Oct 022013
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In the Down to Earth Woodworker’s most recent October 2013 Wood News column, he discussed the Dado Depth Torture Test, and in this follow-up blog entry, he has the results of his testing.

The Down To Earth Woodworker responds to a reader’s question, “Why do you make your dados 1/4” deep in 3/4” plywood?”

Pursuant to a reader’s question, I tested three dado depths (1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2”) in 3/4” plywood to see what depth provided the strongest joint in each of three potential force directions.

dado test results (blog)

The test demonstrated that to some extent, it is all about the plywood.  So-called “furniture grade” plywood with few plies and many internal defects can fail in spectacular ways.  I suspect that the same tests in Baltic Birch or some other fine grade of multi-ply plywood might have turned out differently.  But “furniture grade” is the type of plywood most of us use for shop cabinets, kitchen cabinets, and bookshelves.

In the shear test, both the 3/8” and 1/2” depth dadoes failed as a result of a split in the plywood between the plies, starting at the dado wall.  The deeper dado weakened the plywood and the downward pressure on the test piece provided the leverage to split the plywood.  The 1/4” depth dado was the strongest.

In the tear test, the 3/8” dado was the strongest, with the 1/4” deep dado coming in a fairly close second.  I suspect that in this test the deeper dado helped… to a point.  As the dado got deeper, there was more gluing surface on the sidewalls of the dado.  But at 1/2”, the dado was simply too deep and the plywood surrounding the dado was weakened to the point that it overcame any advantage provided by the additional sidewall gluing surface.

In the pull test, as the dados got deeper the joint became weaker because there was not enough plywood behind the joint to hold it rigid.  The flexing in the weakened plywood allowed the sidewalls of the dado to give way, and the rest was, as they say, history.  Again, the 1/4” deep dado was the strongest.

Check out the video  below for more details!


  5 Responses to “The Down to Earth Woodworking – The Ideal Dado Depth?”

  1. Youp shear and tear test are torque stress tests….under shear the true failuar would be way more strong. in fact very very strong…neither were shear tests

  2. Nice work! It would be interesting to see the same test performed with solid wood.

  3. Starting doing the tear test after I built my first bookshelf – A shelf came out of the dado, collapsed and nearly killed the cat. Oops.

  4. Hope the cat is okay!

  5. On the “Pull test,” the way that the bucket is hanging from the eye bolt is causing a eccentric force on the joint and making it create a moment arm towards the side of the eye bolt and creating the action as in your “shear test.”

    Either way, cool video and I would love to see more test samples to get a larger data pool for a more accurate results, since a lot of these test greatly depend on where the layers of the plywood are located in relation to the dado.

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