The whole secret is absolute accuracy
Synopsis: In this excerpt from The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, James Krenov says that when done right and used in a sensible relationship to the piece, to its character, and its aims, doweling is a very good way of putting cabinets and even chairs together. However, bad results can increase our doubts. Krenov issues a series of maxims and then defends or explains them, such as when it’s right not to use dowels, the importance of accuracy, drill selection, and the art of making jigs. He also discusses gluing and safety measures.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about doweling. While it is a widely used method in industry, rather little is known about it among craftsmen, at least in America; in Europe it is more commonly used. Because doweling is not visible as a joint, some craftsmen tend to be suspicious of it. When we use this technique without proper knowledge we use it badly, with bad results that increase our doubts.
By its nature, doweling is not convincing; the eye does not see how this joint is put together, and there is no pattern there to reassure you that those pieces of wood will stay together. When done right and used in a sensible relationship to the piece, to its character and its aims, doweling is a very good way of putting cabinets and even chairs together. It is primarily a commercial or production way of joining pieces, which I suppose is a part of our prejudice against it.
The cabinetmaker’s use of doweling should always be a matter of judgment. If you are making a seaman’s chest that is going to be thrown downstairs or onto a ship, or a solid wood piece where other joints, visible and decorative, would be better, then use other joints.…