Cutting grooves in wood can serve both decorative or functional purposes. They can show off pretty designs in shelves and cabinets and, on the other hand, they can provide support to wooden handles.
In this article, you will learn all you need to know about cutting grooves in wood using various kinds of tools and the steps you need to take to do so using a few specific tools. Also, there will be a few tips and tricks at the end.
6 Best Ways to Cut Grooves in Wood
Let’s start by looking at the different methods you can use for this task.
#1 Using a Router
Routers are the most popular way to cut grooves in wood as they have two handles to make sure you have proper control and a good grip. There is also a smooth base plate that makes it easy to slide over the wood that you’re cutting into.
Despite their popularity, many routers won’t be able to cut continually as heavier-duty machinery can. You cannot produce deep cuts with just one pass using a router, so it might take some time and effort to cut more difficult grooves.
#2 Using a Table Saw
Another option for cutting grooves in wood is the table saw. With the table saw you have the ability to cut many grooves both accurately and quickly. Plus, table saws are powerful and can cut into thicker wood.
However, there is much more danger when it comes to using table saws. You will have to bring the work to the blade and this can put the hands of beginners in a bit of jeopardy. Plus, table saws are expensive and should only really be used by those dedicated to woodcutting.
#3 Using a Dremel
This fairly lesser-known method is great for cutting small grooves into wood. You can use the rotary bit for small cuts and it will work fairly well in most cases.
Small cuts are about all this tool is good for in terms of making grooves. Long cuts will be very time consuming and it is nearly impossible to make a clean cut in this fashion. As such, Dremels should be used for smaller grooves only, granted, these circumstances come up fairly often.
#4 Using a Drill
Drills are one of the more versatile methods you can use to cut grooves in wood and some woodworkers even prefer this method over using a router. It really all depends on what drill bit you use because that is essentially how you choose how thick the groove will be.
That being said, this is the main drawback of using a drill as well. If you are not experienced or do not have much knowledge with cutting grooves using a drill, it can be a lot of trial and error using different drill bits which can lead to a lot of wasted wood.
#5 Using a Chisel
Chisels are commonly used for the finishing touches when cutting grooves into wood but they themselves can also be used for the main task. Of course, they are hand tools so the only room for error is human error and steady hands can make some beautifully intricate grooves.
However, this is probably the most cumbersome and labor-intensive method out of all of these so far. Without the help of any machinery, cutting grooves into larger pieces of wood will take forever and will be very tough on your hands as well.
#6 Using a Rotary Tool
These tools are handheld and have a head that can hold a variety of bits including a groove-cutting attachment. Using this method can certainly consolidate your tool usage and, if you already have a rotary tool, you won’t need a whole new router to cut grooves.
This, of course, is an alternative method that should only really be used if there are no other options available. Rotary tools are useful but are not really meant to make groove cuts, as they can be unwieldy and can be awkward to handle when making these cuts.
How to Cut a Groove in Wood with a Router
Routers are what most believe to be the easiest method of cutting grooves into wood. The tool has a powerful motor that is designed to cut grooves into wood and is the proper tool for this specific task. Now, let’s go through the process step-by-step on how to cut a groove in wood using a router.
Step 1: Mark Your Workpiece
Much like many other cutting tasks, the first step for cutting grooves in wood using your router is to decide where exactly you need to cut.
Measure the exact area that you wish to work into and use a sharp pencil to make marks on the wood where you will begin. Thickening the area using a sharp knife is also a good idea if necessary.
Step 2: Choose the Correct Model and Attachment
Your attachment of choice will depend on how long or deep the groove needs to be cut. There are many different attachments to choose from, so be sure to do some research and pick the right router attachment for the job.
Also, be sure you have the correct model for the job. Routers come in different varieties and you should choose the one that you are most comfortable with that can tackle the job you’re trying to do.
Step 3: Begin Cutting the Groove
Now that all the steps to preparing the router have been taken, set the tool down to your marked area and begin the motion of cutting into the wood until a groove starts to form.
Continue carefully repeating these motions until you have your groove at the depth and length you desire.
How to Cut a Groove in Wood with a Table Saw
Next, let’s take a look at how to use a table saw for this task.
