cutting accurate Mortises and Tenons can be a time consuming and tedious exercise. No matter whether you are doing them completely by hand or you have machines such as a Chisel Mortiser, Bandsaw or Table Saw. Getting the layout correct is essential and you then need to ensure that your cuts absolutely follow your layout lines otherwise a sloppy, misaligned (or worse) joint will result.

There are jigs such as the new Leigh model that claim to take away all the tedium out of producing these joints, but these are very expensive and would be out of the range of most Hobby Woodworkers (and probably quite a few professionals). But there is another option called the ‘BeadLOCK’ system and that is what we are here to review today.

What is it?
The ‘beadLOCK’ system is based on the loose Tenon method. That is
, where a Mortise is cut in both pieces to be joined and then a third piece is inserted into these Mortises forming the Tenon. This method has been around for a long time so what makes the BeadLOCK different?

Well, as I mentioned before, cutting accurate Mortises can be a daunting task let alone having to cut two for each Joint. The BeadLOCK enables you to do this simply, accurately and very quickly using an ordinary corded/cordless hand drill.

Unpacking
We received the ‘Dual
BeadLOCK Kit’ that allows two different sized Mortise and Tenon in 3/8” and 1/2" sizes to be produced (A 3/8” only Kit is also available).  Also provided to us was a copy of the Dealer Video that demonstrates how to use the jig for different applications (This is not included in the kit sold generally

The kit ships in a clear plastic packet that is resealable and contains the following items:

  • The BeadLOCK jig itself

  • Two guide blocks in 3/8” and 1/2" sizes

  • A shim set

  • Two feet of 3/8" and two feet of 1/2" tenon stock cut from premium Birch.

  • Instructions on the cover sheet

The jig and the guide blocks are made of hardened steel and the assembled unit resembles a dowel jig. The guide block attaches to mounting holes in the jig that are slotted so that the guide block can be moved between two positions, ‘A’ and ‘B’, which are stamped into the jig. When the guide block is in the desired position, two thumbscrews secure it in place. The two different positions are used to obtain the overlapping holes that form the mortise. The jig also has a reference window in the center that is used to line up the jig to a layout line on the work piece.

The shim set consists of one 1/32" and four 1/16" plastic spacers and are used to offset the jig (more on this later). I felt that the tenon stock provided is enough to get you started but more would need to be purchased to get any real use out of system. Another option that is available is to purchase special Router bits from the manufacturer that enable you to create your own tenon stock. These are sold separately and would be well worth the purchase price if you plan to use the BeadLOCK system on a regular basis.

The instructions provided are printed on the reverse of the packaging cover sheet.  These are quite useful in explaining how to use the jig in its simplest form but do not explain the more intricate uses of the jig that are presented in the Dealers Video that we were also supplied with (more on this later). 

Fit and finish of all the supplied items was quite good and I felt that the jig would take quite a bit of rough handling and still remain accurate over time.

In Use
The folks at BeadLOCK recommend that the 1/2" Tenon be used for heavier applications such as Entrance Doors where the 3/8” Tenon is recommended for most furniture joints. I chose to start with a furniture joint so I fitted the 3/8” guide block to the Jig and set the guide block to the ‘A’ position. For the first test, I decided to join a 1” square post to a 1” x ” rail.

A little bit of layout is required but this is very easy, just dry fit the pieces together in the desired orientation and then draw a crisp line across both pieces, roughly in the center of the joint. This is your reference line to line up the jig on each piece for drilling.

Next I took the first piece (it does not matter which but I started with the rail) and place the jig on its end and positioned the jig so that the layout line was aligned in the jig's reference window. Then we secured the jig to the piece using my wood vice (a clamp would also be fine).

After selecting a Brad point 3/8” drill bit and 'chucking' it in my Power Drill, I then placed a piece of masking tape around it to act as a depth marker. The marker was set at 2 ” - being 1” for the actual mortise depth plus 1 ” for the thickness of the guide block. I drilled the first set of three holes using the holes in the guide block and stopped when the masking tape on the bit reaches the top of the guide block.

Now, here’s the clever bit, I loosen the thumbscrews that hold the guide block and slide it over to the ‘B’ position then re-tighten the thumbscrews. Only two of the three holes were now accessible by the drill bit and the third hole gets covered to ensure you don’t make a mistake. Looking down into the guide block, I could see that the guide holes are now positioned in between the first set of drilled holes. I picked up my Drill again and drilled the two remaining holes. When I removed the jig, I had a mortise that had 'wavy' edges. Now, if this were a traditional mortise, I would be reaching for my chisel right about now to smooth out the sides. Not with the BeadLOCK, the created mortise is a perfect fit for the supplied tenon stock. 

Ok, I now had one nice, clean mortise but that’s not very useful by itself.  So I followed the same procedure described above and drilled the second mortise in the side of the Post. Now it was moment of truth, would my joint line up correctly?

The Moment of Truth...
I took a piece of the tenon stock and cut off a 1 7/8” long piece - being 1/8” less than the total depth of the mortise as recommended in the instructions - this leaves room for the tenon stock to expand in the joint when glued. I then dry-fitted it into the Post mortise and then slid the Rail mortise onto the tenon. The result, an absolutely perfect fit first time.. Not too bad at all.

After disassembling the parts, I then proceeded to glue them together. The manufactures recommend gluing the tenon into one of the pieces first and then gluing the other piece to this assembly.  Doing so makes life a lot easier as you are not juggling three parts at the same time. 

