How to Make a Dado Without a Router (No Power Tools)

You don't need to use a router or any other power tool to cut a dado. Learn how to make a dado without a router using just a simple sanding jig.

Instead of “How to make a dado without a router” this blog post should have been 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 these tools. I was looking for different options and eventually, I created a simple sanding jig which helped me to achieve it. Honestly, cutting a dado without any tools 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 you don’t have a router, you can use other tools such as a Dado plane, a chisel, or, in certain cases, a table saw or a miter saw. However, what would you do if you didn’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 have sharp edges. 

How to make a dado without a router
Dado Sanding Jig

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

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Table of Contents

  1. Methods to Cut a Dado
  2. The Material You Will Need
  3. 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
  4. 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!

Different Methods to Cut a Dado

When it comes to cutting a dado, there are several methods you can use to achieve precise and clean results.

1. Cutting a Dado on a Table Saw

One common and efficient approach is using a simple blade or a dado blade on a table saw. The dado blade is specially designed to make wide and shallow cuts, which are ideal for creating dadoes. By adjusting the height and fence position on the table saw, you can achieve the desired width and depth of the dado. This method is popular among woodworkers for its speed and accuracy.

Make T Tracks on Table Saw
Dado with a Table Saw

2. Cutting a Dado with Router

When it comes to cutting dadoes, you have another excellent and versatile option – using a router with a straight bit. Routers are incredible tools for this task, giving you the flexibility to adjust the cutting depth and create dados of different sizes. To achieve precise results, simply use a straight edge as a guide and run the router along it. Whether you need through dadoes or stopped dadoes, this method works like a charm and adapts to various project requirements. With a router in hand, you’ll master dado cuts with ease and efficiency.

RELATED: How to Build a Router Dado Jig

How to cut dadoes with a router. DIY Router dado jig.
Dado with a Router

3. Cutting a Dado with Hand Tools

For those without a table saw or router, a chisel and mallet can also do the job. While this method may require more time and effort, it can still yield satisfactory results, especially for smaller projects or if you prefer a handcrafted touch. However, it’s essential to be patient and take your time to avoid any mistakes.

4. Other Methods

Alternatively, a dado saw guide can be an excellent choice for handheld circular saws. This guide acts as a fence and stabilizes the saw, allowing you to cut precise dadoes without the need for a table saw or router. It provides added control and safety during the cutting process.

Also, for simple shallow dados a sanding jig can be used with excellent results.

The material I Used:

Sanding Dado Jig:
Guiding Rails – 2x -Spruce Wood 38 x 200 mm
Baseboard – MDF desk – 255 x 255 x 8 mm
Wood Screws

Check all the Tools I Use

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

Tools:
Bosch Jigsaw
Clamps

Let's Start

How to Make a Dado Without a Router, 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 – (255 x 255 x 8 mm). 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, strong, it doesn’t warp 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 200 mm 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 a 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.

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.

How to Make a Dado Without a Router

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

Meet the creator of AllFlavor Workshop! As a passionate DIYer and woodworking enthusiast, Lukas is always looking for ways to make things himself rather than buying them off the shelf. With a keen eye for design and a knack for working with wood, Lukas enjoys sharing his craft with others and helping them discover the joy of building. Whether you're an experienced woodworker or a novice looking to try your hand at a new hobby, you're sure to find plenty of inspiration and tips on AllFlavor Workshop.