Not the showiest or most complex of woodworking joints, rabbets, dadoes and grooves are, nonetheless, three of the most practical and versatile joints you’ll ever cut. Best suited to cabinet and furniture carcass construction using plywood, MDF and similar sheet goods, all three joints are also good for some solid-wood applications, such as building simple boxes and drawers.
Rabbets are cut on the ends or edges of boards and panels, while dado joints and grooves are cut on the faces and, sometimes, edges of workpieces.
The overlapping parts of rabbet joints provide a strong, simple way to join together the sides of a drawer or tray, add a recessed lid to a small chest or attach a cabinet’s back to its sides. Cut across the grain of solid-wood parts or the width of sheet goods, dado joints are perfect for joining parts end to side — for example, when attaching shelves to the sides of a bookcase or spice rack, additional walls inside a cabinet or dividers inside a drawer or chest. Unlike dadoes, grooves are cut along the length of a workpiece and provide many joinery options — housing a panel in a door frame, capturing a drawer bottom in the sides and so forth. A groove also forms half of a tongue-and-groove joint, useful for all manner of joining furniture and cabinet parts.
Like other types of woodworking joints, rabbets, dadoes and grooves all have numerous variations, which range from simple to fairly complex. These include overlapping, double and blind rabbets, through, stopped and shouldered dadoes, tongue-and-groove corner joints and more. You can cut rabbets, dadoes and grooves with hand tools or using a table saw, router table or shaper, and most rabbets and dadoes can also be cut with a radial-arm saw or some sliding-compound miter saws.