If you want to join wood, you can choose different options such as nails or screws, but you can also choose dowels. Dowels are a method of joining that has been used for hundreds of years, and for different good reasons. But how can you determine why dowels are the best option and when to use dowels for woodworking.
Dowels are the better alternative to use when:
It is not allowed to use nails or screws for safety reasons.
When the wood is too thick to screw or nail.
When you want to make joints made with wood glue even stronger.
To make connections where no nail heads or screw heads should be visible.
This blog will dive further into the reasons for utilizing dowels in woodworking, as well as show you the benefits and drawbacks of dowels. On top of that, you will find step-by-step instructions on how to use dowels fast and accurately for your projects.
Disclosure: At zero cost to you, I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. I earn from qualifying purchases as an Amazon associate. Products featured are selected based on quality, performance, and reputation, regardless of affiliate relationships.
What is a Dowel?
A dowel is a cylindrical wooden rod used to join wooden elements of a construction together. Dowels, like nails and screws, are used as an alternative to adding strength to a junction.
Dowels are put into both pieces of wood, which are subsequently connected together, resulting in a stronger bond than gluing alone. The dowels can be dipped in glue before being placed into the wood to make the connection even stronger. There is more than just using dowels for extra strength, more about that in the section “when to use dowels in woodworking” below.
Dowels can be purchased prepared or can easily be made yourself.
When you buy dowels, you can do this in different thicknesses, but also in different lengths. Sometimes you can also choose to buy longer lengths and cut the dowels to the size you want.
When to use dowels in woodworking
Dowel joints are most typically employed in carpentry and woodworking applications to ensure that when two or more pieces of wood are linked, a stronger joint is generated. Dowel joints are commonly employed in the construction of furniture. Working with dowels is sometimes preferable, and to obtain a better understanding of this, see the tips below on when to use dowels in woodworking.
When it is not allowed to use nails or screws for safety reasons
In some cases, you may need to avoid nails and screws for safety reasons. You can think of wooden toys, for example. You don’t want a head of a nail or the tip of a screw to pierce through the wood and injure a child. If you want to make wooden toys for your kids or grandchildren, then this will be the most important reason in this list of when to use dowels in woodworking for you.
When the wood is too thick to use screws or nails
When you want to put wooden boards together to make a bigger whole, such as when making tabletops, there is no other option than to use dowels. The wood is just too thick to use screws or nails in this situation. Wooden dowels will create a strong bond between the boards and also align them neatly to give you a flat surface.
To add strength to a joint
Another reason on when to use dowels in woodworking, as you have already read in this article, is to make a stronger connection. Wood glue in itself can ensure that you can firmly connect two wooden boards together. The way wood glue works and how best to apply wood glue can be found in this list of all the articles I’ve already written about wood glue.
The wooden dowel that is incorporated into both parts (later in this article you will discover how to do this step by step) strengthens the breaking point of the connection. The forces that will be placed at this breaking point are therefore no longer only at the expense of the wood glue, but are also carried by the dowel.
The dowel extends the wooden mass in the heart of one half, across the break line, and into the heart of the second component, and make a stronger joint where wood glue interrupts the wooden mass. To make the binding between the dowel and the wood stronger, put wood glue to the dowel before inserting it into the wood.
To give you a much neater, flatter finish than nails or screws would
You may not want to see a nail or screw head on the wood surface at all times. Then you should start utilizing dowels. Dowels leave no markings on the surface, yet they produce a strong bond that is comparable to screws or nails.
While utilizing this method, make sure you don’t drill all the way through the wood when drilling the dowel hole. This is when a depth stop on your drill can come in handy. Drilling to a depth of two-thirds of the thickness of the wood is suggested.
When you will connect the parts with a dowel and wood glue, you will get a seamless connection without having to look at nail heads or screw heads. The disadvantage is that you cannot clamp the parts against each other like you can with a screw or nail, so you will press the parts firmly against each other by means of clamps until the wood glue has cured.
Dowel Joint Advantages
Dowel joints are a technique very commonly used in woodworking, where two pieces of wood are attached by a dowel or wooden peg. It is no coincidence that dowels have been used for hundreds of years. Now that you know when to use dowels in woodworking, it’s time to take a look at the many benefits that dowels can bring to your projects.
Dowling is a fast process.
Once you are well-trained in making dowels, this is a simple and quick process. In just a few moments, you have made a strong and durable connection. Making yourself a dowel maker jig makes the process even faster. You can discover step by step how to make these in my article “3 Way Dowel Jig | New & BIG Improvement For QUICK Set Up | FREE PLANS”. In addition, there are also free plans available.
The strongest connections are dowel connections.
