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11 Tips for Dadoes & Rabbets Keene NH

Some people get pretty worked up about using the right word for the right joint. Perhaps they have a point since imprecise use of terms can lead to confusion. So, to be precise, here are the proper definitions. Read on to learn more.

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11 Tips for Dadoes & Rabbets

11 Tips for Dadoes & Rabbets

Perfect Dadoes Without the Guesswork

By George Vondriska

Dadoes and rabbets are two of the most widely used joints in cabinetmaking. Cabinets, drawers and jewelry boxes all lend themselves to this simple but strong joinery.  I’ve been woodworking, demonstrating and teaching  woodworking  for a long time. Over the years, I have accumulated some great tips for making and using dadoes and rabbets. 


Some people get pretty worked up about using the right word for the right joint. Perhaps they have a point since imprecise use of terms can lead to confusion. So, to be precise, here are the proper definitions:

A dado is a U-shaped, square-bottomed channel cut across the grain (see photo, top right).  

A groove looks just like a dado, but runs with the grain. A lot of people call a groove a dado I think that’s OK - but imprecise. 

A rabbet is an L-shaped channel cut across or with the grain. A rabbet is always cut on the stock’s edge. 

Make a Gauge Block

Setting up a stackable dado head to fit your plywood can be fussy and time consuming but, you’ll significantly reduce the guesswork by making a dado gauge block.  To make the block, cut a  23/32-in. wide dado in a board big enough to allow for six more dados with space between. Add a single .005-in. shim to the 23/32-in. set up and plow a second dado next to the 23/32-in. one. Continue adding shims and making dados in .005-in. increments until you get to a 3/4-in. dado. Mark the dadoes as you go. To use, slip your plywood into the test dadoes until you find the perfect fit. Then, read the number of shims needed. 

Best Dado Depth

For years, I made all my dadoes 3/8-in. deep in 3/4-in. plywood. If I made dadoes on opposite sides of a divider, however, I had to change their depth and recalculate shelf lengths just for that joint. 

I’ve since learned it’s a lot easier and just as strong to set the depth of cut for every dado to 1/4 in. This makes calculating shelf lengths a whole lot easier, and I never have to make special calculations for a double dado. 

Lock The Height

Always lock the blade-height handwheel before cutting. Vibration can make the handle turn, changing the depth of cut. This change is often hard to observe until assembly time. A big oops, if you just cut dadoes for a  kitchen full of cabinets.  

Cut Rabbets with a Sacrificial Fence

A sacrificial fence protects your stock fence from damage. I make my fence from melamine because its slippery. I cut a 3/8-in. x 3/4-in. groove to accept a commercial featherboard. A scallop cut in the face of the sacrificial fence allows me to bury part of the blade.  

A Featherboard Guarantees Accuracy

A featherboard provides consistent downward  pressure on the material right over the blade. This will compensate for a slight warp in pl...

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