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I don’t have any photos on me so hopefully I can describe this ok. Say I build a box like so:

  1. Cut the four sides.
  2. Cut dado in bottom of each side, on table saw (I don’t have another good way), which means they extend end-to-end.
  3. Join the four sides with box joints or dovetails, for aesthetics.

Now there is a problem. Because the slots in the sides are cut end-to-end, they knock out an exposed piece at the bottom of the corner joints, leaving conspicuous holes where the corners overlap the slots. Also, once the base is in place, the sides of the base are visible through these holes. Because there are dadoes in all four sides, there is no way to cut the joints to hide the holes.

How can I avoid this? Is there a trick? A different kind of corner joint? So far the only thing I’ve done is cut plugs to fit in the holes, but then the grain doesn’t match up properly and they still look like a sloppy patch job (which they are).

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    This is a fairly common issue, and not just with machine-made elements. When the end of the grooves being visible is inevitable the usual fix is to glue in a small block of the same wood. It's not ideal obviously (better than filler!) but with careful selection of the wood for the plugs, so the grain does match as closely as poss, you can get a pretty darn good result — good enough that it's not easily seen unless you specifically look for it. If visible glue lines are a particular part of the problem for you currently you might switch to hide glue.
    – Graphus
    Aug 19, 2018 at 17:51
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    THE solution for this of course is to cut stopped grooves, Using a powered router is the usual way today of course but if you don't have a router you don't have a router. So how about using a scratch stock?
    – Graphus
    Aug 19, 2018 at 17:54
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    You could cut your dado so that one of the dovetail tails covers the end of the dado. In your illustration, imagine moving the dado up so that it's entirely behind the bottom tail. (Or pin. I get them confused.) That way, when you put the sides together, the end of the dado is completely covered. Of course, that would probably mean that you'd only have the dado one two sides (opposite).
    – 3Dave
    Aug 24, 2018 at 17:36
  • @3Dave yeah; if I want the dado on every side then even if I move it up it will just expose the hole on the red side (since it’s through the yellow bit). Although... if I line the dado up with a thingy (lol) that would at least mean I’d only have to cut a stopped groove on one or two side instead of two or four. So that saves some work.
    – Jason C
    Aug 25, 2018 at 15:03
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    If you weren't against a bit of chisel work you could set up a stop block so that most of the material is taken away by the table saw and then you just chisel out the remaining material (that is left because of the curve of the blade). This would let you leave them as stopped groves.
    – Stuart
    Dec 23, 2018 at 9:37

2 Answers 2

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How can I avoid this?

Use a router to cut stopped dados instead. If you're limited to using a table saw, and that saw doesn't happen to have a router table built into it, it's pretty much unavoidable.

Is there a trick?

Only if you consider using a tool other than a table saw tricky.

A different kind of corner joint?

Sure, that'll work. I thought you were asking about box joints. If other joints are fair game, then you could use a rabbet or a miter.

So far the only thing I’ve done is cut plugs to fit in the holes, but then the grain doesn’t match up properly and they still look like a sloppy patch job (which they are).

The plugs should show end grain to match the rest of the finger, and end grain usually has a pretty uniform appearance. Leave the plug a bit proud of the corner while the glue dries, and then sand it flush. Nobody who doesn't know about woodworking will notice, and nobody who does know about woodworking will mind.

One thing that can help is to line the dado up with one of the fingers in the joint. The way you've drawn it in your sketch, you've got holes on both sides of the corner, but if you make the dado the same width as a finger and lined up, you only get the hole on one side. Or, you could make the dado the same width as a finger, but lined up centered on the intersection between two fingers; you'd then have holes on both sides, but they'd only be half the height of a finger, so the plugs would be smaller.

A box joint is a utilitarian joint — they're very strong, and you can make them quickly and even in batches. If your aim is to impress, you should probably choose a dovetail joint or some variation of a miter joint, like "secret" mitered dovetails. That's not to say that box joints can't look good; you just can't have your cake and eat it too.

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If you use half-blind dovetails, you can position the dado so it is hidden behind one of the dovetail pins so it wouldn't be visible.

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  • This answer may have attracted downvotes because it glosses over most of the questions. Though I'd argue that technically it answers the explicit question that asks if maybe a solution is to a "different kind of corner joint?" Though, we are told that a constraint is that only a table saw is available, and dovetails are a challenge on a table saw.
    – user5572
    Feb 23 at 21:36
  • Point 3 in the question explicitly states "Join the four sides with box joints or dovetails". If the OP can make dovetails, then this seems to be a reasonable answer, @jdv
    – FreeMan
    Feb 24 at 11:55
  • @Freeman Ah, did not see that. Like most, I just saw the sketch of box joints and where a table saw was required and assumed trad joinery was out. I mean, you could do dovetails on a table saw but I only see this in magazines saying you can do it...
    – user5572
    Feb 24 at 17:21

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