Dowels- Build 'em or buy 'em

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Forum topic by Jakes7196 posted 04-24-2018 01:05 PM 1075 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 836 days

04-24-2018 01:05 PM

Hello Gang,
I’m kind of new to wood working and I’m embarking on my first project utilizing dowels.
I’m wondering if you guys cut your own from dowel rods or buy the ones that are already fluted. I would round the edges for easier insertion, but don’t really have a good way to flute them. Is it a big deal if they are just solid pieces?
Thanks for the advice.

15 replies so far

View Lazyman's profile


5646 posts in 2190 days

#1 posted 04-24-2018 01:20 PM

I don’t use dowel joints often so I usually just use use whatever dowels of the right size I have in the shop and cut them to length when I need them. You can usually get by with the flutes which I think are there to allow excess glue and air to escape more easily as you tap them in and clamp the joint. If that is a problem, you can just sand or plane a slight flat on one side. If you are using a bunch it is easier to do that before cutting to length.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View DanK's profile


26 posts in 3470 days

#2 posted 04-24-2018 01:51 PM

I would buy them myself, but I know that they can be made using the jaws of a pair of pliers. Crimp and turn.
Or try a homemade jig:

View JADobson's profile


1448 posts in 2914 days

#3 posted 04-24-2018 02:28 PM

I’ve only done one project with dowel joints and I just used normal straight dowels, no flutes. 6 years later its still together.

-- No craft is very far from the line beyond which is magic. -- Lord Dunsany — Instagram @grailwoodworks

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1727 posts in 2533 days

#4 posted 04-24-2018 02:34 PM

Jakes, when I first started my business back in ‘78, I bought both 3/8 & a 1/2”plug cutters that will also cut 2” long dowels. I think they were made by Forest City. Sometimes when I want to do a cabinet with all the same species, I’ll make dowels from the scraps.

IMO, air is going to escape from the wood no matter what, but too much glue will give you a problem. Oak is the best example as I’ve had glue come out of the pores onto the surface of the wood.

I made a tool to insure that the dowel hole is completely covered in glue and haven’t had a problem. This tool is nothing more than a stick with a 3” screw in the end of it that the head is the same diameter of the hole. Push it in, glue curls up around the screw head, and when you pull it out, it smears the inside of the hole, and any leftover glue on the screw head goes into the next hole.

In conclusion, make your own dowels until you get tired of it, then start buying them.

If you do get some dowel cutters, they can also be used to make plugs that are used to cover screw holes and such. ............. Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View pintodeluxe's profile


6173 posts in 3616 days

#5 posted 04-24-2018 02:39 PM

Dowels are only occasionally the right joinery choice for me. I never use them as the main structural support for a piece of furniture, but they can be handy to attach a corbel etc.

I usually use pre-made fluted dowels, but have also used 5/8” dowels made from oak dowel stock. Both work well.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Underdog's profile


1514 posts in 2838 days

#6 posted 04-24-2018 02:45 PM

I buy ‘em unless I can’t find the size or species I need. OR… if the only ones I can buy are crappy…

Then I either turn them to size on my lathe, or build a jig. But I haven’t had to make a dowel in quite a while.

-- Jim, Georgia, USA

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12215 posts in 4231 days

#7 posted 04-24-2018 02:48 PM

I know that lots of people use dowels in lieu of other joinery techniques. I find them too time consuming to do correctly. I do use them to cover screw holes. Like Jerry, I cut my own to get a match.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4451 days

#8 posted 04-24-2018 04:22 PM

Dowel rod you buy at hardware stores isn’t
round. I think it’s cut on some kind of shaper,
not a lathe. You can pound it through a dowel
plate to make it round.

I buy dowels. They are cheap if you shop around
but they might not seem that way if you’re
looking at little bags in a hardware store.

They do move seasonally in size which can cause
problems. I’ve tried keeping them in plastic
with a desicant bag. If they are too tight you
can make a “shop oven” with a coffee can and
a light bulb shining down into it – like one of those
EZ-bake ovens really. Over a few hours it will
reduce the moisture content and they’ll shrink
a little.

Fluted dowels hold glue in the grooves so it doesn’t
get scraped off when you insert them. I think
flutes are a good feature but if your dowels don’t
have them it’s not a dealbreaker. Only time will
tell if your joints hold up.

View Planeman40's profile


1500 posts in 3564 days

#9 posted 04-24-2018 05:21 PM

I love doweled joints! I prefer them to screws.

Not being a furniture maker, I use them to strengthen joints on a lot of other things that I don’t have to worry abut the dowel heads being seen. My process is to first glue the joint and let it dry. Then I drill the dowel hole! Yes, you can see the dowel after it is worked flush with the surface, but I view this as proof of a secure and long lasting joint.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View caboxmaker's profile


280 posts in 1191 days

#10 posted 04-24-2018 07:12 PM

Dowels are the best. Stronger than MT.

View BlasterStumps's profile


1701 posts in 1242 days

#11 posted 04-24-2018 07:38 PM

If you have a dowel plate, you can pound through a few out of the wood of your choosing. That can make your project a little nicer if the dowel is either same material as the other wood or, in other cases a contrasting wood.

-- "...I've been through the desert on a horse with no name." So name the damned horse already!

View bondogaposis's profile


5803 posts in 3154 days

#12 posted 04-24-2018 08:47 PM

For dowel joinery, definitely buy them, they are cheap. If you are using them for plugs or other visible purposes, then get plug cutter and make your own.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View AlaskaGuy's profile


5861 posts in 3112 days

#13 posted 04-24-2018 08:48 PM

Dowels are the best. Stronger than MT.

- caboxmaker

Never had a M&T joint fail (or Domino) so it a moot point to me.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View runswithscissors's profile


3107 posts in 2828 days

#14 posted 04-27-2018 12:57 AM

There is an important difference between plugs and dowels. Plugs have the wood grain running across, rather than the long way. Looks better when you install them if the grain parallels the wood of the piece you’re inserting them into. They are much easier to cut or sand flush than a dowel. I usually cut them almost flush with a sharp chisel, then finish by sanding.

They’re easy to make with a plug cutter, and preferably a drill press. They can be broken out one by one with a knife or screwdriver, or run the donor board through a saw so they all pop out together. Unfortunately, on a TS they are likely to spray all over the place.

A plug would be entirely inappropriate to use as a dowel. No strength at all.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5634 posts in 1385 days

#15 posted 04-27-2018 01:21 AM

I need dowels, I rive them out of a piece of wood, round them a little with a spokeshave, then bang them through a dowel plate. But then I drawbore stuff and generally want straight-grain oak or ash dowels.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

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