I almost exclusively use floating tenons in my woodworking and I occasionally get asked why I prefer them to integral tenons. Before I answer that let me explain what they are to those that might be new to this. Floating tenons, which are sometimes called loose tenons, differ from integral tenons (traditional) in that they incorporate a separate piece of wood for the tenon. The tenon stock is inserted into a mortise to form the ‘tenon side’ of a mortise and tenon joint. There have been a few strength tests conducted, with the data either published on the internet or in woodworking magazines, that strongly suggest that there is little difference in strength between integral and floating tenons.
With that out of the way, why do I prefer them? When I first started woodworking I would have trouble cutting tenons so that the shoulders lined up all the way around the stock. This was extremely frustrating for me as a beginning woodworker. With integral tenons I found myself frequently having to chisel tenon shoulders and cheeks in order to get them to look ‘gap-free’ and fit tight in the mortise. At the time, I was a big fan of The New Yankee Workshop and integral tenons were all that Norm made. So this is where I started; with integral tenons. Later, I was exposed to floating tenons by watching Wood Works with David Marks. David would use a Multi-Router to form his end-grain mortises and used floating tenons on almost everything on the show. I was really intrigued! Floating tenons looked like the solution to my frequent tenon problem. I later read on David’s website that he used floating tenons for the same reason (among others I think) with regard to the problem associated with getting tenon shoulders to line up all the way around the stock.
Aside from being the solution to the problem I was frequently having with my integral tenons, I found floating tenons to be faster to make and require less tool set-up and futzing around. Plus, later in my woodworking, I found that floating tenons were also great for making double tenons and angled tenons. These ‘more advanced’ tenons are a breeze with floating tenons but are even more troublesome with integral tenons.
I’ve realized over the years that woodworking is extremely personal and almost quasi religious for most people. If integral tenons work for you and you enjoy the process in making them, don’t stop. For me, floating tenons were a game changer and have significantly enhanced the enjoyment I get from this ‘religion’ we call woodworking. I will still use integral tenons if they are more appropriate for a specific task, but this doesn’t happen very often.