How To Cut A Dado Shelf Joint With Hand Tools



In the dado video I show these basic steps:

In the dado video I show these basic steps:

  • Use a marking gauge to determine the distance of your dado joint from the edge of the board.
  • Hold the shelf piece against the other board, and hold the workpiece down with 1 or 2 holdfasts
  • Scribe the shelf piece onto the other board with a marking knife. This ensures a tight fit. Make a pencil mark so you’ll remember which edge goes into the joint.
  • Remove the holdfasts and shelf board then use a marking gauge to mark the desired depth of your dado joint: Approximately 1/3 – 1/2 of the way down.
  • Use a marking knife to create trenches for your backsaw
  • Use your cross cut back saw to cut close to your final depth
  • Use a bench chisel (smaller width than your dado joint) to pare out waste, but not all the way to your final depth.
  • Use a router plane (like my Stanley No. 71) to clean up the bottom of the dado joint and bring the joint down to its final depth.
  • Fit the shelf piece

This is a very simple way to make a dado joint and

This is a very simple way to make a dado joint and it’s faster (if making a couple dados) than setting up and shimming a dado stack on a table saw!



The Difference Between a Wobble Dado Blade and a Stacked Dado

The most common type of dado blade is the stacked dado as described previously, however there is another form called a wobble dado blade. The wobble dado is very different as it is comprised of only one blade.

The single blade is bent so that as it rotates it cuts in various points along the timber. They don’t produce as clean a cut along the edges or base of the groove.

Step 5

Meanwhile, the base glues have hardened, and you can assemble.To make it possible to clamp the jig on both the fence and the crosscut sled, a clamping plate is mounted on the back and side. As you will see in the video or the photos, I made the clamp plates to the correct width, but slightly longer than the length they should be in the end. Afterward, you can trim it very easily.

To mount the clamping plates I used wood glue and brad nails, a way that allows me to work quickly without clamping and waiting for the glue to dry.

TIP: If you’re considering buying a nail gun, be sure to check out my previous article on finding the perfect nail gun. In that article, I’ll go over all the different types of nail guns available, so you can find the right one for your workshop.

After adjusting the clamping plates, place the adjustable parts over the threaded rod and secure them with the homemade knobs.It is best to place a washer between the knob and the adjustable part so that the adjustable part can be securely fastened with the knob.

Using a Dado Blade with a Table Saw

A dado blade is mounted onto ta table saw in the same way that a standard saw blade is mounted, to the arbor. However, the biggest difference is that the table saw insert must be swapped out to correctly fit the kerf of the dado blade you are using.

Depending on the depth of your dado cut you can still adjust the height of your arbor. This changes the dado height and therefore will remove more or less material depending on the height set. We wouldn’t recommend rotating your arbor and using the dado blade at an angle as it is not designed to be used in this fashion.

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Step 8: Set Depth of Cut

Setting the depth of cut is no different than you would for any other blade. NEVER attempt a through-cut with the dado.

Step 5: Testing the Height of the Stack

Using a small piece of wood, I can test the thickness of my stack to make it just a tiny bit thicker than the board I tend to slide into the dado (leaving room for glue).

Shims are placed between the top plate and chipper to get the height where I want it.

Using a Router

Another popular method for cutting dadoes is to use a straight-cutting bit on a router. When using a router to cut a dado, keep the bit speed low and cut the dado in multiple shallow passes, going about 1/16 to 1/8 inch deeper with each pass. This helps to prevent burning the bit or the wood and prematurely dulling the router bit.

Use a straightedge to guide the router and ensure a straight path. Be aware that using a 3/4-inch router bit will cut a dado slightly larger than a 3/4-inch sheet of plywood (which is really 23/32 inch thick). While 23/32-inch straight router bits are commercially available, using a 1/2-inch bit and two passes can provide the same result.

When This Doesnt Work

Imagine you’re making an entertainment center. Could you horse a 24″ x 84″ piece of plywood onto your table saw, hold it flat on the machine, and accurately cut dadoes and rabbets? Probably not. With large pieces it’s often easier to take the machine to the work than bring the work to the machine. This is when knowing how to make dadoes with a hand-held router pays off.

Some projects call for stopped dadoes so the dado won’t show on the front of the piece. Can’t do that (safely) with a dado head on a table saw.

Plywood can create dado problems. It’s prone to bowing, and you’ve got to make sure you can push the bow out of it when cutting dadoes. Featherboards help but, depending on the size of the piece and the amount of bow, a table saw may not be the answer.

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