Bookcases and shelving units are super popular items to build, and not complicated but there are a few tricks to getting to look great and to stand up to years of use, and much of that depends on how the shelves are attached, and in this case, I am showing how to make a jig to use with the hand router that will give you perfect fit dados.

Watch it on Youtube:

...oh, and yes, you could use a palm router in place of a full-size router ... just take you time in making the cuts so you don't put unnecessary wear on the router motor ...

The idea of this jig is that in making your bookcase or shelving unit, you will start off with 2 sides of the unit, and you will measure off where you want the shelves to be. The next step is how are you going to attach the shelves to the sides. In some cases, you may want adjustable shelves, but personally, I abandoned that idea years ago because the shelving units don't look all that attractive, they are not strong ... and no one that I know ever adjusts the shelves anyway, they are almost always left with about an 8 or 10-inch distance between shelves and never re-adjusted ... so why not just make a good quality shelving unit that will be strong and last for decades. 

To make the jig you can easily use any off-cut lumber you have, or you can purchase off-cuts of plywood at most lumber stores for a fraction of the full sheet, and it's easier to carry home and use what you need when you need it. 

Router Dado Jig

The base unit I made was 17 inches long and 8 inches wide with the flip-up piece being 3-7/8 inches wide and 18 inches long so that it stuck out on either side of the base piece, but 17 inches would be fine for it.

I started off by attaching a strip to one side of the base piece so that I could align the jig on my gable ends and get nice 90 degree angles that the shelves would fit it. 

Dado Jig

At some point, you are also going to need to make a "sizing strip" which is used to compensate for the width of your router bit. In my case, I used a 3/8" router bit so my sizing strip is 3/8" wide and an inch or 2 longer than the width of the jig. If you were going to use a 1/4" wide bit, such as shown in the picture above, you would need to have a 1/4 Sizing Strip to match the thickness of that bit. For the smaller sizing bits, it's best to either make them square or have one side the same height as the edge of your jig, just so you don't get them confused ... marking them is probably a better idea.

In most cases, shelving units will have 3/4 inch thick shelves so I designed the flip-out part of the jig to measure the middle of a 3/4" shelf. The jig will work fine for other thicknesses of shelving units too, just that the shelves will be a tiny bit higher or lower by fractions of an inch.

Next, I attached the flipper part of the jig using some hinges, and as you can see in the video I started with some blue hinges, that did not move smoothly so I found some others that moved more smoothly and that's what I used. 

To make your dado cut, you will first need to have your gable ends laid out and marked at the center of where you want each shelf to be. If your jig is out even slightly you will want to make sure you make your cuts on the same side of the line each time, just to make sure your shelves will align the way they should. It's always a good idea to work from the same sides no matter what you are working with ... it just keeps your alignments in check.

It is very easy to make Stop Dado cuts, and the shelves look 100% better too. To make these align your jig to the line or marking you have made on your gable end and set the top of the flipper part of your jig to that line.

Next, ** Securely** attach your jig to the side gable with suitable clamps. You may need to move around your workshop to do this, but it is an important step because you do NOT want to make a bad cut on your gable ends. When you are happy with that the jig is fastened tightly, you can now insert your sizing strip and make your first cut.

** MAKE VERY CERTAIN you are keeping the router fast against the side of your jig. If you allow the router to wander your slot will not be straight or align with your shelves during the fitting.

After you make your first cuts with the router, next you can make the finished or sized cut. For this remove your sizing strip and insert the fitted strip that is the same thickness as your shelf and make the final cut.

Once you are satisfied that the fit is good you can go ahead and make your notches on your shelves, assuming you made stop dado cuts. Take your time making the notches, better to make them too tight at first then fit them by sanding the notch to get a perfect fit. 

Dado joint


If you are in anyway unsure of how things will turn out, I highly recommend making some test cuts ahead of time. This will give you the confidence and knowledge to know what you are doing and how it will work. There are a few steps to making good shelving and it's easy to get mixed up. Mark all your shelves "front" and "back"  "left" and "right" so you get the right shelves cut for the right notches that each need.  

Router jig for Dado joints

In the end, you will end up with an excellent, well build shelving unit you can be proud of that will give years of use and in most cases can be passed along for generations, because shelving units will never go out of style. 

Copyright Colin Knecht 



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