When you first start your journey into woodworking, learning joints is an exciting moment. It’s the time when you can really see your project come together. A joint takes a design from pieces of wood, to an articulated, finished work.
The rabbet joint is a fairly basic joint, but one that any good woodworker needs in their tool kit. A rabbet joint is simple but strong, and useful for many woodworking projects.
Once you’ve mastered the rabbet joint, you can increase its versatility by learning the double rabbet, and the mitered rabbet.
A rabbet joint, put simply, is a lip cut into the edge of the wood. The second piece of wood is then set into the rabbet. It’s simple but effective, and strong enough to hold together.
A rabbet is a channel cut out of the edge of a workpiece. Only one piece is cut, and the other part is set into the channel. This forms the rabbet joint, which can also be referred to as a single rabbet. The cut of the rabbet joint should be the same width as the mating piece.
This allows both parts to sit flush together, creating that strong hold. The depth should be between half way, and two thirds of the width. To strengthen the joint, glue and nails are often used.
Forming a rabbet joint is a simple woodworking skill that you should learn early on in your career. A rabbet joint is often used to set cabinet backs to the sides, or for neat corners with relatively hidden grains.
Although simple, there are many reasons for choosing the rabbet joint. First, it’s easy to cut. A two table or radial-arm saw can be used to cut a rabbet, as can a saw with a dado head. Even a traditional hand plane can cut a decent lip to form your rabbet joint.
This easy cut also makes it simple to identify pieces when working on a large project, or as a new woodworker.
One reason the rabbet joint is often chosen is because of how it can hide the grain. A deep rabbet joint can successfully cover much of the grain for a corner, creating a neat finish.
A rabbet joint is a basic upgrade from the butt joint, with a greater strength and a neater finish. Once you’ve learned a good rabbet joint, it can be used across projects.
The rabbet joint is sometimes referred to as the rebate, but both terms mean the same thing. It’s never known as a rabbit joint - if you see that in a plan, it’s a typo.
The double rabbet is less common than the rabbet joint, and is slightly more complicated. However, the finish is attractive, and the joint is strong. Once you’ve mastered the rabbet, the double rabbet should be relatively easy to learn, if perhaps a bit more effort.
The double rabbet is essentially what you expect it to be: a rabbet, twice. With a traditional rabbet, an uncut piece of wood fits into the channel of a mating piece.
With a double rabbet, both pieces have a lip cut out. These lips then fit flush together, forming the double rabbet joint.
A double rabbet can be cut by hand, but this does require a lot of careful precision. The rabbets need to fit flush, with no remaining gaps. It’s much easier to accomplish this using a table saw or a router table.
Double rabbets don’t need to be made of two identical rabbets, but they do need to fit snug.
This is a simple upgrade from the single rabbet, but one that does give your joint a significantly greater stability. There is a greater area to fasten together, and the matching channels keep the mating piece from slipping.
Fixing the double rabbet with glue can be tricky, because it doesn’t hold to the grain so well. Instead, double rabbets are often fixed using nails, screws, and brads.
The double rabbet is a popular choice for large bookshelves, fixing drawer sides, and big cabinets. They’re particularly good for long-grain wood, because the long-grain can glue together for a super-strong finish.
The mitered rabbet is one of the most complicated of the rabbet joints, but also the most attractive. For a mitered joint, two pieces are cut at an angle, which fits together flush. This leaves no end grain visible, for a classy finish.
A mitered rabbet joint combines the strength of the double rabbet with the angle of the miter. First, a rabbet is carefully cut into each work piece, creating a flush double rabbet. Then, the corners need to be mitered.
In one piece, the miter is cut at a 45-degree angle, to half the depth of the wood. The rabbet forms half the thickness of the wood. This piece has only two cuts.
The other piece is slightly more complicated. The rabbet is formed, and then mitered at a 45 angle. The rabbet is then cut deeper into the wood, to reach the full width of the thickness of the piece.
This will have three cut edges, and fit flush with the mating piece.
Learning how to create a mitered rabbet can take time, but it’s worth the effort. It’s best cut on a router table, although a table saw can also work.
Once you’ve mastered the joint, the mitered rabbet is incredibly stable. It also has a lovely finish. None of the grain is visible, and the end result looks clean. The mitered rabbet is much more stable than the miter joint on its own, and looks better than the basic rabbet.
Mastering the rabbet is a skill all woodworkers must learn, so luckily it’s an easy one. When you know the rabbet, you can quickly create stable joints with a neat appearance.
These are three of the most common rabbet joints, but there are a few others worth learning. The dove-tailed-rabbet, and the rabbet-and-dado joint are both strong joints that have their uses for different projects.