How to Use Dowels to Make Wooden Joints


Using dowels is a handy way to make a wooden joint much stronger. They are pretty easy to create, and joints with dowels last a lot longer.

So, how do you use dowels to make wooden joints?

  1. Mark holes on two pieces of wood.
  2. Drill holes where the dowels will be placed
  3. Apply glue to the 100% of the dowel
  4. Place the glued dowel into the holes on the first piece of wood
  5. Insert the other end of glued dowels into the second piece of wood.
  6. Clamp the joint tight and wait for the glue to dry.

There are a few ways to go about a few of these steps, so I’ll go into more depth below to quickly get you going on making your first dowel joints in no time!

How is a Dowel Joint Made

A dowel joint is made by drilling holes into two pieces of wood with precise accuracy. The holes must be lined up properly to make sure the joint is flush, and the inside dowels fit perfectly.

Once the holes are cut, all you have to do is add glue to the holes and dowel, put the dowels in the holes, and clamp your new dowel joint!

Some things to note…Dowel joints commonly have two or more dowels in each joint. Having multiple dowels locks the wood in place. If you just had one dowel, your wood could rotate around it like a pivot point.

Also, the more dowels that you have in your joint, the stronger it will be because it will have more surface area for the glue to adhere to.

Like I said before, there are a few different ways to create a dowel joint. All of them are really easy, but some are faster than others. Let’s dive right in and see which dowel joint methods will work best for you and your projects!

Marking The Dowel Holes

The first thing you need to do is figure out where your dowels are going to go. There are a few different methods on how to make good marks. Good marks make good joints!

The old fashioned way is to measure both pieces of wood, which is pretty simple. If your creating a dowel joint in a ¾” thick piece of wood, then the center of your dowel hole should be right in the center, at ⅜”. Draw a line down your entire center. Then figure out where to place your dowels.

Once you’ve figured out where your dowels are going to go, mark your intended locations along your center line. Now transfer those marks to the edge of the wood and make a line on the outside edge.

The line on the outside edge of your wood shows us where the dowels are going to be. Now, all we have to do is take the second piece of wood and mock up our joint. Next, transfer the outside edge lines from the first piece of wood and draw them on the second piece of wood.

Draw the same center line on the second piece of wood and then transfer the outside edge marks to the new center line. Now all of our dowel holes are ready to be drilled!

How Thick Should My Dowels Be

You don’t want to have your dowels too close to the edges of your wood, because the more space that surrounds the dowel, the stronger the joint will be. A good rule of thumb is to try to leave at least ⅛” or more spacing between the edges of your wood and your dowel.

A solid piece of advice for working with joints in woodworking is to use at least a third of the width of your material for inner joints, but less than half. If your wood is ¾” thick, then try to have your dowel width be over ¼” but less than ⅜”.

Since every project is different, it’s hard to explain how far apart each dowel should be from one another, but another good rule of thumb is to leave at least ¼” or more spacing between your dowels.

How Do You Align Wooden Dowels (Use Dowel Centers)

Instead of having to manually transfer all of your dowel marks from your first piece of wood to your second, you can use another method by using dowel centers. Dowel centers are little metal plugs with sharp points on them that fit in the drilled dowel hole or on the dowel rod itself.

To use dowel centers to align your dowels, you just mark your first piece of wood, drill the dowel holes, place the dowel centers in the drilled holes, or on the dowels that are dry fitted into the drilled holes, and mock up your joint. When you squeeze your dowel joint together during mockup, the dowel centers leave marks on the second piece of wood from the sharp metal points.

Drilling the Dowel Holes (And Dowel Drilling Tips)

Once you have your dowel holes marked and ready to go, it’s time to start drilling! Before we get started, make sure your drill bit is the same size that your dowel rod is.

If your drill bit is too big, then your dowels aren’t going to be tight, which means your joint is going to be pretty sloppy and not too effective. On the other hand, if your drill bit is too small, your dowel won’t be able to fit in the hole, and you won’t be able to connect your dowel joint.

Also, don’t let your dowel hole get drilled too deep. You can prevent this from happening by using one of the following methods.

