What's the Best Way to Cut a Rectangular Notch - in Anything, Really

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Forum topic by wilschroter posted 12-10-2019 05:18 PM 1198 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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118 posts in 1134 days

12-10-2019 05:18 PM

I’m constantly running into a problem where I need to cut a rectangular notch in my work but have never found a great way to do it. Normally there’s the Jigsaw method which is OK, but always leaves me with a cut that’s never as absolutely perfect as I’d like it to be.

I then tried to attack it with a router, but of course that’s always going to leave me with a curved angle.

I want to cut a shelf with a 3/4” wide notch in it (only 1/4” deep) that fits directly into a face frame that’s next to it. But I know if I cut the shelf with the Jigsaw I’m going to get a wonky cut and if I try to template it with a router (both shown here) I’m going to have a rounded edge that’s not flush.

What do you guys do in this situation?

13 replies so far

View darinS's profile


717 posts in 3476 days

#1 posted 12-10-2019 05:34 PM

How about a dado blade in a table saw?

-- Rule 7 - Always be specific when you lie

View LesB's profile


2318 posts in 4051 days

#2 posted 12-10-2019 05:39 PM

For smaller or shallow cuts you illustrated you need to approach the cut from the edge of the board, with the router or table saw with dado blades (probably using a sled for control and support). Or a combination, making the right and left edge cuts on the saw and cleaning out the center with the router.
Large cuts probably need a different approach using a hand saw for the side cuts and a coping or jig saw for the inside cut, cleaned up with a chisel. Or use the router and clean out the corners…..there is a chisel type device for squaring up corners used mainly for recessing square cornered hinges. I don’t know if it will reach 3/4” deep but it could make the top edge a clean cut then remove the middle with a chisel.

-- Les B, Oregon

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118 posts in 1134 days

#3 posted 12-10-2019 05:56 PM

@Darin5 – would the dado blade leave me with a different challenge that it’s cutting in a circular pattern so my inside cut would have an arc in it? I’m assuming I could flip the piece over and reset the table saw to make an opposite cut.

@LesB – I can sorta get there with a Jig saw (as you saw from my choppy/awful cut) but it’s always wonky. Oddly the way I did the initial cut was to use a MultiTool with a 2” blade to cut straight down. That tool isn’t really designed for accuracy so it’s more of a “who knows what you’ll get” type of cut.

Still, I want to nail this type of cut. I like the dado blade idea so let me investigate that further.

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118 posts in 1134 days

#4 posted 12-10-2019 06:02 PM

Hm, as I was looking at dados I had another idea.

With the right jig, I could also cut the notch with a router coming straight at the large flat side of the work, with the router bit running parallel to the face of the work and cutting through it.

I’ve got a miter table too so I can see how this might work really well.

View Phil32's profile (online now)


852 posts in 512 days

#5 posted 12-10-2019 06:12 PM

I cut notches like that with a band saw. If the rectangular notch is not along an edge I use a drill and mortising chisel.

-- Phil Allin - There are mountain climbers and people who talk about climbing mountains. The climbers have "selfies" at the summit!

View LesB's profile


2318 posts in 4051 days

#6 posted 12-10-2019 06:19 PM

I suspect I was not very clear in my discription. The cut needs to be made from the edge side of the board so you get a square bottom on the cut with either the router bit or the dado blade. This is where putting the board on a table saw or router table sled helps control the piece during the cut as it is sitting on it’s edge and needs support. Also a router could be used if you clamp additional support for its base on each side of the edge of the board….it is hard to balance the router on a 3/4 inch edge.

-- Les B, Oregon

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Monte Milanuk

30 posts in 4302 days

#7 posted 12-12-2019 12:36 PM

Trace the area to be cutout with a knife line (utility knife, marking knife, etc.)... cut just inside the knife line with your jig saw (or a coping saw, or a band saw, or a scroll saw), then pare with a chisel to get an exact fit… or square it up using a file… or even just a small rectangular piece of scrap stock, with some sandpaper wrapped around it.

View theart's profile


154 posts in 1163 days

#8 posted 12-12-2019 01:57 PM

Dovetail saw and a chisel.

View LeeRoyMan's profile


503 posts in 335 days

#9 posted 12-12-2019 02:45 PM

I would use a router and a jig like below.

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3000 posts in 1549 days

#10 posted 12-12-2019 03:11 PM

I would use a router and a jig like below.

- LeeRoyMan

If it is plywood of some type the op is interested in notching, then this is the best method for doing clean accurate notches. Hand tools and plywood don’t usually work well together IMO. This method is especially good if the OP needs to do notches in the same location and on multiple pieces. The shelves can be ganged together and notches made across all of them at the same time. Just make a wider jig that spans across the edges of all of the shelves while they’re clamped together. The only thing that’s missing from the suggestion is a bushing for the router, but I guess it could also be accomplished with a bit that has a bearing above the cutter like a clean-out bit. My preference would be a bushing with a straight bit.

-- Bill, Yo! Brooklyn & Steel City :)

View Lazyman's profile


4535 posts in 1996 days

#11 posted 12-12-2019 03:26 PM

When routing on the edge as shown with the jig, It is important to use backer boards on both sides (as the jig has), to prevent chipout. It is not a bad idea to use a knife to score a line before cutting too.

Another option is once you have the rounded notch as you show after routing from the side, just use a coping saw to square up the corner. 30 seconds and you are done.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Axis39's profile


145 posts in 205 days

#12 posted 12-12-2019 03:28 PM

Depending on how many I needed to do, would drive my decision on approach.

If I had one or two to do, I would probably grab a jigsaw. I’d make sure I had the correct blade and go slow enough to make it as accurate as I could. Most of the time, I can get it dead on. But, if I need to clean it up, I’d grab one of my chisels.

If I had a bunch, I’d either set up my dado blade or build a small jig like @LeeRoyMan illustrated.

In fact, I just had to do six hinge dados on some cabinet doors. I built a permanent jig and marked it for the proper size hinge. I also cut the side that fits against the face with the proper spacing from the ends of the doors, so they’d all be lined up perfectly. Then, after I was done with my cabinet doors this time, I drilled a hole and hung it on the wall. Chances are, I’ll use that size hinge again.

-- John F. SoCal transplant, chewer uppper of good wood

View skewed's profile


9 posts in 3285 days

#13 posted 12-12-2019 07:18 PM

+1 what theart said

-- Tom in Austin

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