Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cutting Rabbets Without a Rabbet Plane

Like any task in woodworking, cutting rabbets by hand can be done a number of ways. It's all about stock removal. How you get there is a matter of choice and the tools you have in your shop.

I'm building simple storage boxes for the house which will be nailed and glued at rabbeted corners.  I tried a few different ways to cut them and settled on the following because it was relatively fast, accurate, and allowed me to play with a variety of hand tools.

First, I scored deep lines with my slicing gauge, outlining the section of wood that needed to be removed. The deep line created a crisp starting point for the shoulders on the inside and outside of the rabbet.

Next, I chamfered a relief at the far end of the rabbet to prevent tearout for the next step.

I shaved a shallow trench along the scored lines with my plow plane. This channel provided a guide for my crosscut saw. 

I sawed the near and far corners of the rabbet to final depth and then, tipping the handle up a bit, I used the front few teeth of the saw to cut the inside shoulder of the rabbet. I leveled the saw for the last few passes until I reached the final depth. 

I found that, rather than taking full passes with the saw from the very beginning, angling the handle up made it easier to steer the saw and keep the teeth close to the shoulder. 

The saw kerf provided a nice stop cut for the next move. Working from the edge of the board toward the stop cut, I used a chisel and mallet to remove most of the waste. 

When I was very close to the scored line on the edge of the board, I cleaned up the rabbet with a shoulder plane.

This method worked very well, but if you don't have a plow plane to cut the channel for your handsaw, you can clamp a board to your workpiece to use as a saw guide, or you can remove a sliver of wood by sliding a chisel along the scored line.

If you don't have a shoulder plane for the final passes, you can finish the entire cut with a chisel if you're careful. 

As another alternative, you just might happen to remember—after you've cut all the joinery—that you own a really nice moving fillester plane with skewed blade and nicker which would make quick work of the same task.


Peter Oster said...

OHOH, too many tools! Time to do a Schwarz. ;-)

Dyami Plotke said...

Looks like a nice way to make rabbets, Kari. As you say, it also lets you play with a number of hand tools.

I'd probably just bust out a router to do it, but now I know how to get it done just in case my kids decide to sleep in the shop.

Kari Hultman said...

Peter, I've forbidden myself from buying any more hand tools until I've done a thorough inventory.

Dyami, this is also nice to know if the power goes out. ; )

Jonathan said...

I had a similar need the other day. First I scored the line with my marking gauge. Then I clamped a straight board on the line to use as a reference for my shoulder plane. Then it was a simple matter of keeping my shoulder against the board, while i plowed out the material. Once I hit my depth line, I stopped.


gchpaco said...

I seem to recall Adam Cherubini doing a WIA session where he roughed out a rabbet doing basically this, although I think he skipped the cutting gauge and saw (all plow) and he was astoundingly aggressive with the chisels. Ah, the things you can do to air dried walnut...

That said I still prefer using a rabbet plane of some sort. My good plow is a wedge arm type and getting the distance set right is almost as much work as getting the fence set on my moving fillister :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Kari,
not having a rabbet plane, I'm used to doing a variant of this method, and wanted to stress just a couple of points for those who want to try it:
1. If you don't have a plow plane, as you mentioned, chiseling out a 'ramp' on the waste side of the cutting gauge line lets the the saw slide down into the cut line. This is a schwarz method, can't remember what he calls it: a type 2 cut?
2. If you're going to chisel chips out along the end grain, BEWARE the grain direction: If it rises from the end, you're ok, if it dives down below your desired depth, your chips may take more than you hoped, so proceed carefully, or chisel cross grain instead.

Gary Roberts said...

Might I say it's also the matter of what sort of wood? A moving fillester would be a killer on your arms if curly maple was the target but not so if it was butternut or nice clear walnut.

You did technically use a shoulder plane and not a rabbett plane but you realllllly walked a fine line there! The woodworking police are watching you now.

Shannon said...

As you say, there are many many ways to accomplish the same task. In my experience you can ditch the plowed groove and just run off a 1st class saw cut. I find a groove still leaves room for the saw to shift side to side whereas a v shaped groove will guide the saw more precisely. Cleaning it all up with a chisel is really fast and with the right paring chisel is so much fun. I watched Jay Van Arsdale using only a chisel and it was really easy to emulate and really fast.

Jeremiah said...

What type of lighting setup do you use to get your pictures so good? Mine always end up underlit and dull or too bright with everything washed out. Yours always look like they came out of the latest issue of Fine Woodworking or something.

Kari Hultman said...

Jonathan, I was hoping that others would post their techniques. Thanks for commenting.

gchpaco, I bought a moving fillester awhile ago and have yet to use it. The blade needs a little TLC. Looks like a fun tool, but I can see that it'd be a wee bit trickier to set the fence than my Lee Valley plow plane.

nroulleau, great point about the grain direction. The cherry I'm using is very straight so I was able to take out big chunks. You do have to be very careful if the grain isn't straight. You can very quickly go past your depth line.

Gary, I was hoping that no one would notice that I used a shoulder plane for something other than a shoulder. Busted!

Shannon, thanks for posting your technique. Always good to have options. I'm usually out to employ as many hand tools as possible so I can qualify their existence in my tool cabinet. ; )

Jeremiah, I just use a regular old task lamp and incandescent bulb. I move it around until I find some nice shadows that accentuate the joinery.

Greg Miller said...

For those who don't have a shoulder plane, a number 78 rebate plane will do a similar job.

However, an even better alternative is the No 71 hand router plane. The main advantage being that it will ensure the bottom of the rabbett is absolutely parallel to the face of the board.

It is easy for a shoulder plane to tip slightly in use, thus creating a rabbett face which is slightly out of parallel to the face, creating a corner joint which is not the beautiful 90degrees which you are seeking for a box corner joint.

The wonderful No71 hand router is also great for ensuring your tenon faces are true.

New Construction New Hampshire said...

Yours always look like they came out of the latest issue of Fine Woodworking or something.