Is there anything better than a day in the shop spent cutting joinery? Not many things that's for sure. That's what I got some time at doing in the shop. Not the fancy "Look at me" joinery like dovetails and drawborn mortise and tenons, but the standard bread and butter joinery. Rabbet joints and Dado joints, the behind the scene heroes that really make a piece work well and hold it together for the long term.
I think what I like about cutting these joints by hand is how some modern woodworking product makers would like you to think that this work is unnecessary. Don't cut a dado for that shelf, clamp it in place with our special high carbon steel, cryogenicaly treated three way clamp, drill it with our laser guided, heat seeking, over calibrated pocket hole guide, and secure it with these special screws, the ones you can only buy from us.
Now don't get me wrong, I do own a small pocket hole jig, and there are times when it is the right choice for joinery. I have seen some antique, heirloom pieces of furniture where pocket holes were used effectively. But if you take the product material you get with your Kreg jig at it's word you'd believe it's your one stop for connecting wood of all kinds. Build yourself a whole kitchen worth of cabinets with a mountain of plywood, a table saw, and a Kreg pocket hole jig. So easy my 8 year old can do it!
Seriously, real furniture screams for real joinery, and even though this is a simple shelf to hang on the wall in my shop, there is no reason I see to skimp and scrape on things that I feel are, so elementary, so basic to quality woodworking.
There are a lot a ways to go about cutting this kind of joinery, it should come as no surprise that I prefer to cut mine by hand.
Now it was time to lay out and cut the dadoes, five stopped dadoes per side, ten in all. This is how I go about doing these.
Just a quick work about speed when it comes to handwork. I took my time working on the first side, taking lots of pictures and trying to set myself up for this post. But when it came time to cut the second set on the other side I decided to time myself and see just how fast I could pull it off. With the layout already done I cut five stopped dadoes in around 18 1/2 minutes total. Now at first you may think that seems like a good amount of time compared to what one could do with a router or dado blade on the table saw. But the stop and think about it.
Add in the time it takes to set up any jigs, sliding table, sacrificial fence, parallel clamps. Don't forget the time it takes to do the test cuts, measure, reset the jig and repeat the test cut. Take the cut in steps. Then because it's a stopped dado, still have to grab that lowly chisel and square the ends of the cut, or round over the ends of the shelf stock that is to fit in the joint later.
In the end, I figure it's a wash really, I don't claim my method is faster, I just stand by the idea that working by hand can be every bit as efficient and quick as working with electron. I keep and use power tools too, I just don't believe they are always the answer and for me, when I used to work almost exclusively by electron, I used to hate how almost every operation needed a different jig, and sometimes it seemed like I spent nearly as much time building jigs as I did building furniture. If you ask me I'd rather build furniture.