Rabbets and dados are some of the most common ways to join together two pieces of wood in cabinet making, and they can be cut using a dado blade on a table saw like the step-by-step method below.
Don’t let the blade name confuse you—a dado blade, or dado stack, is used to cut both dados and rabbets. You’ll also often hear carpenters use the phrase “dado out” which refers to how the dado blade carves a recess into the material no matter which type of joint you are making.
What is a rabbet joint?
A rabbet is a recess cut into the edge of a workpiece. The piece that extrudes is called the tongue. A rabbet joint is the result of joining a rabbet to another piece of wood, typically to construct shelving and cabinet boxes. Rabbet joints are great for building drawers, cabinets, and lighter items like a picture frame. They can be cut with a table saw, table mounted router, or hand held router with a rabbet bit or straight bit.
A rabbet joint is stronger than a typical butt joint—which is simply two straight edges joined together—because a rabbet provides more of a mechanical connection. Cutting the rabbet creates more surface area where the wood can be glued and therefore creates a stronger joint than simply nailing or gluing together two straight edges. For an even stronger rabbet joint, opt for a double rabbet joint where rabbets are cut into both edges of the adjoining workpieces.
Rabbet joints vs. dado joints
Rabbets and dadoes are both used all the time in carpentry, and they can even be combined to create a rabbet and dado joint. A dado is a three-sided channel cut into a workpiece. The channel, often referred to as a dado cut, receives another piece of material measured and cut to fit snugly inside the channel to create a dado joint. To make a rabbet and dado joint, the dado cut receives the rabbet to make a joint that is stronger and more rigid than a standard through dado.
A dado joint is a very strong type of carpentry joint commonly used across a variety of woodworking projects—especially cabinets and shelving that need to be able to hold heavy items. The three sided channel (vs the two-sided surface of a rabbet) allows for even more surface for the adjoining piece of wood to make contact which in turn makes a stronger finished project.
The type of joint you choose will impact the finished look and the strength of the joint so consider where the cabinet or shelf will be installed and whether it will need to hold heavy duty or lightweight items.
How to cut a rabbet in 4 steps
A table saw with a stacked dado blade is a convenient and precise way to make joinery cuts of all types. A dado stack is like a sandwich of saw blades with ⅛ inch kerf saw blades on the outsides and ⅛ – 1/16 inch chippers on the inside. You can adjust the width of the dado stack to the width of your cut and thickness of the material by adding or subtracting the inside blades.
If you are working with a smaller table saw or simply aren’t comfortable making wider cuts in one pass, make multiple passes to get the width you need. If you only have a router table or a hand held routing tool, make sure to purchase the appropriate router bit for making rabbet cuts.