What Is A Wood Dowel?

(Last Updated On: December 19, 2020)
Installing cabinet frame with dowel pins.

A Wood dowel is a thin wooden rod that is fashioned cylindrically to join pieces of wood together. Much like the biscuit joint, this makes use of slots, though it is much handier without the use or purchase of a specialized tool like the biscuit joiner but only with a drill. Wood dowels are usually manufactured in its longer form, which is called a dowel rod. The shorter version, almost to the size of a thumb, is the dowel pin. 

Wood dowels can be bought at any hardware shops; it can also be made at home. These are simply made by drilling a lengthy piece of wood through a simple cutter or masonry wall that is usually made to drive in nails or screws. 

Applications & Uses of Wooden Dowels in Woodworking

Wooden dowels are utilized in reinforcing structure in furniture like cabinets, shelves, and other woodcraft projects. In woodworking projects, dowel rods are usually cut into dowel pins, customized according to the needs of the project. Once the dowels are cut, they are inserted into drilled blind holes. 

For Joining Woods

This is where a problem cuts in for dowel-based joints. Since dowels are fixed into blind holes, there is a need for space for excess glue and wind pressure to be released through a pathway when tapping with a hammer or even clamping the dowel joints in. If not correctly done, this may cause breakage to the wood. There are methods for solving this case.

1. The oldest trick in the book is to create a flat side on the dowel, this is made on a router table meaning the dowels will have a semi-cylindrical or waxing moon shape;

2. Another advice for some is to readily-design the dowels with a flat side while still on the rough draw before the last forming;

3. For some woodworkers, they prefer to carve a groove (like those of a screw) at the ends of the dowel pins with the use of a Groove Screw. This is much more popular, and fluted pins are readily bought with these patterned parallel grooves.

Once the dowels are put in place with glue, upon contact with moisture, the ends of the dowels will expand, making the structure fixed. 

For Alignment

Aside from this matter in using wood dowels for joints, another is alignment. Though this is easier than the previous challenge since there are a lot of techniques that will help in aligning blind holes. One of the most common methods is to make use of dowel centers, which are effective and cheap for making alignments precise. 

These are also called ‘shots’. You can either make a primary board with the holes as reference markers for the succeeding boards. These centers have a sharp tip. So when inserting these centers into the hole from the primary board, with the tip of these centers, you can simply make a light puncture to another board by positioning it where these centers are placed, and then, tapping onto it. 

Another is to place shot pieces in the middle of multiple boards to create markings by indenting the pieces that were compressed with clamps. After clamping the boards, indentations will be left, serving as the markers for drilling into.


Types and Sizes of Wood Dowels 

Considering the multitude of joint configuration in woodworking, there are alternatives for the wood dowels such as biscuit joints, spline joints, miller dowels, and domino joints.

Dowels are also manufactured out of metal and plastic. Plastic dowel pins can be customized according to your liking or a certain measurement by trimming it with a sharp knife.

The size of the dowel pins will depend on the project you are currently working on. If it is for mending a hole made from a screw, you’ll need to cut down a dowel pin to approximately the same length and width as the screw, but if it is for a project like making a toy car, the dowel needs to be in the same length as that of the car.

There are plenty of variations concerning the dowel’s width. It can be measured by millimeters for metric or inches for imperial units. Dowel pegs are usually measured by millimeters, and rods are measured by the inch and millimeter. 

For rods, the width is often between 3.175mm or 1/8″ inches and 50.8mm or 2″ inches, and sometimes, it can also be seen as thick as 304.88mm or 12″ inches. Dowel rods’ length also comes in a range from 304.8mm to 2.4 meters long

Dowel pins scaling from 6mm (1/4″) thick and 30mm (13/16″) in length, or with a thickness of 8mm (5/16″) or 10mm (3/8″) and 40m (19/16″) in length

Buying other tools and specifics for dowel joints like dowel centers, drill bits, and drill stops refer to these mentioned measurements as the standard sizes. 


How Does It Work?

