In Shop Blog, Techniques

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I get called a Luddite all the time for my affection for hand tools (Recent quip from spouse: “You know, we own a blender for a good reason”). I certainly don’t consider myself anti-technology , I just bristle at “inventions” that solve “problems” that don’t actually exist.

So it should come as no surprise that I resisted Miller Dowels at first. I was at first curious, but wary. Then I began flirting with them a bit here and there when I made some low Toshio Odate-inspired saw trestles and wanted to honor the Shinto aversion to metal fasteners (no, I don’t have a therapist on speed dial).

And now, I simply give up. I love these things and use them all the time for the oddball joinery. They have saved my bacon on so many occasions, especially with chairmaking. When I wanted to reinforce a back slat to the arm bow, there was absolutely no other joinery that would be as reliable, quick and sturdy. Plus they’re great for something that has to occasionally be knocked down , I used them to attach the shelf on my Roubo-style workbench without glue. I wouldn’t knock the joints apart all day and night, but boy do they do a great job of gripping “just enough” without glue.

And with glue, they’re even more sound. We’ve got all three sizes of the drill bits here in our shop (1X, 2X and the Mini-X). I use the Mini-X the most for chairmaking and reinforcing tenons (usually from the inside). And they are 100 percent Luddite-compatible in my book. I use the Miller Dowel bit in my North Bros. brace with great success. And I have even drawbored a few joints with the white oak dowels (they also offer nine other species).

So why is it better than a plain old dowel? The dowel has a tapered fit, and the ribs on the dowels work with modern PVA glues (yellow glue) to add real strength. The glue gets in the ribs, hardens and really stiffens things up around end grain in my experience. Modern technology allows us to make the bit and the dowels precisely enough that the system really really works. Next time you’re at a woodworking show, stop by the booth and check out the system. I think it’s worth a hard look.

Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 2 comments
  • Christopher Schwarz


    Wow. I’m going to have to try that. The stepped drill bits at the home center were always too short and "quick" — they tapered too much too fast for a tang. I can see how the Miller Dowel bit might be just right.

    You should submit that as a "Trick of the trade" to a woodworking magazine!


  • Mike Wenzloff

    Hi Chris,

    Another use for the stepped drills, is to use them when replacing the handles on tanged chisels. The tapered hole produced by the appropriate Miller Dowel drill bit for the size of tang produces a great fit to drive the the chisel in–for good.

    On a couple of my tanged chisels, I needed to drill a pilot hole below what the MD drill bit could in order to prevent the upper end from being enlarged too much.

    Take care, Mike

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