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Woodworking Tips and Tricks: Dowel Joints


This post may seem like a no-brainer thing, like, this is so obvious that why write about it? Because in my over 40 years in the trade, I have messed up on this many, many times.

When you have drilled all your dowel holes, dry fit all the joints to make sure they all fit properly.  If you have drilled oversize holes (25/64″ instead of 3/8″ for 3/8″ dowels) like I mentioned in a previous post, then you won’t have a problem assembling and disassembling them without the dowels getting stuck in the holes.

One of the things I have done repeatedly is drill just one hole (out of many) in the wrong place.   And I usually find this when I (picture this):
have already glued all the dowels in place,
put glue in the opposing holes,
start to assemble and then find one dowel won’t go in the hole.
So I have to quickly disassemble everything (all the while the glue is setting up),
glue in a dowel, (all the while the glue is setting up)
wait a bit for the glue to set up, (all the while the glue is setting up)
cut off the dowel (all the while the glue is setting up)
re-drill the hole in the right place, (all the while the glue is setting up)
and then try to reassemble it all again, and hope it all will now go together without 1200 pounds pressure on the clamps.

And I have a professional dowel horizontal boring machine!  If you don’t, then it will be a total disaster, because of the extra time to set up the doweling jig, and re-drill in the right place.

All this could have been avoided by taking a few minutes putting the dowels in dry and assembling the parts to see if they all fit.  You don’t have to assemble the whole thing, just one joint at a time.  This will also allow you to adjust a hole if it’s drilled a tiny bit off center because you weren’t careful during your layout or drilling. If it’s a complicated face frame, then you may want to assemble it complete to make sure all your holes are in the right place.

I still drill a wrong hole once in awhile but I have gotten in the habit of dry testing before final assembly.  It’s then a simple fix and it takes a lot of stress off the heart…

One of the things I have found in woodworking is that power tools allow us to make twice as many mistakes in half the time.  Nail guns are the worst…  So I guess if  you have a hand dowel jig, you will be more apt to take more time lining it up correctly.  With my dowel machine, I can drill 10 dowel holes in the time it takes to drill one with the guide.  Which means I can make way more mistakes, because I’m not thinking about every hole, just getting them all drilled.

An added tip:  if you usually use yellow glue for all your assembly, if it’s complicated, use white glue because it gives you more time to get it all together.  It works fine for almost all woodworking.  I now regularly use yellow glue because it sets up faster and does not “creep” under pressure, like white glue does.   But there are times white glue is the right glue to use.

So take this bit of advice from one who has had a bit of a rush getting everything disassembled, fixed and then reassembled: dry test your joints before you add the glue.  It only takes once, with one wrong drilled hole, to decide this is very good advice.

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