After setting aside this completed joint, I proceeded to join together other pieces of wood using different offsets. I also had a go at making an angular joint such as those used on Chair stretchers. To accomplish this joint required a slightly different technique that was shown in the Dealer Video we were provided. As before, each and every joint was perfect and all of them were very easy and fast to create. 

Joint Strength
All the joints created were very, very strong. In fact, I tried to break one of the test joints and only succeeded in cracking the wood NOT the joint. This strength comes about due to the extra glue area provided by the wavy mortise and matching tenon, which is another positive reason to consider the system.

 

Conclusions
While the jig was a delight to use, there was one area I felt could do with some improvement and that is the supplied Instructions. As I mentioned before, the instructions are quite clear and easy to understand but are limited to simple joints.

In the Dealer Video, several methods are shown using the jig that are not explained on the instruction sheet.  In particular, the angular joint method that involves making an angled support block that is placed on the rail stock so that the Jig is on the same plane as the other piece of stock.

Another method that is mentioned but not explained is the joining of narrower parts than the supplied tenon stock. The instructions mention that you can cut down the tenon lengthways but fail to mention that you should now only use two holes on the guide block for the initial cut and then only one to complete the mortise. Again, this is explained and demonstrated in the Dealers Video and, while it is obvious, beginner users would probably be caught out.

The last point I will make, and this is not a criticism, is the amount of supplied tenon stock. While a very reasonable amount is provided considering the cost of the kit, you will very quickly run out and more will need to be purchased. I would suggest that if you were going to use the BeadLOCK for a project, check that you have enough tenon stock on hand. I would be a bit of a pain to run out and then find out your supplier has also run out of stock.

Overall, I was very impressed with the BeadLOCK system, considering I had some doubts before it arrived regarding accuracy and fit. While I felt the instructions could do with a bit more detail, they do explain the basic usage of the system and the Jig does exactly what is claimed and it does it quite well. In fact, I think my dedicated Chisel Mortiser may end up gathering a few cobwebs!


BeadLOCK Router Bits

BeadLOCK Router Bits Mini-Review!
Journeyman Tool Company kindly set us both their 3/8" and 1/2" Router bits for review. These bits are used to create your very own tenon stock for use with the BeadLOCK jig. The Bits came packaged in plastic containers with a common Instruction sheet. It should be noted that these Bits are only for use in a Router table.

After reading the short instructions, we set about preparing some stock to size. We were a bit disappointed with the instructions in this department as only a rough guide is given to the width required. To solve this problem we resorted to using two pieces of BeadLOCK tenon stock (3/8" and 1/2") and measured their width.

The instructions told us to place the bit in the Router table and to set the bit height so that 'flats' will be formed on the top and bottom edges of the stock. While this was OK, we found the easiest way was, again, to use existing tenon stock as a guide to set the bit height and also the fence position for cut depth.

Starting with the 3/8" Bit first, we set up and then routed one side of our blank using a push block as recommended in the instructions. We will admit that we forgot about one point in the instructions and ended up with a nice looking piece of tenon stock, except that the beads were slightly out making it useless. To correct this, you must turn the stock around but ensure that the same edge that was facing up on the first pass is still facing up on the second pass to ensure the beads will line up. We also had a small problem with the stock riding up a bit at the end of the second pass and ruining the tenon. This was easily solved by using a finger board to hold down the stock during routing. After this small learning curve, our second piece turned out perfectly and we continued to make four more.

Placing the 1/2" bit in Router table, we followed the same procedure as above and created a couple of 1/2" tenons. We had no problems this time around, so perhaps testing on some scrap wood first may be a wise choice when you first use the router bits.

To ensure our machined stock was OK, we set up the BeadLOCK jig and drilled out two mortises in the two sizes. Both sizes of routed tenons fitted perfectly! A very good outcome indeed!

Summary
After the few small difficulties we had with the first piece, subsequent tenons were machined without any problems. Results were good and, over time, a significant cost saving would be achieved. The bits seemed to be quality, sharp tungsten carbide material with a clean finish and we felt that they would last a very long time as only a small amount of stock needs to be removed when creating the tenons.

One point we will make is that the instructions could, again, do with a few more details. In particular, the exact width of blank stock that is needed to achieve acceptable results.

Apart from this, we were very happy with the bits and would recommend them to users of the BeadLOCK jig. If you have a Router Table, investing in the BeadLOCK Bits will enable you to create your own stock as required and also save money in the long term.

NOTE: The BeadLOCK kit is now manufactured and sold by Rockler.

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BeadLOCK Photos
All photos copyright onlinetoolreviews.com. Use without prior written permission prohibited!
The BeadLOCK system straight
 off the shelf.


The contents of the BeadLOCK package... Time to put them to use!


Arranging and marking of pieces
to be drilled.


Position A - Drill 3 holes...


Slide the beadlock jig to Position B to drill remaining 2 holes.


And here is the result of our drilling. First mortise complete.


Repeat the process for the second piece and you should have two accurately mortised pieces ready for the tenon stock.


Dry fitting the joint... Looks promising...


Let's glue it up and see how we go.


Joint now glued up and ready for clamps...


And here we have a nice, flush fitting mortise and tenon-style joint created quickly, easily and accurately with a power drill and the BeadLOCK system

BeadLOCK Router Bit Photos

.
BeadLOCK router bits in
protective wax coating


These bits will save you money!


The BeadLOCK bit installed in the router table


A push stick is a must, and a feather board will also help accuracy.


A small arsenal of BeadLOCK tenon stock created with the router bits


And yes, it fits perfectly indicating the router bits are engineered precisely for the BeadLOCK jig.

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