  • The first way is just to use a marker and draw a line on your drill bit at the depth where you want to stop drilling. This is an excellent way to figure out your depth if you have a spare drill bit laying around that you’re going to always use for the same size dowels. It’s a bad way if you use dowels at different lengths because you’d have to make multiple lines on the same drill bit, which could lead to confusion and cause mistakes.
  • The second way is to use tape on your drill bit instead of marking it with a marker. This is nice if you don’t want to have a line on your drill bit permanently. If you’re drilling a lot of dowels, you might want to move to the next option though, because sometimes the tape can get pushed up the drill bit over time. This would also lead to holes that were too deep.
  • The third way is to use a stop collar on your drill bit. A stop collar is a round piece of metal with a hole in it (It looks like a mini donut) that slips over the drill bit. The stop collar has a tiny screw in it to tighten it around the drill bit, once you set it at your desired depth. Make sure to really tighten the little screw, so it doesn’t slide with heavy use.
  • The fourth way is to set your depth stop on your drill press to the correct depth. This only applies to people who have a drill press to work with, because regular power drills don’t have a depth stop on them.

Now that we got those tidbits out of the way, it’s time to drill! You can use a standard hand drill to make your dowel holes, but make sure you drill straight down on your marks. If you drill on an angle, your joint is going to end up crooked.

If you’re planning on building a lot of projects, you might want to start thinking about investing in a drill press. Having a drill press is great because you know that all of the holes you drill are going to be perfect in every way.

Finishing the Dowel Joint

You have your holes marked and cut, and now it’s time to finish your dowel joint. Start by dry fitting everything. Dry fitting a dowel joint just means putting the dowels in the holes without glue, and seeing if everything is how you want it to be.

If everything looks good during your dry fit, put some wood glue on your dowel and inside the holes, place the dowels in the glued holes, and assemble the rest of your joint! If things aren’t fitting correctly, you need to figure out what caused the misalignment.

The most common issue is the dowels not lining up properly. If you did all of your measurements manually, go back and see where your holes were off. You might be able to sand the dowel a little bit to make it fit, or you might have to just scrap one of the sides of the joint. Having a dowel jig helps, so try to get your hands on one if needed.

Dowel Joint Jigs

Having a dowel jig speeds up the process and increases the accuracy of making a dowel joint. You can either buy a dowel jig or make them yourself. Like every tool, there are a few different types of dowel joint jigs. Some self-center, some have clamps, and some can even drill multiple holes at the same time.

If you find yourself struggling to get good dowel joints, you have two options. Either practice or get your hands on a nice dowel joint jig that serves your purpose.

What Are the Advantages of a Dowel Joint

  • Speed – Creating a dowel joint is much faster than creating a mortise and tenon joint.
  • Easy to Create – Dowel joints are just holes with pegs glued into them. Nice and simple!
  • One Tool – The only tool that you need to create a dowel joint is just a drill.
  • Better Looking – It gives a better finish to your project because you don’t see screws.
  • Less Hardware – You don’t need to use nails, screws, or any other type of metal fastener.
  • Strength – A dowel joint is much stronger than a standard butt joint because it’s physically “locked in” by a dowel.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Dowel Joint

Dowel Joints are much stronger than a standard but joint, but not as strong as a mortise and tenon joint. Depending on the design of your project, the mortise and tenon joint usually has more surface area on the face of the grain of wood for the glue to be applied to.

Another disadvantage of a dowel joint is that it takes more time to create compared to a standard butt joint. If a butt joint needs to be durable, you’re probably going to have to bite the bullet and add some dowels to it to make it stronger.

Also, no one actually sees the dowel joint because it’s hidden. So all of the hard work and craftiness that you put in to create it goes unnoticed. People just think that the two pieces of wood are magically attached.

How Long Should Dowels Be

Dowels can vary in length, but standard dowels available for purchase are usually between 1” and 2”. Obviously, they shouldn’t be longer than the depth of the two holes combined. If your dowel were longer, then it would block the two pieces of wood from touching, which would defeat the intended purpose.

Your dowel should be sized to your project and the specific joint that needs to be strengthened. If you know that your joint is going to have a lot of weight on it, then you’re going to need a thicker and longer dowel.

Dowel Joints Conclusion

I hope I helped explain how to use dowels to make wooden joints good enough for you to go and try it. They are easy to add to any project for increased strength and durability.

If you’re confused about anything, send me some questions in the comments section below for more info, and I’ll help you out!

Mark

I've been building things for many years, and I want to share what I've learned to try and help whoever I can. Make sure to checkout the homepage for my most read posts!

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