Handwork: Three ways to cut a rabbet joint
The rabbet joint is a useful joint to know. Here, hand-tool expert Vic Tesolin shows three ways to cut one by hand—with a rabbet plane, with a shoulder plane, and with a chisel and router plane.
Although not as glamorous as the dovetail nor as robust as the mortise-and-tenon, the rabbet joint is just as useful. It shows up in casework as a place to put a frame-and-panel back, and is a popular way to fit a drawer bottom into its grooves. So it’s a good joint to learn. In my shop, where I depend on hand tools to cut all joinery, I’ve employed three approaches to cut rabbets. For through-rabbets, I go with my rabbet plane; before I had it, I used a shoulder plane. For a stopped rabbet you can’t use either plane, but a chisel and router plane get the job done. I’ll show you all these methods.
Rabbet plane: The rabbet plane originally looked a lot like a shoulder plane, but has evolved into a tool even better suited for cutting a rabbet. Rabbet planes now have fences to control the rabbet’s width, and some have depth stops. Most rabbet planes also have a nicker in front of the blade that’s used to sever fibers when cutting a rabbet across the grain. This allows the shavings to break away freely from the workpiece.
There are two things to keep in mind when setting up a rabbet plane. Make sure that the blade’s cutting edge is parallel to the mouth; otherwise, the bottom of the rabbet (the cheek) won’t be square to its side (the shoulder). Also, the blade should stick out just a whisper beyond the body on the side that cuts the shoulder. If not, you’ll end up with a stepped shoulder. One last note: Even though the fence and depth stop control the rabbet’s dimensions, I still begin by laying out the joint with a marking gauge. This is helpful when I set the…