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Are dowels "under-loved"?

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Forum topic by JeffP posted 06-20-2015 11:04 AM 1254 views 0 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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JeffP

573 posts in 857 days


06-20-2015 11:04 AM

Topic tags/keywords: joining

I have read with interest several threads here about various types of joints…you’ve got your biscuits and your dominos and even Matthais’ favorite…the pocket hole. (not to mention the grand-daddy mortise and tenon)

In each of these threads, I have noticed that dowels seem to get mentioned very regularly…but somehow always as an “aside”. As if they were the red-headed stepchild of the family.

It also seems to me that everyone would use a real mortise and tenon for almost every joint…if it were super easy to make one.

That last bit seems like the essence of the reason for the existence of these other methods…not as solid or awesome as a mortise and tenon, but a lot easier to make.

My question is along the lines of why dowels don’t figure more prominently in that mix of “mortise and tenon substitutes for lazy people” (tongue in cheek)

So to me the beauty of the dowel is that it needs a round hole. Pretty much everybody (woodworker or not) owns a cordless “round mortise machine”.

What could be easier? Pop a couple of holes in each side, glue in a couple of tight dowels…Bob’s your uncle.

Can those who have some practical experience with the many “end grain to something” joint methods provide some pros and cons here on the under-loved dowel joint?

-- Last week I finally got my $*i# together. Unfortunately, it was in my shop, so I will probably never find it again.


27 replies so far

View johnstoneb's profile

johnstoneb

2145 posts in 1638 days


#1 posted 06-20-2015 11:54 AM

Dowels have there place. The problem is they were used for years by manufacturesr in places where they shouldn’t have been because they were cheap and easy to use. They don’t have the glue surface that a loose tenon has so they won’t hold in those applications as well.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View weldoman's profile

weldoman

114 posts in 1523 days


#2 posted 06-20-2015 12:01 PM

Glad you started this topic. I’ve been considering the Jessum dowel jig for about a year, haven’t done much MT. Primarily, rabbets, dados,nails and glue, pocket screws and a few box joints. Yes I’m lazy. Looking forward to the comments.

-- missouri, dave

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JeffP

573 posts in 857 days


#3 posted 06-20-2015 12:04 PM

Thanks Bruce…totally get what you mean about something getting a bad name as a result of having been misused in the past. (hmm, I think that applies to me.)

Anyway, the depth of my ignorance on this subject should not be underestimated. Can you give some concrete examples you have seen for where it has been used but wasn’t appropriate? Are you thinking particle board furniture, or hardwood?

Also, more specifically, what sort of a situation are you thinking of where you say a loose tenon is needed in order to provide more glue surface? (type of furniture, and which joint – like “chair apron” or the like)

thanks!

-- Last week I finally got my $*i# together. Unfortunately, it was in my shop, so I will probably never find it again.

View TheFridge's profile

TheFridge

5765 posts in 951 days


#4 posted 06-20-2015 12:15 PM

I use dowels a pretty good bit in place of screws. Like on my workbench.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

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jdh122

879 posts in 2283 days


#5 posted 06-20-2015 12:26 PM

Dowels are strong when the joint is made, probably as strong as mortise and tenon if you put as many in as you can. The problem is that over a very long time the differential expansion and contraction over seasonal heating and cooling will eventually make the joint fail. The dowel expands in two directions but the hole only expands in one direction, thereby crushing the fibers in the dowel a tiny bit.
Mortise and tenon joints don’t have the same disadvantage, since you leave a bit of play for expansion in one direction.
But the process is quite long and slow. Windsor chair makers have thought a lot about this and have a few ways around it, but the problem remains a serious one over the long-term.
Not sure if this is clear – I read an excellent article recently on the question involving WIndsor Chairs, possibly recommended by a member on this forum, but I can’t seem to find it right now.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

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pjones46

986 posts in 2108 days


#6 posted 06-20-2015 12:33 PM

Here is an article you might wish to read with some test results and pictures: https://woodgears.ca/joint_strength/dowel.html

-- Respectfully, Paul

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jdh122

879 posts in 2283 days


#7 posted 06-20-2015 12:38 PM

This is the article I mentioned: http://www.finewoodworking.com/how-to/article/the-dowel-joint.aspx

Unfortunately it’s members only (I’m a member) but it’s pretty interesting.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

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bondogaposis

4034 posts in 1816 days


#8 posted 06-20-2015 12:44 PM

One of the reasons they are unloved is that every dowel hole, the mortise, is 50% end grain, so you really only have half the holding power. End grain glue joints just don’t hold up over time.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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TheWoodenOyster

1275 posts in 1400 days


#9 posted 06-20-2015 01:25 PM

I agree with you on dowels being under appreciated. Krenov used them all the time. They have their place and aren’t always appropriate, but I think we forget about them as an option lots of times when they would work just fine.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Yonak's profile

Yonak

979 posts in 986 days


#10 posted 06-20-2015 02:25 PM


They don’t have the glue surface that a loose tenon has so they won’t hold in those applications as well.

- johnstoneb

...Which is one reason why more than one dowel is normally used.

Dowels work so much better than biscuits. Dowels are the original “Domino”.

Splines also seem to get short shrift, for some reason.

View Redoak49's profile

Redoak49

1951 posts in 1454 days


#11 posted 06-20-2015 02:35 PM

I also think they are under used but…..

Using dowels in not as easy as some would think. Matching holes need to be exact. The dowels need to be the right diameter and this can be difficult as the are not always exactly round and if too dry are under sized. You also need a groove to relieve glue pressure and to use the right amount of glue.

Given all that…I still use them at times.

View MrRon's profile

MrRon

3926 posts in 2708 days


#12 posted 06-20-2015 04:26 PM

Doweled joints were the earliest joints used. They worked fine, but the holes had to align perfectly. Along came newer ways to make joints that made alignment issues easier and dowels fell out of favor. I still use them now and then and prefer them over biscuits. I have a metalworking background, so alignment is no problem for me.

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MrRon

3926 posts in 2708 days


#13 posted 06-20-2015 04:26 PM

Doweled joints were the earliest joints used. They worked fine, but the holes had to align perfectly. Along came newer ways to make joints that made alignment issues easier and dowels fell out of favor. I still use them now and then and prefer them over biscuits. I have a metalworking background, so alignment is no problem for me.

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Andre

1022 posts in 1271 days


#14 posted 06-20-2015 07:08 PM

I use Dowels as much as possible as well as spline joints for permanent shelfs, but then again I am trained in the Krenov style of thought.

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View ChipByrd's profile

ChipByrd

146 posts in 1392 days


#15 posted 06-20-2015 08:04 PM

I have the Jessum doweling jig and it makes lining up multiple dowels a very manageable task. I have only been woodworking about 3 years so I am no expert, but I haven’t had any problems using the Jessem. I recently used dowels to glue-up a table top. I realize it doesn’t need them for strength, but it made alignment a snap.

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