How To Make Your Own Dowels
I’m building a trestle table out of maple, and the mortise and tenons in the trestle assemblies are pinned. I’ve used square pegs in the past for the job, but this time I wanted to use dowels for a change.
TRESTLE TABLE VIDEO SERIES
I didn’t need a lot of them-just four for the trestle base, and six to pin the breadboard ends to the top-so I didn’t want to buy a bunch of dowel stock and have leftovers sitting around my shop bending like Twizzlers in summer. Instead, I decided to make my own out of walnut, which creates subtle points of contrast amid the light maple.
Making dowels is easy to do, and it allows you to use scraps of any material you have on hand. The last time I did it I ripped a thin, square strip on the tablesaw and then rounded it over using a block plane, rotating the workpiece after each series of passes. It worked OK, but it was time-consuming and not completely accurate or round. A better method is to use a dowel plate, which lets you make accurately sized, perfectly round dowels in no time.
I borrowed a dowel plate from a colleague, but you can buy one from Lie-Nielsen ($50 for either imperial or metric). It sounds expensive, but the tool will more than pay for itself over time. (For more on pegging joints, see Matthew Teague’s article in FWW #191: “The Pegged Joint, Exposed”.) Here’s how to use the plate to make a dowel.
Rip a strip
Start by ripping a strip of the dowel stock on the tablesaw. Size it as close as possible to the finished dowel diameter. In this case I was making 1/4 in. dia. dowels, so I cut the strips a hair over 5/16 in. square.
Cut off the corners
Now use a block plane to remove the hard corners. No need to be exact here. You want to remove just enough material to be able to get it through the hole in the dowel plate.
Round the tip
Rub the stock on rough sandpaper to chamfer the tip. This will make it easier to start the strip in its hole.
Pound it through
Here’s the fun part: hammering the strip through the plate. Cut the strip to about 6 in. long or under. Anything longer tends to flex the thin strip as you pound it it through, which makes the job tougher or breaks the stock altogether. Longer lengths also tend to clog the hole with material, which also makes the job tougher. By the way, in this photo the dowel hole is over a benchdog opening.
Cut it off
When you near the end, cut off the material while the stock is still wedged in the plate.
|You can remove the mushroomed end left in the plate by pounding it out the opposite direction, using a short, blunt stick that’s narrower than the hole diameter.
Drive it home
Now cut the dowels to length and then put a slight chamfer on each tip by rubbing it on sandpaper. This will make it easier to start the dowel in its hole.
|Hammer the dowel home. Keep driving until you hear the tone of the striking hammer change, which indicates that the dowel has bottomed out. I can’t really describe the sound, but you’ll know it when you hear it.