How to cut a rabbet without a rabbet plane?

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Forum topic by jasonburr posted 01-22-2014 04:41 PM 4394 views 1 time favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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25 posts in 2158 days

01-22-2014 04:41 PM

Topic tags/keywords: groove rabbet plane drawer

Hey gang. I am looking for some advice. I am building 4 drawers about 23” deep, 6 1/2” tall and 18” wide for tool storage. I will be making the out of poplar (probably). I want the make a basic rabbet joint at the front and back corners. I also need to make the groove the accept the bottom. I could setup my router table with a bit and make the cuts, but want to do them by hand. I do not own a rabbet plane. I would love to have,230,41182,48945 , but I find it hard to justify spending $250 for this. Maybe down the road. I had been considering a shoulder plane. I don’t mind spending some money on a tool to accomplish this, but I think there are other tools ahead of the the rabbet plane that are less one-dimensional. I do not have a combination plane either or a plough plane. Here are the tools that I have:

Veritas router plane
Veritas back saws
Normal planes, #4,#5, block plane, etc. (No planes that have the iron extend to the side though)

How would you do this? This will not be the last time I do this, so again, I don’t mind purchasing tools. For the rabbets should I saw the shoulder, chisel the end grain, and then use the router plane to clean up? How do I cut the grooves for the bottom. I would really rather not chisel 8 drawer sides that are 23” long. I was thinking about a Record 043 to purchase from eBay for this.


13 replies so far

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16259 posts in 3180 days

#1 posted 01-22-2014 04:49 PM

“For the rabbets should I saw the shoulder, chisel the end grain, and then use the router plane to clean up?”

That would be the way with the tools you have, unless you choose to do half-blind dovetails. With marking gauge, you have the tools to do that joinery already and it’s an excellent joint for drawer fronts. If so inclined, half-blind at the front and dado the back. Create and clean the dados as you describe for rabbets.

Yes to a Record 043 for side dados. Great planes, and I’d also throw in a reco for the Stanley #50 for dados.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View JohnChung's profile


420 posts in 2636 days

#2 posted 01-22-2014 05:02 PM

A shoulder plane is not that suitable for the task. Here are the missing bits

a) lack of fence. It is required for the rabbet width.
b) lack of depth stop. A shoulder plane does not provide the rabbet depth has achieved.

The shoulder plane can clean up the rabbet sides well or create a dado itself. You can try the Veritas router to
create the rabbet along with the fence installed. A shoulder helps a lot with tenon cuts. It really provides a crisp shoulder.

What are your projects in mind? What type of cuts do you want to make? It can help you narrow down the choices.

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 3237 days

#3 posted 01-22-2014 05:59 PM

That Veritas plane is sweet! Their block planes are pretty cool too…. so many other tools to consider first.

You could probably find the real deal, a 289 Stanley for half that which is very collectable right now. You could also get a 78 rabbet plane for dirt cheap too… lots of rabbet plane options out there for less than 100 bucks.

I don’t have all the info on what these tool boxes really are so bare with me, I’m just rambling again.

I agree, it’s cool to do things by hand, getting in the groove, riding the curl, and making a perfect pass with a razor sharp tool designed by our peers who never saw electricity. To use hand saws and chisels to make dovetails or be able to wield a 5 point handsaw almost as fast as a skill saw….. a sign of a skilled woodworker.

but a rabbet joint? it’s so boring!. like woodworking 101. 5 minutes later, you want to advance to something else but you have 3 more drawers to do! and the 1/4” dado for the drawer bottom is no big deal. yawn….Ha!

It seems to me – if I may be so bold, that you could use your router table to make the groove for the bottom panel and consider a joint that would be a challenge more to your caliber….. an old fashioned style hand cut 4 fingered dovetail.

Not only would it look impressive but the boxes would have no need for fasteners and in my mind would be more period correct – if you’re going to simulate the experience of using period hand tools, use that period’s joinery methods as well. I guess if you were to dowel the joint, it would negate my argument.

but, I’ve never heard anyone say, Nice hand cut rabbets there! but hand cut dovetails always draw a comment.

maybe this isn’t the project for something that time consuming but I thought I’d suggest it. You certainly would enjoy it more, I’ll bet.

View 12strings's profile


434 posts in 2946 days

#4 posted 01-22-2014 06:08 PM

It should be noted that there ARE old wooden rabbet planes that have neither a fence (you use your finger as a fence when starting the cut) or a depth stop (you stop when you reach your lines). These take more skill to use, but can be just as effective.

But it is correct that for MAKING rabbets, a shoulder plane will be much less effective, simply because it is designed for fine-tuning joints rather than creating them. Can you use a Rabbet plane to fine-tune a tenon? YES. Can you use a should plane to cut rabbets? Yes. But buying a shoulder plane for the purpose of cutting a whole lot of rabbets would not be a good idea.

