How to Cut Rabbet Joints

A rabbet joint being cut into a piece of lumber with a power tool.

From cabinet shelves to molding, a rabbet cut is a useful and popular joint in woodworking. While rabbet joints might look simple on the outside, getting a consistent and accurate cut can be challenging. Here are several different ways you can cut rabbet joints for whatever project comes your way.

Dado Stack

The easiest method to cut a rabbet joint is by using a table saw equipped with a dado set. This setup allows you to cut the joint in one or two passes, depending on the width of the cut. A high quality dado set will ensure better accuracy and consistency. The one downside to this method is that it takes a little time setting up. In fact, you might wait to cut all of your rabbets at the same time as replacing the blades is a time-consuming process. If you cut each piece as you go, then you will need to switch between your standard blade and the dado set multiple times.

Router Table

A router table.

A router table equipped with a standard bit can also cut nice and clean rabbet joints. This method is a lot more accurate than using a handheld router and you don’t have to use a specialized bit. In fact, using a straight bit offers more cutting surface than a traditional rabbet bit. The only disadvantage in using a router table is that you are limited to the size of the cut. You can generally only cut a rabbet up to an inch deep and wide on a router table.

Table Saw

You can cut a rabbet joint using a standard blade on a table saw, though it does take a little more practice than using a dado set. With this method, you will need to make two passes and re-position your work piece for each cut. Start by measuring the depth of the cut and adjust the blade accordingly. The first cut will run along the edge of the piece, which should be facing down on the table saw. Next, position your piece on its edge to cut out the width of the rabbet joint. The height of the blade needs to be exact so that you don’t cut too wide or too deep. You also need to ensure the fence is securely tightened and doesn’t move between cuts.

Rabbets By Hand

A rabbet joint cut into a piece of lumber.

There is a way to cut rabbet joints by hand. After all, this is how woodworkers did it before the advent of power tools. This method, of course, takes a lot of practice and patience to master, but results in a clean cut without saw marks. You will need rabetting plane and a good sharpening stone to get started. Once the plane is sharp and dialed in, simply make passes on the piece until the desired depth is reached.

Router With Rabbet Bit

A router is a great option for cutting rabbet joints because they do not leave behind marks. If the rabbet joint is visible from the outside, then using a router to cut the joint is highly recommended. Fortunately, you do not need a router table to cut these joints. Many rabbet bits comes with a pilot bearing to guide the cutter alongside the piece. Just make sure your workpiece is secured tightly to the table and doesn’t shift during the cut. You accomplish this by using traditional clamps or holdfasts.


Jointers are not typically used to cut rabbet joints, but they can do the job in a pinch. The only downside is that you need to make the first cut on the table saw. Before you cut, adjust the height of the blade to match the depth of the rabbet. A typical jointer will be limited to a depth of around half an inch, so make sure you don’t adjust beyond your jointer’s limit. After cutting on the table saw, move to the jointer and make multiple passes to avoid break-off. Each pass should not remove more than one eighth of an inch of material.