Dadoes – easy hand cut joinery – Step 1


You may think that hand cut joinery is difficult, or requires special purpose planes.  That is true in some instances, but not with hand cut dadoes.  That is the only joinery in this project.  The best description that I have read on this process is in The Jointer and Cabinet Maker. I wrote a review on it (see review category).  Anyway, I will attempt to show the process here.

Once the boards to be joined are prepared (square and straight) you will need mark the lines for your dados.  I didn’t take any pictures of this part, but all you need is a square, a knife, and the future support board.  You see, with hand prepped lumber and hand cut joinery there is no need to make these boards any exact thickness because you can make the width of the joint EXACTLY fit whatever thickness board you have.  I like to knife (mark) one line straight across the board to receive the dado, then put the support board up to that line and mark the end of the second line.  Remove the support board, get your square, and continue that line all the way across the top board.  On that point, my joints will be visible from the front.  You could do stopped dados and makes them hidden, it’s up to you.

Next, to find a scrap board to use as a fence for your saw.  Here I have a fence that is held in place with holdfasts.  Lining this fence up takes a bit of practice.  Don’t give up until it is perfectly aligned, otherwise the joint will not fit.  It is better to make the joint a tad undersized than oversized, as a tight joint is easier to fix than a loose one.



I like to use a knife to cut and mark the lines that will later be sawed.  The knifed line helps the saw to track straight – a pencil line does not.  Next, grab the saw handle with one hand and use the other to hold the blade against the fence.  Of course, the fence must have a straight edge that is 90 deg to the face (unless you want a sliding dovetail).


Notice I am using a regular backsaw, not a special purpose saw with depth stops.  Just saw slowly and stop when you reach the bottom.  It is easy to do if you are not in a hurry.  Watch the front and the back, it seems that I always have to focus on one side more than the other.


Here you can see that I am sneaking up on the proper depth.  I forgot to mention that I used a wheel type marking gage to mark the depth of the dado (1/8in).  After you saw one side, do the same for the next side.  Remember to saw on the WASTE side of the knife line (inside the joint).  You should end up with this.


to be continued…

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