With your tools, for really precisely cut rabbets, I would cut close to the line in both directions with a saw, then once you have a rough rabbet, use the router plane to clean up and even out the sides…again in both directions.

-- I'm strictly hand-tool only...unless the power tool is faster and easier!

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4209 days

#5 posted 01-22-2014 06:10 PM

Cutting gauge.

I’ve not found cutting rabbets by hand to be much fun with
hand planes (I’ve had a few), but poplar is pretty easy to
work so give it a go.

You can make a skew rabbet plane out of wood. I made
one years ago. It wasn’t that hard to do.

View jumbojack's profile


1689 posts in 3186 days

#6 posted 01-22-2014 06:14 PM

just saw them. clean up with chisels. don’t over think it.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View jdh122's profile


1104 posts in 3379 days

#7 posted 01-22-2014 06:25 PM

+1 for jumbojack. I’ve seen Roy Underhill do it many times on his show. Or take a look at: (he calls them rebates rather than rabbets, being from the UK).

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View Tim's profile


3859 posts in 2523 days

#8 posted 01-22-2014 07:54 PM

Tom Fidgen 6 ways to cut a rabbet:

Now I don’t think you need to worry about impressing anyone with your joinery to have fun and build skills with it, but doing many rabbets without a rabbet plane doesn’t sound like too much fun. You can get a Stanley 78 or Record or Millers Falls or one of the clones such as Craftsman, etc for something like $30-40. Just pas over any that aren’t complete with the fence and depth adjuster. Or you could get a wooden rabbet plane possibly even cheaper. Or for a more multipurpose plane, get a plow plane which can do grooves and rabbets. But if hand cutting them without a plane sounds fun to you, go for it.

View Nicholas Hall's profile

Nicholas Hall

352 posts in 2668 days

#9 posted 01-22-2014 09:04 PM

You can buy a nice Stanley 78 or its Miller’s falls equivalent for $25-$30 on EBay. The 78 was built specifically for this purpose. It’s one of the few Stanley planes that is still extremely cheap, partly because they are so ubiquitous, partly because they aren’t an especially attractive “paperweight” for collectors, and partly because it’s such a drag to cut rabbets by hand. For $25 you might as well get the tool designed for the job.

When you’re shopping for one, make sure that it has the endgrain cutter. This is a little cutting wheel that looks like a 3 leaf clover at the front of the plane. It’s tremendously helpful for planing cross-grain, as it severs the fibers before the plane blade hits. It’s also a frequently absent and you might not notice its absence if you didn’t know what to look for.

If you do a quick search for Stanley 78 you’ll know what a complete on looks like and how to use it in about 10 minutes flat.

Alternatively, you could hand carve a plane out of lignin vitae, and hand cast the steel from hand dug ore the way the Romans did. On the other end of the complexity scale you could use a router and be done in 5 minutes. There are a lot of ways to skin a rabbit! :)

-- Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. -Groucho Marx

View bandit571's profile (online now)


24110 posts in 3245 days

#10 posted 01-22-2014 09:26 PM

Maybe take a look at a blog of mine, about a Vermont Lap Desk? Back corners were both a rabbet, and a dado connection. Handsaw, 1/4” wide chisel and not much else. Well, maybe a mallet for the chisel….

just mark out where to saw

saw to the lines

chisel to pop the waste off, and pare flat

time: 5 minutes or so

matching dado

mark both saw cuts

saw to the lines

chisel out the waste, test fit and adjust

time: maybe 10 minutes counting the fit.

took almost as lon

g to type this as to cut one of these.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16259 posts in 3180 days

#11 posted 01-22-2014 10:02 PM

Cross-grain rabbets with the #78 are no fun. Just sayin’. Better off using a saw and chisel or saw and router for those, knickers on the #78 notwithstanding. Here’s the #78 in action...

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Nicholas Hall's profile

Nicholas Hall

352 posts in 2668 days

#12 posted 01-22-2014 10:45 PM

Cross grain is definitely less fun, especially full width like you did on your hand raised panel like the link below. I actually bought my Stanley 78 for raising panels too. Yours came out better than mine. I didn’t enjoy the cross-grain much either so I actually bought an applewood skew angle rabbet plane with a 2.5” cutter for $20 off of eBay. The skew angle makes life easier.

A saw and chisel probably will be quicker for the cross grain rabbets, but you could clean up with 78 once 95% of the waste is gone. The router plane will work too of course.

-- Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. -Groucho Marx

View WayneC's profile


14358 posts in 4659 days

#13 posted 01-22-2014 11:16 PM

I will +1 smitty on the Record 43 for cutting small groves. Record 044 is also a nice little plane.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

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