When you need to cut a rabbet joint, your first thought may be to dig out and install a dado set on your table saw, or dust off and mount a straight cutter or rabbeting bit in your router table. Those are great ways to cut this versatile woodworking joint, but if you just need to cut one or two rabbets, you can make them much faster — and without installing any special cutters — on your jointer using its built-in rabbeting ledge. What's more, when it comes to making extra-wide rabbets for special projects, the jointer beats all other ways of making those rabbets hands-down. Whether making typical edge rabbets or those extra-wide ones, the techniques are similar. Let's take a look at both, starting with edge rabbets.
STEP 1: If you look closely at your jointer's cutterhead, you'll note that the forward tips of the knives are flush with the edge of your machine's outfeed table. That angled edge on the outfeed is your rabbeting ledge. In this example, I want to cut a 1/2" wide x 3/8" deep rabbet, so in Photo 1 I'm setting the fence to expose exactly 1/2" of the cutterhead knives. With the fence in position, lock it down.
STEP 2: Now, adjust your cutting depth (see Photo 2). A cut of 1/16" is good; this will remove stock quickly, and by setting the depth at this exact reading — a multiple of 3/8" — it'll allow you to use some simple math to work up to your desired rabbet depth.
STEP 3: Turn on your jointer and run your stock through exactly as you would when edge-jointing (see Photo 3). While the stock is fully supported across its width on the jointer's infeed table, you'll note that the narrower rabbeting ledge allows the uncut portion of the stock edge to hang over that table's edge as you pass the stock through the cut. When you've finished this first pass, you'll have a rabbet measuring 1/2" wide (the distance we set the fence) by 1/16" deep.
STEP 4: Increase your cutting depth another 1/16" for the next pass over the cutterhead. Adjust the depth carefully, as you want to keep your cutting increments exact (see photo 4). When you make the second pass with your stock, the rabbet will now be 1/8" deep.
STEP 5: Chances are good that when you set your jointer's depth in the previous step, you heard a snap! sound from the back of the table; that was the infeed table's depth-lock engaging. For safety, when doing regular jointing chores, you should never take more than a 1/8" cut, and jointers have a built-in means of preventing you from doing so. Usually, this entails a spring-loaded pin that snaps into a hole in the cast-iron body of the infeed table at a depth of 1/8". Remember, we've only been taking 1/16" passes, but two passes at that depth add up to 1/8", which engaged the lock. We'll still continue to take stock off at 1/16" per cut, but we need to disable the depth-lock to proceed. As you can see in Photo 5, this is easily accomplished by pulling out the spring-loaded pin in back of the machine as you set the cutting depth another 1/16" lower. (Remember that when you raise the infeed table later, you'll need to pull that locking pin out as you pass that 1/8" mark on the way back up.)
STEP 6: Continue taking 1/16" cuts and increasing the depth for each pass until your rabbet is the desired depth (see Photo 6). For a 3/8"-deep rabbet, six passes at 1/16" each should bring you to this depth right on the nose, but measure the depth of your rabbet just before that sixth pass to fine-tune that last depth adjustment.
Some special projects require exceptionally wide rabbets. As with edge rabbets, you can do these on a table saw or router table; however those require making multiple cuts over the rabbet's width, and multiple fence adjustments between each cut. Not only is this more time-consuming than on the jointer, where you set the fence only once, but these multiple cuts using a dado head or router table often leave a rabbet surface that's far from smooth and even. This is where the jointer really shines: The fence is set once, depth-of-cut is more easily adjusted through the multiple passes, and each pass makes a full-width cut for a perfectly smooth rabbet surface. For wide rabbets, the procedure is exactly the same as above with one difference.
STEP 7: The guard on your jointer is mounted on an extension of the cast-iron infeed table, which does double-duty as a stock support for wide rabbets. To use this stock support, you must remove the guard (see Photo 7).
STEP 8: With the guard removed and out of the way, adjust your fence to the desired width of your rabbet. In Photo 8, I've set the width at 2". Now, repeat the procedure exactly as for cutting edge rabbets by taking shallow passes and increasing the depth as you go until reaching the desired depth. Here, I've made a rabbet measuring 3/8"x2".
As with any other piece of shop equipment that requires removal of the guard for making special cuts, be extremely careful with this procedure. Take each pass slow and steady, and always use push blocks. When finished, immediately remount the guard.