How to Fasten Wood Dowels

Wood dowels are cylindrical pieces of wood designed to align, attach and strengthen joints between pieces of wood. Dowels can be pre-made or cut to length from dowels. Wood dowels have rounded or chamfered ends and grooves down their sides to allow air and glue to escape.

Choosing Wood Dowels

Dowel pins are a simple way to strengthen wood joints. Here are some tips for choosing and using dowels:

  • Select the right size. The diameter of wood dowels should be no more than half the thickness of the boards you are joining. Larger dowels will weaken the sides of wood, causing the wood to fail (also known as a blowout).
  • Better in pairs. If possible, use at least two dowels for each joint. A single dowel can allow the joint to twist under pressure.
  • Get in the groove. When custom making wood dowels, don't forget to groove the sides of the dowels. A groove provides an escape route for air and glue and helps to keep the joint pieces from splitting.

Using Wood Dowels
To create a wood dowel joint:

  • Line up. Position the pieces to be joined in their final position and mark pencil lines across both pieces where the dowels will be installed. Use a carpenter's square to transfer the lines to the joint edges of the wood.
  • Drill the holes. Using a drill bit that is the same diameter as the dowel, drill a hole in one piece of the wood. The hole should be about 1/8" deeper than half the length of the dowel. You can mark the proper depth on the drill bit with a bit of tape. You can transfer the location of the hole to the other piece by using a dowel center. A dowel center is a small metal tool that fits into the dowel hole. A sharp point transfers the location of the hole to the other board. Drill the second dowel hole and repeat for all dowels.
  • Test fit. Put dowels into one board and test fit the other board to make sure the joint is secure. Dowels can be sanded down if they fit too tightly.
  • Glue and clamp. Place some glue in each of the holes, insert the dowels and fit the pieces together. Clamp the joint and remove excess glue with a damp rag before the glue has a chance to dry.
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