I’ve drawbored hundreds and hundreds of joints since 1999, mostly on workbenches I’ve built for myself or with students. That doesn’t mean I know jack buddy about drawboring, as last weekend proves.
I was in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, for a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event and staying with a friend. Let’s call him “Narayan.” I was staying with “Narayan” during the show to save hundreds of dollars in hotel fees and to force him to open his 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.
In “Narayan’s” basement were the parts to a workbench that I had made for him a week earlier while I was teaching at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. In addition to drinking his Pappy Van, I really wanted to get that bench assembled before the parts cast too much.
First order of business: Drill all the drawbores.
Second order of business: Make the 1/2” drawbore pins from oak.
“I don’t have any oak,” said “Narayan.”
“What? Isn’t this Oak Park,” I replied. “And you don’t have any oak?”
So we drove out to the most messed-up home center store ever, a suburban Menard’s. It had a huge slide that deposited you in the candy aisle. And employees who were helpful but ignorant.
“I need dowels,” I told the lumberyard employee.
“Yeah. Long sticks of wood that are round in section,” I replied.
“Yo, we got dowels?” he called to another employee.
Soon enough “Narayan’s” 5-year-old son located the dowels for us. And then we encountered a crisis. They were out of 1/2” white oak dowels. They had only 5/8” dowels. I’d not used 5/8” dowels for drawboring, but we didn’t have much of a choice. So we cashed out.
We bored the holes and used an offset that was strong – between 1/8” and 3/16” in Douglas Fir. We pointed the dowels so they tapered to a point over 1-1/2”. We waxed the dowels with paraffin – a timber-framer’s trick.
But when “Narayan” began beating the dowels into the drawbore holes, I almost couldn’t watch. I’ve split 1/2” dowel stock. Heck, I’ve split 1/2”-diameter rived stock.
But the 5/8” stuff was different. It sounded different when you hit it. It went in with confidence and navigated the offset holes like nothing I’d ever seen before. And when it was all done, I was seriously impressed with the results.
So for now I am switching to 5/8”-diameter pins for drawboring bench joints.
— Christopher Schwarz
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