Cutting dados and rabbets in the basement workshop

February 16, 20154 Comments

Later this week I’m releasing the first of the construction videos for our current project build “The 8 drawer tall dresser.” Among the topics you’ll see in the video I’m sharing my current technique for plowing out dados and rabbets in my projects.

plenty of dados

As you’ll see, the technique is pretty simple. Whenever possible I like to do them on my tablesaw with a stacked dado cutter. Why?

Because without a doubt I feel like I have a lot more control over the process, and as we all should know by now, when you feel more confident about something you’re more apt to get better results (or at the least feel safer, which should never be discounted as a reason to not choose one technique over another.)

cutting dados

I will admit there could be some potential drawbacks to using a stacked dado head cutter to do all my cutting, but with a little planning ahead of time you should be able to limit them.

Specifically the number one drawback I can think of is trying to cut dados on a large panel. Whenever possible I like to bring my tools over to large components, such as the sides of this dresser, to get a task completed. But because I can’t do that with a stacked dado cutter, I’ll just have to take a few minutes to strategize my cuts.

Another rather obvious issue with using a dado cutterhead on my tablesaw is that stopped dados and grooves can add another layer of complexity to the process, but it’s easy enough to either stop just shy of the end of the cut or to carefully setup for a different approach (one I’m not going to describe here, because that could take a while.)

It might be me being overcautious (because I know my tablesaw could easily handle it) but something else I do when using my stacked dado cutterhead is to not add all the cutters needed to cut the full width of the dimension I’m trying to cut.

This seems counter-productive, but as I explain in the upcoming video my reasoning is pretty simple, I like being able to sneak up on the final fit. If anything were even slightly off in my milling of the mating pieces I could be looking at some extra time spent milling new stock to fit, or seriously considering shimming them in some way.

sides with dados

Parallel dados for the win

Of course this all begs to ask the question “why not use a tool like a router?” or maybe you see it as the basis for an argument for why hand tools are more superior for these kind of tasks.

And my response is that you’re probably right…for YOU to do YOUR preferred method. But each of these have their own drawbacks that need to be dealt with and I’m already familiar with my own technique’s issues.

So rather than saying one way is superior over the other, I prefer to say each has their merits, and whatever works best for the woodworker employing them is probably the best one for the job at hand.

And while I prefer this method for the vast majority of my dado and rabbeting tasks, I will every so often turn to my router or a hand tool to tackle the job when necessary

Which is your preferred method? Do you use just one or do you use a wide variety of methods?

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Comments (4)

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  1. darenR says:

    Grammar peeve kicked in

    can you change that to :

    And my response is that you’re probably right…for YOU to do **YOUR** preferred method. But each of these have their own drawbacks that need to be dealt with and I’m already familiar with my own technique’s issues.

    • Matt says:

      Oops…spell check in the WordPress dashboard apparently doesn’t include grammar. I too get irritated by that mistake. Thanks for pointing it out.

  2. Rick says:

    Any time I’m making a dado cut, I try not to go farther from the fence than the width of the panel I am cutting. Maybe I’m overly cautious, but I’m not comfortable doing it. I’m afraid that the panel would rock away from the fence, and things would get really ugly for me. With the width of the panel you show in the pictures you have a pretty wide bearing surface to work with, so it may not be a problem. For me, I would use a router, and since there are a lot of dados to cut, I would use it for all of them.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for the feedback, I have a healthy respect for dado creation, probably because I’ve messed it up one to many times LOL.

      Thanks again.

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