Step 1: Set Your Blade Height
Set the table saw’s blade height to the groove depth you need. There will be a lever or knob underneath your table saw that raises or lowers the blade height so you can adjust it to the correct groove depth.
Then, secure that height so the blade does not slip or drop down while you are cutting your grooves. Depending on the width of cut you want to make, you might want to use a dado blade.
Step 2: Mark Your Spots on the Wood
Now that you’ve prepared the saw, it’s time to prepare the wood.
Set the wood down on its side and use a straightedge or a ruler to mark a line on the board’s side that is the same length as how deep you want your groove to be. Then, mark the other end of the wood to line up the cut perfectly.
Step 3: Line Up the Wood With the Blade
Hold the wood against your table saw’s fence so that it fits snugly against it. Then, loosen the fence so you can adjust it to be further or closer away from your saw’s blade.
Continue adjusting the fence until your mark on the board lines up with your saw’s blade and finally, tighten your table saw’s fence so it does not move or fall down while cutting the groove.
Step 4: Begin Cutting the Groove
Now, begin pushing the wood into the blade and start cutting the groove. Use a wood pusher or similar tool to slowly push your wood through and, if necessary, flip the wood over and cut the groove from the other side as well to complete the task.
Be sure the blade is at full speed when you begin cutting and that you completely turn it off when you have finished the project.
How to Cut a Groove in Wood with a Drill
Lastly, let’s take a detailed look at how to do this task using a drill.
Step 1: Get the Correct Drill Bit
Most woodworkers will use a 1/2-inch drill bit but make sure you get the right one for the job you are trying to accomplish. Once you have the right bit, put it into your drill, then tighten it. Larger projects will require larger drill bits but for most small tasks the common 1/2-inch should work just fine.
Step 2: Drill a Tiny Divot in the Wood
Push in the trigger of the drill with just a little bit of pressure to make a small divot where you want to start your cut. This is like marking where you want to begin the cut with a pencil like in the previous methods above but you can use the tool itself to make the mark.
Step 3: Tilt the Drill
Tilt your drill slowly downwards while keeping it running. In the end, you should tilt the drill all the way flat, so the bit’s side is spinning against the wood. This is where you begin to see the groove being cut into the wood.
Step 4: Push the Drill in Horizontally
Add some pressure to the bit horizontally while it is lying flat on your piece of wood. The spiral cuts on the drill bit will cut into the wood and make a groove cut that is as long as the drill bit.
One-half-inch bits will make a roughly 6-inch long groove, so once again, be sure you have the right size drill bit or be ready to make multiple cuts if the groove is not long enough.
Step 5: Add Depth
Now the groove is basically finished and all you need to do is push the drill bit in as far as necessary to get the depth of the cut you want. This is the good thing about using a drill, in that you can control the depth of the groove cut without having to worry about flipping the wood over.
Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks
Cutting grooves into wood often requires the use of some power tools so, first things first, always read the owners manuals and make sure you are using these tools as safely as possible.
One classic mistake many beginners run into when using the router tool is they assemble the attachment wrong or they just use the wrong attachment all together. Most routers will come with a few different attachments that they can use, so before you go cutting into pieces of wood, be sure to do a little research and see which attachments are used for the different kinds of grooves they can make.
As for using table saws to make groove cuts, a helpful tip is that you can attach any kind of saw blade that is used to cut wood to make grooves. However, keep in mind that flat-edged saw blades produce flat bottoms and angled saw blades produce rounded edges.
Also, in “Step 3” of using a table saw, fences are mentioned to keep your wood held snugly. Some table saws don’t have this fence but you can instead use a straight piece of scrap wood to act as a fence in this circumstance.
Finally, and this goes for any woodcutting project, be sure to wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from sawdust and stray bits of wood. Also it is a great idea to wear a mask as well to protect your lungs from breathing in any of this sawdust as well.
Hopefully, you now have all the knowledge necessary to begin cutting grooves into wood using the best methods for you. Whether it is with the common router tool or with the more niche methods using a drill or table saw, you can ideally now use any of the three.
Be sure to follow the steps for using each of these tools as closely as possible and always follow all the safety precautions that come with using power tools of any kind.
Finally, keep in mind the mistakes to avoid, tips, and tricks when it comes to cutting grooves into wood and you will look like a pro craftsman in no time at all!