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Hand Planes
6 Ways to Cut a Rabbet

November 13, 2013

A reader recently asked which tools he could use to cut a rabbet joint.

Truth is, there are many ways to execute this joint.

Here are six methods along with his original question:

Hi Tom.

In my next project I need to make a Rabbet.  At the moment, I have no skew rabbet  plane.

What would be the best way to do this?

I have a router plane and plow plane. With either of these two? or with a chisel?

Thanks, thanks, thanks!


Beginning the rabbet with chisel bevel facing down.

Beginning the rabbet with chisel bevel facing down.

1. A chisel.

In this method, scribe deep lines on both sides of the joint to mark both the width and depth of the rabbet. Begin by chopping across the grain and work your way along the length of the joint. I use my chisel with the bevel down to make the process go a little faster. Make sure to work with the grain. Once your close to your finished depth, pare away the last bit of waste and clean up the inside corner to finish.

2. A chisel and cross cut saw.

The chisel alone will do a fine job on the rabbet, but if you’d like to speed the process up a little, start with a back saw. After the joint is scribed, make a series of cross cuts about an inch apart, down the length of the rabbet. Chiseling the waste between the cross cuts will make the process a little faster. Pare the inside corners to remove the waste and clean out the finished joint.

3. A Plow Plane.

The plow plane can also be used to cut a rabbet joint. After the scribe lines are complete, set the fence so the groove runs along the inside edge of the rabbet. The depth may also be set and you can work along until you have a groove plowed on the inside of the rabbet thus creating your inside shoulder and depth.

For wider rabbets, reset the fence and plow another groove along side the first, working your way towards the outside edge.

You may be able to reset your work piece after the first groove is finished, and using the plow plane along the edge of the work piece, plow a groove along this outside edge until the two grooves meet in the middle and you can remove the rectangular waste.

The plow plane establishes the inside edge of the rabbet joint.

The plow plane establishes the inside edge of the rabbet joint.

4. A Router Plane.

My Veritas router plane came with a fence attachment that can be set so I can use the router plane much like a rabbet or plow plane. I set the width of the rabbet and work my way along the scribe line. After each pass, the depth of the iron is reset as I work my way down. This is probably the slowest of the methods described, but if you’re not in a hurry, and the router plane is your only option, it’ll work.

5. A Rabbet and/or a Shoulder Plane

This is the most obvious method and the tools I used in the Funeral Chair video post where the question was originally asked.

I set the width and depth of cut on the rabbet plane and work my way down to finish. I prefer to sneak up on my scribe lines with a shoulder plane but use whatever method works best for you.

If you’d like to see this method in action, go back and watch the Funeral Chair Video Series.

6. A Kerfing Plane?

The width of the rabbet is established with the kerfing plane.

The width of the rabbet is established with the kerfing plane.

This final method is one that some of you may be able to use and others, well, maybe not.

If you have my new book you’ll know what I’m talking about.

( If you don’t, you should get it! )

The kerfing plane fence can be set to establish the inside groove of the rabbet. Saw your way down to your desired depth and then reset your work piece, as well as the fence, and saw a second kerf along the edge to establish the rabbets depth. Instead of a pile of wood shavings, you’ll have a nice little off-cut and a perfectly formed rabbet.

With the work held on edge, the rabbet is completed.


It’s easy to see, there are many ways to execute a rabbet joint.

In fact, there are many options when cutting most of our joinery.

This is one of the best parts of furniture making and hand tools.

Figuring out a way to accomplish a given task and finding the path that is best for you.

How do you cut rabbet joints?

I’d love to hear about another option…

Join the conversation and leave a comment below-; )


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