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Hand Planes
From the Rabbet to the Shoulder

October 30, 2013

One of the most common joints in woodworking is a rabbet joint.

A rabbet, or, (for my friends across the pond), a rebate,

is a recess or groove cut into the edge of a plank.

When viewed in cross-section, a rabbet is two-sided and open to the edge or end of the surface into which it is cut.

The word rabbet comes from the French word rabbat, meaning ‘a recess into a wall.’

There are many ways to execute this joint and this example is just another.

Let’s take a closer look-

Skew Rabbet and Large Shoulder Plane


In the last video posted, The Funeral Chair Part Six, the seat slats are rabbeted along their lengths.

If you notice, I use a two plane approach for executing this joint.


Simply put, more control.

Allow me to explain-

Once I determine the width and depth of the rabbet,

I transfer these measurements onto my rabbet plane fence and depth stop.

My Veritas Skew Rabbet Plane to be precise.

This plane is a wonderful tool, made to the same high standards you’d expect from any premium tool manufacturer.

Problem is, I’ve never had any luck when cutting full rabbets with it.

I always found the rabbet would finish out of square along the vertical, back portion and the sight lines,

( at least for me, while using this plane ) aren’t great.

I certainly don’t blame the tool- I blame the user (me) and that’s OK.

Some tools don’t sit well with every user- this one is mine.

That said, I still use it all the time to remove the bulk of the waste in my rabbet joints and this method works for me.

I tend to get better results by setting my fence a little narrower than the final, desired width of the rabbet.

This leaves a small amount of waste material on the ‘back’, or, ‘vertical’ area of the joint.

The second thing is, I set the depth stop to finish a little shy of my desired depth.

Again, there will be a bit of waste left over on the bottom of the joint.

This may seem like more work and an additional step in removing the waste and you’re right, it is.

But, I don’t mind taking an extra step if my results are better for it.


With the bulk of the material removed from the rabbet, I set my large shoulder plane for a light cut.

Using the plane in a standard/upright position, I remove the bottom waste material until I’m at my scribe line.

Then, I place the side of the shoulder plane into the rabbet and remove the rest of the waste from the back of the joint.

Working back and forth, I’m able to creep up to my scribe lines for a perfectly square joint.

The sight lines are much better on the shoulder plane and there isn’t any danger of over shooting the scribe lines.


There are many ways to cut a rabbet joint.

The most straight forward being a chisel and a mallet.

Add a few saw cuts across the grain and speed up the process.

Maybe you only have a shoulder plane?

You could clamp a baton along your scribe line and execute this joint just fine with only the one plane.

I’m sure many of you reading this will only use the rabbet plane and be completely fine with it.

All of these methods are OK.

This is just another way to get there and is the method that works for me.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.


Besides loading a dado blade into a table saw, or jigging up a router bit,

what method do you use to cut rabbet joints?

Join the conversation ~


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