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5 Ways to Make Precision Rabbet Cuts

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.

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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 WOOD® magazine shop we cut rabbets with a tablesaw (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 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 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 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 the other.

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.

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Comments (1)
jjseelinger wrote:

how do you cut a rabbet in a picture frame and stop short of the end so you can use a butt joint corner and a Kreg jig to make the corners?

1/27/2011 11:43:38 AM Report Abuse

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