In Tricks of the Trade

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I have to admit that I’m not very fond of dowel joinery. I’ve repaired too many old dowel joints over the years to trust them. Part of the problem is that a dowel hole in face grain offers only about 50 percent long-grain-to-long-grain contact, which a strong joint requires. The remaining long-grain-to-end-grain contact provides only minimal strength. Dowel joints can also be fussy to align, even with a jig.

As a result, I don’t use dowels often enough to justify buying quantities of pre-cut, grooved, chamfered dowels. When necessary, I just make my own dowels from long hardware-store stock, which I like to keep on hand for a number of general shop applications. When making dowels for joinery, I groove them on the table saw to create escape passages for air and glue during insertion. To prevent cutting a groove that’s as wide as the saw teeth (which minimizes the glue surface on the dowel), I tilt the blade to 45° and raise it to cut only about 132” deep into the dowel. A zero-clearance throat plate prevents the dowel from sinking into the wide opening on a stock plate. I make the cut for a new zero-clearance insert using the 8″-diameter blade from my stack dado set because a 10″-diameter blade, when set in the lowest position, prohibits proper seating of the insert into the throat.

For efficiency and control, I cut the grooves on lengths of dowel that approximately match the length of the sole on my shoe-style push stick. Afterward, I cut the individual dowels to length, then chamfer the ends for easy insertion. A quick way to chamfer the ends is to lightly chuck a dowel into a drill and touch it to a belt or disk sander, with the two tools rotating against each other.  — Paul Anthony


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