I'm very new to woodworking (I've only just started out in an online course), and I've been trying my best to educate myself on safe practices. Recently, I've been thinking about how rabbets are cut on the table saw with a dado stack. Having never used a table saw, I've been looking around online to see how it's done.

This helpful video has some interesting tips, particularly about cutting the rabbet against a sacrificial fence. My primary question is how you handle rabbets that are ultimately wider than the stack can accommodate in one pass.

As an example, suppose that I want to cut a rabbet that's 3/4 of an inch in width (to accept a 3/4 inch wide piece of plywood). Some small job-site table saws can only accommodate a narrow dado stack, due to a short arbor length. For this example, assume the dado stack is only 3/8 of an inch wide.

How would the rabbet in this situation be cut? Would the first pass be against a sacrificial fence, cutting the outermost edge away first, followed by moving the fence away from the blade to make the second pass?

Essentially, how do you safely cut a wider rabbet (or dado) than the dado stack can physically go? I want to avoid kickback as much as I can.

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    Readjust positioning and go for a second pass. Do the beginning cut in all components, then move the fence (taking with it the sacrificial fence, which should be firmly clamped to it) and do the second pass, so you reposition as few times as needed. Haven't looked at the vid and if it doesn't show this highly recommend you look into using short fences, these are much much safer in use and should be the norm in table saws, not the exception.
    – Graphus
    Mar 4, 2019 at 7:47
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    Since you're specifically looking into safe use of the table saw (and kudos, many don't prioritise this but it should be at the forefront of every learner's mind) two other things, riving knife and guard. Use the riving knife! Riving knives are so important you might want to decide not to use a saw — ever — that doesn't have one fitted. Your saw likely doesn't have a factory guard? Give very serious consideration to buying an aftermarket one if this is the case as they make a huge difference to safety of operation. And use push sticks and feather boards where appropriate.
    – Graphus
    Mar 4, 2019 at 7:53
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    The physics wood shop had a sign over the table saw: Count fingers after every use. May 11, 2019 at 4:25
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    generally a riving knife can't be used when cutting dados, since you are not actually cutting through the board.
    – bowlturner
    Aug 2, 2019 at 20:14
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    @bowlturner To clarify that for folks who might not know: a riving knife can indeed be used for non-through cuts (as opposed to a splitter, which often can't), but riving knives are generally made for use with full-sized (10") blades and will project above the smaller (8" or 6") dado stack. Also, a dado stack is typically so much wider than a riving knife or splitter that neither of those would offer any benefit.
    – Caleb
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:56

2 Answers 2


As you are obviously aware, you will have to make two (or more) passes to get your rabbet as wide as needed. I don't think it matters too much which is first, but I would tend to do the outside first and move inward, the primary reason I would do that is because as you move in, you still have wood next to the blades touching the table top, making it harder to 'cut too deep'. If you start on the inside and go out, it is easier to push harder or accidentally 'lift' the far end leaving the end 'thinner' than the rest.

I would also try to make sure that a full toothed blade of the dado hit's the end, I feel it would leave a cleaner cut than one of the inner chipping blades.

As an alternative, since a rabbet is on the end of the board, you also have the option to stand the board on end and run it through, this would allow you to cut the whole rabbet in 1 pass, as long as the blade will stand out tall enough. Though if you do this you can actually cut it with 2 cuts of a regular blade, one flat at the inside edge of the rabbet, and the other standing up at the 'depth' of the rabbet.

This last does have limitations, since cutting a rabbet across the end of a really long board would be difficult and probably dangerous, it should be limited to boards that are easy to handle for the cut.

No matter how you cut rabbets with a table saw, you need to be careful and aware of the blade, because for most table saws you have to take the blade guard off to make the cut, since you are not cutting through the board. Unless you've paid for one of the guards that hover over the table.


I was always told to cut the shoulder of the rabbet first and then cut the cheek because it makes a slightly nicer cut.

As far as safety considerations, I've cut rabbets both ways. As long as the you hold the piece down and against the fence it should be safe.

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    The OP is asking about using a dado stack, using one of these (or wobble washers or or by nibbling away using a standard blade) there's no separate operation to cut the 'cheek' with the board clamped vertically. Where you are cutting each surface separately on the table saw though I bet there are different traditions in different places with each claiming it gives a cleaner result! (No evidence but I bet it makes no difference if the setup is right.) It is worth noting that when sawing a tenon by hand the cheek cuts are nearly universally done first, but when doing a rebate it's the shoulder.
    – Graphus
    May 15, 2019 at 4:57

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