5 Methods to Create Precise Rabbet Cuts

Here are 5 tried & true methods to creating the most precise Rabbet cuts! Rabbets can be cut with a table saw (set up with a dado set or combination blade), router (handheld or table mounted), or jointer. The choice depends on the type and quantity of work-pieces, and the desired quality of rabbet cut. (This except is taken from Wood Magazine 2011 edition)

** A rabbet is simply a rectangular recess along the edge or end of a work-piece. 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 ship-lap joint.**

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1. Table saw with a dado set: We use this setup often because it yields clean rabbets in one pass typically-two passes for wide rabbets. For good results, you need a high-quality dado set. Since it takes a little time to install the dado blades, we use this method only if we have several work-pieces to cut.

  • Attach a 3/4″ wooden face to your table saw fence. By doing this you can cut into the wooden face and fine-tune the width of the rabbet with quick fence adjustments.

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2. Table saw with standard blade: If we’re rabbeting just a piece or two, we’ll leave our combination blade in the table saw 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 the other.

  • Cut the rabbet to its correct depth with the work-piece face down 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 work-piece to a fixture that holds it steady and upright as you guide it along the fence.

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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 door frame 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 curved edges.

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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 work-piece 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 1X1″.

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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 straight, outside edge, look to a jointer. You can cut a rabbet as wide as the length of your jointer’s 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 table saw. 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 work-piece. Remove no more than 1/8″ with each jointer pass.

Using these tips and tricks should help you to be successful in cutting the cleanest & smoothest rabbet cuts!

 

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