In it's simplest form, the rabbet joint is just a recess cut across the end or down the edge of a workpiece into which another board is glued. Like most other woodworking joints though, the rabbet has it's variations.
The rabbet or rebate joint is often mistakenly called a rabbit joint. I'm not sure where this confusion originates (rabbits have big pointy ears and buck teeth), but I thought I'd clear the air for any misinformed readers before we get any further into this article.
With just a quick look around your house, you're likely to find this joint used on your kitchen cabinets, door casings, window frames, bookcases and most of your other furniture. It's popular because it's fairly strong and easy to make.
A basic rabbet is cut as deep as the thickness of the material it will receive.
It can be cut by hand, with a table saw or with a router, either table mounted or with a jig.
Because the joint connection is long grain to end grain (which glues up poorly) -- nails, screws and sometimes dowels are used as reinforcement to the glue.
The rabbet can be cut in either piece, depending on where you want the end grain to appear. In the case of a tall bookcase, the end grain can be positioned at the top and the side left clean as in the photo on the left.
The depth of the rabbet is usually proportional to the thickness of the mating piece, while the width can be varied. Enough material should be left on the end to give satisfactory support though.
The double rabbet joint has a rabbet cut in both mating pieces. This joint is stronger than the basic rabbet for a couple of reasons.
Double rabbets help keep the joint from racking out of square and provide more gluing area for a more rigid joint.
The second rabbet provides additional gluing area to the joint and the extra ninety degree shoulder helps keep the joint from racking out of square. For such a small change, it adds much stiffness to the finished project.
Careful measurement and cutting is required to get the joint to fit together without gaps when cutting by hand. They are made much more accurately on either a table saw or router table.
This is an excellent joint for the top corners of tall bookcases and cabinets that won't be fitted with a face frame. The joint can be further enhanced with evenly spaced dowels driven in from the side.
The mitered rabbet may look hard to make, but with a good table saw or router table, it's not quite so scary. Once the equipment is properly set up, any number of these joints can be run off quickly and accurately. I prefer to cut the mitered rabbet on the table saw myself.
The mitered rabbet joint has the appearance of a mitered joint but is much stronger and easier to align when gluing and clamping.
As far as rabbet joints go, the mitered rabbet is probably the most attractive. It effectively hides the end grain and gives the joint a nice mitered appearance. You'll find this joint in many high end cabinets and drawer boxes.
The joint is made by first cutting the rabbets in the two mating pieces and then mitering the corners at a 45 degree angle. The thickness of the mating pieces is generally the same.
In one piece, a rabbet is cut to half the depth of the thickness of the material, with the width of the rabbet being equal to the full thickness of the material.
In the other piece, a rabbet is cut to one half the depth of the thickness of the material and one half the width. The rabbets can be cut with table saw or router, whichever is prefered. The ends are then mitered to complete the joint.