Dado Time

The fancy cattle panel fence that we want for our backyard is ready to move from design to the implementation phase. That means dados, and a lot of them. What is a dado and where does it go in this design?

A dado is a groove cut into the face of a board. In this design, each of the 2x4s on the outside of each panel has a dado cut into the middle of one of the faces. The dados provide a slot for the metal cattle panel to sit in after assembly. It is essentially like making a giant picture frame. In this case, however, the picture is replaced with cattle panel fencing.

I used cedar 2x4s for each of the separate panels in the fence. In the end, I had 5 different panels, one of which was smaller than the rest for a fence gate. The fence gate was a required feature so that our neighbor’s son could continue to come into our yard and help us with gardening. 

There are a couple ways to make dados. One popular way is to use a router to put the groove into each piece. It typically takes a jig that must be setup for each 2×4. This adds time and makes the router a better option for smaller projects. Another option is to use a dado blade on the table saw. A dado blade is actually 2 or more blades setup on the table saw with spacers in between each blade. A thicker groove is cut with one pass over the blades than what a single blade would do on its own. 

I chose a third way. I haven’t had a ton of use for dado blades in the past, so I didn’t want to spend a bunch on a new set of blades. Instead, I chose to use just a single blade on the table saw. I made multiple passes on each board using a spacer between the board and table saw fence to offset each pass. It took longer than doing a single pass with the dado blades, but it was simple and went quickly once I had the table saw setup with the proper spacing.

I laid out and matched the cedar 2x4s by their straightness level before cutting them to size.
Cutting the dados on the table saw.
Three cuts to make the dado with a small amount of wood remaining.
I used a screwdriver and chisel to remove the left over material and clean the dado.
Dado cleaned out!

I cut each board prior to making the dado, which made the cuts on the table saw easier to make. As you can see in some of the photos, I made sure to label each board prior to cutting. This will make it easier to align each board with its matching pair and keep the dados precisely aligned with assembly. The beginning of that assembly process will be the feature of next week’s post!

Leave a Reply