Cutting Housing Joints

The housing joint is a useful structural joint, particularly in cabinets and shelving units. It’s sometimes also called a dado joint, and is effectively a trench that’s cut across the grain of the timber, into which the end of another component is inserted. The difference between a groove and a housing is that a groove always runs along the grain, whereas a housing runs across it.

A well-made housing is a strong and reliable joint that’s simple to make. There are several variations that have evolved to suit different situations. The simplest is the through housing, where the joint runs the full width of the workpiece, and is clearly visible at both ends. A more refi ned version is the stopped housing, where the front edge of the joint is concealed, resulting in a neater appearance. Where maximum strength is needed, the dovetail housing is employed. This is the most demanding of the housings to make, as accuracy is critical to its strength.

Follow these steps to make a stopped housing joint. Before you begin, make sure that your cutter and shelf thickness match. The easiest way to do this is to make a trial cut in a piece of scrap wood, then to thickness your shelf until it’s a snug fi t. Alternatively, you may have to make several passes with your cutter to achieve the desired width.

Marking out Marking out Marking out

1] Take a try square and mark out the position of the housing on one side of your workpiece

2] Mark the end of the joint. It should be set about 8 to 12mm in from the front edge of the wood

3] Make sure the marked lines are clear; if necessary, go over them with a marking knife

Lining up a router Using the router

4] Clamp a batten across the workpiece to guide the router, and use your try square to set it at 90° to the edge


5] Set the depth of cut and make several shallow passes. The depth should be no more than a third of the wood’s thickness

Routed groove Tidying up with a chisel The completed housing

6] The routed housing. Be careful not to overshoot the end mark

7] Square off the round end of the housing with a sharp chisel

8] The completed housing, ready to accept the end of a shelf

Using a pencil to mark out Mark off the depth Using a bandsaw

9] Hold the shelf member beside the housing and mark off the width of the notch to be removed

10] Hold it against the end of the housing and mark off the depth of the notch. Check that the marks line up

11] Cut away the notch with a bandsaw or a tenon saw. Apply glue and assemble the joint

Joint side Opposite joint side

12] From one side of the joint, the open end of the housing is clearly visible

13] From the other side, the joint is completely and neatly concealed

Equipment needed
The tools you’ll need to cut a stopped housing joint include:

■ straightedge
■ pencil
■ try square
■ chisels
■ mallet
■ router
■ straight cutter
■ bandsaw or tenon saw
■ abrasive paper