When it comes to strength, dowel joints are at the top of the list when it comes to woodworking joints. A single dowel can make a connection much stronger, but the actual strength comes when multiple dowels are used. To achieve a strong and durable connection, put up dowels every 4 inches (approx. 10 cm).
It is not necessary to have any hardware.
Dowel joints do not require screws, staples, or nails. This not only reduces the chance of damage when working with hardware, but it also provides the object a more polished appearance by not disrupting the grain pattern.
It Is Secure
Because the dowel passes through the wood, the joint is extremely robust, far stronger than using merely glue or nails to link two pieces of wood.
Easy to assemble
Once you’ve decided where you want the dowels in the wood and how deep, you’ll need to hollow out the holes that the dowel will go into. Just add some wood glue, slide the pin into the piece of wood and then attach the other piece and that’s it. It’s that simple.
The dowel connections can be used in all kinds of situations. You can use dowels for a right-angle or flat corner connection, or even if you want to work in more complex connections. Dowels aren’t just for woodworking, custom dowels allow you to make connections in metalwork or even plastic.
Dowels are a cheap alternative to screws, but the biggest difference in price is when compared to biscuits. To use biscuits in woodworking, you need a custom tool that will take quite a bite out of your budget.
If you properly draw up a dowel connection, you can only connect your pieces of wood in precise alignment and get a lovely result. A dowel joint cannot slip once it has been constructed because the dowel pins keep it in place.
Dowel joint disadvantages
In addition to the many advantages that dowels can offer you for use in your projects, it is good to also go over the disadvantages of these wooden pegs. By understanding the disadvantages, you can respond to this when using it, so that you can eliminate the disadvantages as well as completely.
When making a dowel connection, if your drill bit slips even just a little bit when starting the hole, or if it’s not aligned just right, you’ll have a lot of trouble aligning the connection and getting the dowel in. It is therefore recommended to use the drill press whenever possible. If you want to drill perfect holes without a drill press, be sure to check out my article, “how to drill straight holes without a drill press”.
Dowels will eventually shear off. Then you have to drill it out and place a new dowel. The higher the quality of the dowels, the longer the connection made with dowels will last.
How to Make a Dowel Joint
End-to-end dowel connections
This is the connection you will use to create face frames, for example. Before you get started, make sure your workpieces have flat surfaces with squared ends.
Step 1: Assemble your parts and draw lines across the joint to mark the dowel positions. Position the dowel holes at least 1/4 inch (6 mm) from the workpiece edges for optimum bond strength. To maximize the strength of dowels, place dowels every 4 inches (ca. 10 cm).
Step 2: For this, I recommend you use a dowel jig. You can check out how to make one here. Place your dowel jig on one of the two workpieces so that the mark you made earlier aligns with the dowel layout line.
Step 3: Drill holes in the joint’s two parts. To set the drill depth, it’s helpful to have a depth stop on your drill. If you don’t have any, wrap a piece of masking tape around the drill instead. Drill each dowel hole slightly deeper than half the length of the dowel to create a little gap for excess glue; otherwise, the connection will not seal properly.
Step 4: Test the fit of the part by slipping the plugs dry into their holes before gluing the joint. It’s possible that you’ll need to clean the holes a little more to make them bigger, so the parts can fit together easily. Once the plugs are in place, apply adhesive to the holes and clamp the parts together. You’ve finished the job!
End-to-face dowel connections
This variation with dowel connection is more commonly used when making wooden boxes or cabinet carcasses. Unless you have made the dowel jig found on this website or have seen in my YouTube video, this application will require metal dowel points to build these connections accurately.
Step 1: Mark the dowel layout lines on the workpiece that will have dowel holes at the end. Use your dowel jig to drill these holes just as you would for an end-to-edge connection. After drilling, you can place the dowel points in the holes.
Step 2: Place the connecting parts together and make sure they are correctly aligned. Gently tap the end of the dowel point workpiece with a rubber mallet so that the centers poke into the wood and leave a mark for drilling the opposite dowel holes.
Step 3: Drill the fitting holes where the dowel points left a mark. Then perform a dry fit of the joint. If the parts fit together, you can connect the parts with wood glue.
Building your workshop can be daunting, filled with trial and error. Believe me, I’ve been there too.
But it was “The Ultimate Small Workshop” course, a gem I discovered and now endorse on Christofix.com, that provided insights unparalleled to any other. This expertise empowered me to invest wisely and save substantially.
I really suggest it to all of my fellow DIYers and creators!
I hope this information on when to use dowels in woodworking was helpful, and that this blog inspires you.
Feel free to share this blog on Facebook, Pinterest, or other social media.
You can do this by using the buttons below or at the top of the blog.
It will be much appreciated.
I’m looking forward to seeing you soon in another blog or video.
Christophe, founder of Christofix.com
Woodworking | DIY | Home decoration