Dados for Lunch – Yum! - Popular Woodworking Magazine
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dadosI got a good start on my kitchen island over the weekend…but then Monday came along and work intruded. Loath to let my momentum falter, I decided on sawdust for lunch instead of my usual diet of Diet Coke and pretzels.

So I headed to the shop to cut the dados for the two “floating” shelves; the top one will hold the microwave, the bottom one will likely be quickly covered with little-used mixing bowls and cat hair.

After knifing in a line for the top of each dado location, I grabbed the nearest piece of wood I knew was straight and flat – a test piece from my cabinet build in the current issue – and used that as a fence to guide my sawcut (I should have made it easier on myself by cutting it a bit shorter; that would have allowed me to use the full 18″ of my sawblade…but I didn’t).

dadosWhy use a fence? While I’m reasonably good with a handsaw, a little insurance never hurts – and these dado will be visible on all sides, so there’s no getting away with adding wedges if things are too loose. Plus these are 1″-deep cuts across a 9″ workpiece. I’m reasonably good…but not that good.

So, I used a 12″ adjustable square at the layout line to make sure my fence was square, then secured the fence in place. And, after triple checking the hold of the holdfast to make sure the fence wasn’t going to move on me, I simply butted the sawplate against the fence and held it flush thereto with my off-hand as I cut one wall of the dado.


Use gentle pressure with your off-hand to keep the sawplate tight to the fence.

Typically, I’d overcut at the bottom of the dado by a smidge, just to make sure I get all the way down to the floor across the entire width. But typically, a dado is covered by something else – a face frame, for example. With these, I was careful to stop cutting right at the bottom of my layout lines, and I checked the far side often as I neared bottom. Why? With my backsaws, I “know” level; when I hit the layout line on the near side – the side I can see – I am confident I’ve hit it on the far side, too. Not so with a tapered handsaw; this is not a tool I typically use for joinery – but it’s the only crosscut saw I have that can handle this size workpiece.


Two walls good.

With the first wall cut, it’s best to use the actual mating piece (in my case, the shelf) to mark the location for the second wall. But these pieces are too big and heavy for me to feel comfortable simultaneously holding them perfectly in place and marking. So I – gulp – measured. Very carefully.

Then I repeated the square-fence-secure-saw regimen. (Note: If you use the mating piece to mark the second wall, be sure to cover your line with the fence – the layout will marked to the outside of the mating workpiece, so if you remove the line, your dado will be too loose.)

The waste removal is almost exactly the same as for the open mortises: Chisel, chisel chisel, router plane. Then, it was time for a test-fit – and time to go back to my desk.

I’m hoping I can steal away to the shop tomorrow for an hour to cut the angles on the feet and top supports.


— Megan Fitzpatrick




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Showing 11 comments
  • toolman71

    love the work bench

  • pmac

    Might be a trick of the camera, but is the wider of the two shelves also thicker? (I’m trying to figure out why you didn’t order up a side of tablesaw and dado blade.)

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      It is. It goes from thickest at top to a bit thinner to a bit thinner still, in reverse of the typical order.

      And I didn’t use the TS in large part because I like cutting joinery by hand. (Besides – no way would it be a one-cut pass, so then there’s the foolin’ around to align everything for the second pass on each of the four dados, a risk of blowout and the need to first square the sliding crosscut table. With only four to cut, I’m pretty sure that for me, it’s faster by hand).

      • pmac

        Makes sense. Especially with the shelves differing in thickness. Plus you burn all those calories from the “wall chips”. So you’ve got that going for you.

  • Sawtooth

    Why can’t you have the soda and pretzels in the shop?

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      No time for eating!!! (I had some chips from “the wall” when I got back to my desk, though)

  • Jonathan Szczepanski

    Congratulations! You have achieved SHELF-ishness.

    Are the edges of the legs/uprights angled in, or is that my imagination?

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      That’s parallax or something – they’re at 90° to the sides…or 89.9° at worst 😉


  • jmwagle86

    My lunches are never so productive. Nice.

  • hmerkle

    Looking good!
    So does the table come with the house when it is sold? 🙂

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      It certainly could.

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