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.

  • 1
    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 '19 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 '19 at 7:53
  • The physics wood shop had a sign over the table saw: Count fingers after every use. May 11 '19 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 '19 at 20:14

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.

  • 1
    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 '19 at 4:57

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