Reducing size of dowels

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Forum topic by Brett posted 05-06-2011 09:29 PM 11184 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Brett's profile


660 posts in 2710 days

05-06-2011 09:29 PM

I am building a little project that requires 3/8” dowels to be stuck into 3/8” holes. Only problem is that the dowels are a little too big. I can wrap some sandpaper around the ends of of the dowels and start twisting the night away, but that doesn’t produce a set of uniform, truly round dowels. Are there any techniques for accurately reducing the diameter of a dowel?

-- More tools, fewer machines.

14 replies so far

View Richard's profile


1916 posts in 2718 days

#1 posted 05-06-2011 09:42 PM

I think I would use a drill bit 1/32” or 1/64” larger for the holes since you need the glue space anyway.

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4125 days

#2 posted 05-08-2011 01:40 AM

Here is a link to a commercial dowel plate to illustrate cr1’s post (I’m not recommending spending $50 to solve the problem)

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View dbhost's profile


5726 posts in 3259 days

#3 posted 05-08-2011 01:54 AM

Over drill the hole by 1/64”, you need the space for the glue anyway..

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View wb8nbs's profile


164 posts in 2720 days

#4 posted 05-08-2011 03:44 AM

I’ve done similar shaping (on larger pieces) on a drill press. Bore a hole in a scrap piece the diameter of the dowel, slightly loose fit, sand end of dowel if necessary. Place the scrap on the press table. Chuck up the dowel in the drill press, lower until the bottom is in the scrap piece hole. Lock the chuck at that depth. Put clamps on the scrap block. Now turn on the drill press at slowest speed. Hold block plane against dowel at a slight angle and if it’s good and sharp it will shave off a few thousandths.

I used this technique to make knobs out of Apple tree branches. It helped to make a tool rest for the plane by bolting in a long carriage bolt vertically through the drill press table slots. Wish I had room for a real wood lathe.

-- The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 3129 days

#5 posted 05-08-2011 06:54 AM

You mention that your 3/8” dowels are too big for your 3/8” holes. I have noticed that dowels at any and all stores are not the same exact size. ie 3/8”. I took all of my forstner bits and drilled each size into a block of wood. If I need a dowel, I take the block of wood to the lumber yard or box store and insert thier dowels into my block of wood at the size I need. I now am assured that when I get home, the dowel I have purchased will fit the forstner bit and hole I will use. You would think all the dowel sizes would be the same but with the different species of wood, they are not….........

-- mike...............

View bubinga's profile


861 posts in 2695 days

#6 posted 05-08-2011 07:49 AM

Carefully clamp down a portable drill, chuck up the dowel in the drill, run the drill ,carefully sand a little the full length ,and check the fit, sand and check ,etc. this will go quickly
If you make it to small ,you will have to sand again,,kidding !!!!

-- E J ------- Always Keep a Firm Grip on Your Tool

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2878 days

#7 posted 05-08-2011 03:28 PM

All good suggestions, and I especially value cr1’s insights about peening. I’ve done that, but not with a steel dowel in the hole, just nudged some cutting edges into the hole. It actually can end up slotting the dowel, which is not a bad thing.

Another thought is about the moisture content of the dowels affecting their diameter. If you are in a humid place, try putting a few in the Amana Radarange and see if drying them a bit reduces them.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View Carl Webster's profile

Carl Webster

82 posts in 2826 days

#8 posted 05-08-2011 05:32 PM

It’s a lot easier and faster to drill a hole the size of a dowel than too reduce the size of the dowel to fit the hole.

-- Carl in SC

View SteveMI's profile


1102 posts in 3322 days

#9 posted 05-09-2011 01:43 AM

I got turned on to MLCS Tenon Cutters by somebody a while back on LJ.

Nice thing is that you can cut the dowels from cutoffs of the same wood as the rest of the project. It really makes blending them in easy.

I use the 3/8” all the time and they fit nice and snug in 3/8” forstner hole.


View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3102 days

#10 posted 05-09-2011 02:35 AM

Two valid ideas -

Get a cheap toaster oven for your shop. Put your dowels into the toaster oven for about 30 minutes at about 150 degrees. This will really dry them out and cause them to shrink just a little. They will insert easier and the glue will cause them to expand back to their normal size.

I have found that the pre-cut dowel pins work much better than standard dowels that you cut to your desired length. Their sides are fluted which helps them insert better and the accuracy of their diameter is much better.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Ryan Bruzan's profile

Ryan Bruzan

153 posts in 2923 days

#11 posted 05-09-2011 04:11 AM

Toaster oven? Now that is a pretty neat theory, however, I say put the dowels in the freezer (it is much faster). The dowels should shrink enough to fit into the holes and will expand as they warm up. Just a theory, but I have tried this before with a piece of solid oak flooring to insert a replacement flooring plank in an awkward location and it worked perfectly.

WARNING: As the frozen dowel expands, the pressure may cause the other parts to crack depending on the thickness of the material and the proximity of the dowel holes to the edge of the workpiece.

I reduced some dowels a few days ago using a process similar to what ‘bubinga’ was describing. That worked well.

-- No matter how many factors go into thinking about a project, there is always one important new discovery to be made.

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 2986 days

#12 posted 05-10-2011 01:27 AM

I would put the dowel in a drill press and spin it, allowing you to use two hands to carefully hold the sandpaper against the dowel. Test fit every now and then til it’s right.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View Brett's profile


660 posts in 2710 days

#13 posted 05-10-2011 06:55 PM

Thanks everyone. Chucking the dowel in my drill press did the trick.

-- More tools, fewer machines.

View MrWoodworker's profile


65 posts in 2623 days

#14 posted 05-10-2011 06:58 PM

Dowel in the drill/press works nice if you aren’t doing to many and they aren’t overly long. Long ones will be a bit tough to manage with deflection and all.

+1 to HardWood’s warning about expansion cracks


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