Dowel joints are utilized in a lot of woodworking projects and for a lot of reasons. In construction, dowel joints are used to discreetly hide its binding upon finishing up. It is also used for repairs as an alternative for nails and screws. To be able to use a dowel joint effectively, the woodworker needs to drill a hole that should be somewhat smaller than the dowel’s width, ensuring a snug fit for installing. Make sure that the wooden dowels are evenly cut. Then the dowels are glued into their places, sanded and aligned evenly to the connecting wood. 

The size of the dowel needs to be taken with extra care since, for doweling, the estimation for the diameter will depend based on half of the board that will be used. For example, when using wooden boards with 3/4″ width, the dowel should be 5/16″ or 3/8″. Keep in mind that a thicker dowel will have a higher possibility of crippling the wood while a narrower dowel does not ensure the strength of the joints.

The holes that will be occupied by the dowels should measure slightly deeper at about 1/16th of an inch than the space that will be occupied by the end part of the dowel. 1″-1 1/2″ dowel pins are usually preferred, but for some as a guide, you can use masking tape or painter’s tape to mark on the drill as a marker.

In making dowels, birch wood is often used, and other times maple. Though it is advised for making your homemade dowels to make use of straight-grained wood to get the best outcome. There are also plastic dowels available in commercially produced kits. These kits often include a drill stop, metal dowel centers, and drill bit. 

Keep in mind that you can sharpen or customize your dowel pins according to what you need. Here are tips to ease the process in doweling: 

One is to chamfer the tips of the dowel to make the inset of the dowels easier. Next, to carve a small groove, with a band saw and pliers to hold it down, along the length of the dowel to make leeway for the hydraulic pressure from the trapped air and glue.  

Doweling Jig

A doweling jig is a specialized tool and is quite helpful for drill bits to better guide the alignment for drilling perpendicular holes for dowels. Doweling jigs are often made out of metal and must have bushings to fit drill bits with different sizes.

How To Join Two Pieces of Wood With A Wood Dowel?

Step 1) Drill The First Holes

Start by aligning the boards you’ll be using in the project. Make sure to clamp them in place. In doweling, the minimum you’ll need to place is two dowels per joint and more if the surface is bigger. To figure out how many dowels to use, keep in mind that if the surface is no more than 6 inches, position the dowel in four sections, placing each a quarter of the way. And make sure that the gap of the dowels doesn’t go over 4 inches. 

Mark where you’ll place the holes on each plank with a pencil. Set-up the doweling jig with the mark on one board and the drill bit on the power drill. Remember, as a guide before drilling, you can make use of masking tape so you won’t overdrill, but if you have a drill stop, place it into the position of your desired extent.

Assume the placement of the drill and cut through the jig until the drill stop. Repeat this process for the following marked places on the board.

Step 2) Align The Holes

When you’re done drilling on the first board with the holes set with sufficient depth and positions, arrange the doweling centers into the holes (this may come with the kit or can be bought separately). Doweling centers are a must since it will ensure the accuracy of the alignment, but if you don’t have any, measure the distances of the holes carefully. This alignment is crucial, and when the positions are even slightly off, matching the new holes with your guide will be ineffective.

Once the centers are inserted, place the second board on the first board, and you can either press or tap against the centers. This will make an indention on the second board. With the help of the centers, this will make drilling more precise.  

Position the jig to the second board and drill. 

Step 3) Install the Dowels

Uninstall the jigs once both boards are set and drilled, put some glue in each hole and place the dowels in the holes. There is less need for glue to put in the holes since they will either deflect the dowels or waste the dowel since dowels are sensitive to moisture. Clean the excess glue with a damp cloth.

Do the same thing on the second board and arrange the holes for the matching dowels. Put pressure on both boards by pressing straight down towards the dowels and refrain from shaking or twisting.

Once this is done, place woodworking clamps to make the joints taut all the way. Leave the clamps on and let the glue dry for 24 hours.


Conclusion

Nowadays, wooden dowels are less preferred because of the amount of time it takes to work on in comparison to quick and easy methods like biscuit joints and pocket joints since they are less challenging. Though the versatility and handiness of making a dowel joint and robustness as a joinery tool give it considerable leverage, among others.

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