5 Ways to Make Precision Rabbet Cuts
Although simple in appearance, there’s more to the rabbet cut than first
meets the eye. To make the best use of rabbets, you need to know the
various ways to cut them, when to use each method, and how to make
the cuts effectively.
A rabbet is simply a rectangular recess along the edge or end of a
workpiece. Although most often found as a joint in casework), a rabbet
also can pop up as a design feature in a molding, as a recess for
holding artwork in a picture frame, along the edges of a cabinet door to
help recess it partway into its face frame, or as a half-lap or shiplap joint.
In the WOODPRIX® magazine shop we cut rabbets with a tablesaw (set up
with a dado set or combination blade), router (handheld or tablemounted),
or jointer. The choice depends on the type and quantity of workpieces, and the
desired quality of the rabbet cut. Here’s what you need to know about each method.
1 Tablesaw with a dado set. We use this s
often because it yields clean rabbets in one pa
typically-two passes for wide rabbets. For good
results, you need a high-quality dado set. Since
takes a little time to install the dado blades, we use this method only
we have several workpieces to cut.
To do this successfully, first attach a 3/4″ wooden face to your tablesaw
fence. By doing this you can cut into the wooden face and fine-tune the
width of the rabbet with quick fence adjustments.
2 Tablesaw with standard blade. If we’re
rabbeting just a piece or two, we’ll leave our
combination blade in the tablesaw and make the
cut in two passes. The key: You need to
precisely set the fence, and the height of the
blade, for both cuts so one doesn’t cut beyond
First, cut the rabbet to its correct depth with the workpiece facedown on
the tabletop. Then, stand the piece on edge to cut the rabbet to width.
If you don’t own a good dado set, or have a low-powered saw, this
option may prove better than No. 1 for all of your work. But, it can be
tricky if you need to rabbet the end of a narrow workpiece. In that case,
you will need to clamp the workpiece to a fixture that holds it steady and
upright as you guide it along the fence.
5 Ways to Make Precision Rabbet Cuts
3 Handheld router with rabbeting bit. Unlike
saw blades and dado sets, router bits do not
leave tiny scoring marks. So, use a router bit if
the surface or ends of the rabbets will be visible
in your finished project.
Router bits are your only option if you need to rabbet an opening inside
a surface rather than along an outside edge or end. Examples include a
router-table opening for receiving a router plate, or the inside of an
assembled doorframe for accepting a piece of glass.
With a handheld router you typically use a rabbeting bit with a pilot
bearing as shown above. You can change the width of the cut simply by
changing bearings. And, with this setup you can even cut rabbets along
4 Router table with a straight bit. Although
you can’t easily rabbet large pieces on a router
table, this method has some distinct advantages
over a handheld router. First, a router table has a
fence that ensures a perfectly straight rabbet (a bearing-piloted bit will
follow any irregularities in the workpiece edge). And, although a piloted
rabbeting bit will help you cut a rabbet up to 1/2″ wide and 1/2″ deep,
you can put a large straight bit in a router table and cut rabbets up to
5 Jointer. We admit we rarely use a jointer to
cut rabbets, but if you must cut a perfectly
smooth rabbet over 1″ wide, and along a s
outside edge, look to a jointer. You can cut a
rabbet as wide as the length of your jointer’
cutterhead. The maximum cutting depth of your jointer will limit the
depth of the rabbet, typically to 1/2″.
To do this, you need to make an initial cut with your tablesaw. First, set
the blade height to match the depth of the rabbet. Adjust the fence-to-
outside-of-blade distance to match the rabbet width. As shown, this cut
will prevent the end of the jointer’s knives from hammering the
workpiece. Remove no more than 1/8″ with each jointer pass.
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