How to Make a Dado Without a Router

You don't need to use a router or any other power tool to make a dado. Learn how to cut a dado using a simple sanding jig.

Instead of “how to make a dado without a router” this blog post should have been probably called “How to make a dado without a router or any power tool, or any hand tool”. I needed to make a dado cut while building my ruler marking gauge without using any of those. I was looking for different options and eventually, I created a simple sanding jig which helped me to achieve it. Honestly, that was quite a challenge. 

Yes, we know that the most effective way to make a dado cut is by using a trimming router. In case a router is unavailable, other tools that could be used are a dado plane, chisel, or, in certain cases, a table saw. However, what can you do if you don’t have access to any of these tools?

I made a simple sanding jig that helped me specifically to make a dado for my ruler marking gauge. The jig could be improved in a few ways but even this simple version served its purpose well. The dados are clean and without ragged edges. 

How to make a dado without a router
Dado Sanding Jig

I made this jig from scraps I had in the shop. The jig has a fixed with at the moment but making it adjustable would extend its applicability. I am very happy with the result considering I spent only 15 minutes on it.


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Table of Contents

  1. The Material You Will Need
  2. Making a Sanding Jig for Dados
    1. Step 1: Cut the baseboard
    2. Step 2: Attach the guide rails to the base
    3. Step 3: Attach the sanding piece between the rails
    4. Step 4: Sand a dado
  3. Dado Sanding Jig Video

*Make sure you know what you’re doing and take all necessary safety precautions while working with power tools. Safety comes first!

The material I Used:

Sanding Dado Jig:
Guiding Rails – 2x -Spruce Wood 3,8 x 20 cm
Baseboard – MDF desk – 25,5 x 25,5 x 0,8 cm
Wood Screws

Ruler, Wood Glue, Sandpaper (120, 240 grit)
Double-Sided (Carpet) Tape

Bosch Jigsaw

Let's Start

How to Make a Dado Without Hand Tools or Power Tools

The principle is simple. Use material of a specific width to make an exact width dado.

The size of the material will determine the width of the cut. I am using a ruler to make a dado of the same width as the width of the ruler. The jig will allow you to make exact width dados depending on the used material. 

Step 1: Cut the baseboard

I started by cutting an MDF board for the base – (25,5 x 25,5 x 0,8 cm). The thickness of the base ensures that it will not sag while sanding. You could even use a thicker plate. 

The reason I chose an MDF board is that it is flat and the surface is smooth. That makes it easier for other materials to slide better along it.

How to make a dado without a router
Cutting the baseboard

Step 2: Attach the guide rails to the base

Next, I attached a 20 cm long strip of spruce wood to the MDF board using screws. The wood piece serves as a guiding rail for the piece that will be sanded. 

I measured the necessary distance between the rails and attached the second guide rail to the board. Use the sanded piece as reference to get an exact width.

NOTE: Make sure the rails are perfectly parallel to each other

How to make a dado without a router
Measuring the width of the guide rails

NOTE: If building the sanding jig over again I would probably use aluminum guide rails instead of spruce wood guide rails. For a quick fix, the wooden rails serve really well but the aluminum ones would also provide a nice slide and in addition better durability.

Also, take into account the height of the rail. The sanded piece is moving between the rails. So ideally, the height should cover the height of the sanded piece plus the height of the piece used for sanding. In my case the don’t rails don’t need to be too high since I am sanding only a shallow dado.

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Step 3: Attach the sanding piece between the rails

First I attached a double-sided tape on one side of the ruler. I taped sandpaper to it (240 grit) and cut off the sandpaper excess. Then I attached a double-sided tape on the other side of the ruler and taped the ruler between the guide rails.

The tape will let you temporarily fix the ruler to the board. You can detach it whenever needed. I wouldn’t probably use sandpaper with less than 120 grit since the edges of the dado might end up ragged. Higher grit sandpaper will get you a sharp dado edge.

How to cut a dado without a router
Attaching sandpaper on the baseboard

Step 4: Sand a dado

I placed the piece I wanted to sand between the guide rails and started sanding by pushing back and forth. Keep the speed constant and apply even pressure.

Keep checking on the dado to end up with the right depth. (Keep in mind there is an additional layer of tape and sandpaper).

How to cut a dado without a router
Cutting a dado manually without any power tools or hand tools

And this is what the dado looks like. The edges are sharp, nice, and clean. 

How to cut a dado without a router

My Take

I was honestly nicely surprised by the result – nice sharp and clean edges and equal depth along the dado. It is a very simple jig but serves its purposes really well considering no power tool or hand tool was used.

Although, there is definitely room for improvement. These are the major drawbacks of the build that could be improved:

  1. The jig is not adjustable. It cannot accommodate pieces of different sizes. Making one of the side rails adjustable would solve the problem.
  2. There is no center finder to automatically adjust the center of the sanding piece depending on the width of the sanded material.
  3. There is no setting of the depth of the cut.

Dado Sanding Jig Video

If you want to see how I made the sanding jig, watch the video below or check it out on my Youtube Channel.

RELATED: To get more tips like this, check out these other Workshop Tips or this router dado jig if you want to cut perfect dados using a router.

How to Cut a Dado Without a Router

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Using a sanding jig to make a dado. How to make a dado without a router or any other powertool.
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About the author, Lukas
About the author, Lukas

My passion is to build homemade equipment for the workshop and sharing that with others.