If you want to cut slots or grooves into wood there are two different tools you can use. You can use a dado blade fitted onto a table saw or a straight bit in a router. Both are commonly used for cutting a housing or dado into the surface of wood when making furniture, including bookshelves and cabinets.
The question is, which one is the better choice? I’m going to compare dado blades with wood routers to help you decide which one to use.
Dado Blades and Routers: The Basics
Before we talk about the similarities and differences between dado blades and wood routers, I want you to note that a dado blade is just a blade. Carpenters almost always use a dado blade with a table saw. You can also use dado blades with a radial arm saw, but a table saw is the best option.
Whichever tool you use, your aim will be to cut a three-sided groove in the face of the piece of wood. You will then slot a second piece of wood into the groove so you can fix it in place to create an interlocking dado joint. It’s one of the strongest joints we use for woodworking.
What Is a Dado Blade?
Table saws can be fitted with a variety of different blades, depending on whether you want to rip the wood or crosscut it for a cleaner finish. Like these blades, a dado blade is circular, although it isn’t the same as the blades we use for circular saws.
There are two main types of dado blades, one that looks similar to those you would normally use on a table saw. The other looks very different because it works with multiple blades.
Wobble blades are single dado blades that have an offset movement that produces the dado groove as it spins.
Stacked dado blade sets come in kit form with outer blades and cutters that fit in the middle. You have a choice of blades so that you can make narrow or wider dado slots.
When you look at a stacked dado blade, you will see a series of blades fitting right next to each other. You will need to stack up the blades correctly so that you get the cleanest possible cut.
What Is a Wood Router?
A wood router is a relatively small power tool that you fit with a carbon steel or carbide bit. You can buy special dado-cutting bits, but a conventional, cylindrical, straight bit is the perfect cutting tool. Router bits are available in different lengths with tips that have different shapes, some of which are cut at an angle.
Wood routers can perform a variety of tasks, including cutting decorative surface cuts, making cutouts, duplicating patterns, creating sharp edges, cutting slots and grooves, and cutting joints as well. Carpenters often use them for cutting dados.
Unlike a dado blade on a table saw, you can move a wood router because it is a handheld tool. Even though a router is a tool in itself, carpenters often use it with a jig for accuracy. A dado jig will enable you to cut your grooves precisely.
Similarities of Dado Blades and Routers
Even if you have never used a wood router or a table saw with a dado blade before, you will realize that they are very different tools used for the same purpose.
1. They Can Perform the Same Task
A dado blade and a router both give us the ability to cut grooves in pieces of wood. This makes them both handy tools for various woodworking projects.
2. They Both Work With Electricity
Dado blades are fitted to table saws, which are electrically powered tools. A router is also a power tool. Instead of a blade, it works with metal bits that cut into the wood.
Routers are portable, handheld tools. Even though carpenters often use heavy table saws that aren’t designed to be moved around, you can use a portable table saw to cut grooves.
Differences Between Dado Blades and Routers
There are more differences than similarities between dado blades and routers, but what are they?
1. Tool vs. Attachment
The biggest difference between these two woodworking tools is, of course, that a router is a complete tool while a dado blade is simply a blade. Even though you will need the right bits for your router to cut slots and grooves, it’s ready to use. A dado blade, on the other hand, is a specialized tool that must be set up accurately on your table saw before you can start work.
2. Overall Functionality
A dado blade is designed for cutting slots or grooves in pieces of wood. You can use a wood router with various bits to cut the same sorts of slots and grooves in wood. But you can also use routers for other woodworking projects.
3. Stationary vs Handheld
Even though table saws fitted with dado blades and routers are both power tools, routers are generally more portable, handheld tools. Even though you can buy portable table saws, most carpenters prefer heavier table saws that aren’t easy to move around.
4. Support for the Material
When using a table saw and dado blade, you have the option of a portable machine versus a heavier, stationary table saw. This allows you to work with a tool that will support the wood you are cutting. A handheld router doesn’t come with any form of support. But you can use a jig to help support it.
5. Depth of the Cut
A dado blade on a table saw will enable you to cut any sized slot. You can adjust the blade and make slots to meet your carpentry design needs. It’s not that easy with a router because you can’t adjust it, and the router can slip and cut a groove that is bigger than you want it to be.
6. Making Accurate Cuts
A feature of stationary, workshop table saws is that they have guides. You can slide the wood through the blade very easily and be assured that the dimensions of your cut will be accurate. Routers don’t have guides, and you will have to rely on your woodworking skills to make sure that your cuts are straight and perpendicular. It’s much easier to do precision work with a table saw and a dado blade than with a wood router.
Table Saw with Dado Blade vs. Router: Which of the Two Should You Use?
You do have a choice. But generally, routers are best for smaller grooves and slots. They are also a good option if you are working on-site and need a portable tool. A router is also a good tool to have if you do a wide range of woodworking projects.
If your focus is cutting slots and grooves, and you want to be able to work on large materials, you’ll need a table saw. And, if you’ve got a table saw, it makes perfect sense to fit it with a dado blade to cut your slots and grooves. For my recommendations, check this list of the best dado blade sets out there.
If you’re cutting grooves, table saws fitted with dado blades and routers are both fit for purpose. Although they have a few things in common, their functionality differs a fair bit.
Now that you know what the similarities and the differences between the two woodworking tools are, I’m sure that you will be able to decide which one is best for your needs.