Tenons or Dowels ?

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Forum topic by SuburbanDon posted 03-17-2012 12:45 AM 1529 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View SuburbanDon's profile


487 posts in 3163 days

03-17-2012 12:45 AM

I’m making a table from maple and have 3/4×3/4 stretchers between the four legs. My chisel sharpening and hand-mortising skills aren’t so good (yet). These are too small to use a router. I could practice practice practice or use dowels and get the job done.

I’ve heard that dowels don’t hold up over time. Should I worry about using them ?

Thanks, Don

-- --- Measure twice, mis-cut, start over, repeat ---

9 replies so far

View pmayer's profile


1032 posts in 3235 days

#1 posted 03-17-2012 02:15 AM

I think dowels would be fine for this application. For a stretcher this small they are essentially the same size as a tenon, and a floating tenon typically passes the strength tests with about the same holding power as a regular tenon.

-- PaulMayer,

View cabmaker's profile


1740 posts in 2978 days

#2 posted 03-17-2012 02:26 AM

3/4 X 3/4 ? I second Pauls consensus on the dowel.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3817 days

#3 posted 03-17-2012 02:43 AM

Dowels have got a bad rap. The size and number of dowels
should be matched to the mass of the piece and expectations
of the joint. I doubt they often outperform M&T in terms of
resistance to abuse, but in most furniture applications they
can work very well and hold up too the design is sound and
the dowels glued well.

View Martyroc's profile


2712 posts in 2475 days

#4 posted 03-17-2012 02:56 AM

I would have to go with dowels. That size would be the deciding factor for me, if you are going to do M&T, I would hold off until you had a bigger project. The way I learned was large to small, I made large M&T joints until I perfected them and then smaller and smaller, if your not careful with the small M&T joint or aren’t using ver sharp chisels you could snap one right off, been ther done that.

-- Martin ....always count the number of fingers you have before, and after using the saw.

View stefang's profile


16053 posts in 3504 days

#5 posted 03-17-2012 07:44 PM

Hi Don. Dowels are a lot better than you might think. I agree with all the above. The most difficult part about using dowels is get the holes to match and also making sure that they are drilled straight, assuming your stretchers aren’t angled. The easiest way to do this in case you don’t know is to use those little pointed marking plugs that are placed in the holes on the legs or on the stretchers to mark the mating hole. If you don’t have these, you can just mark where the holes will be on one of the pieces, drive in small nails and clip the heads off leaving about 1/16” protruding and then tap it to mark the mating piece. You probably already know all this, but just in case you don’t.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View SuburbanDon's profile


487 posts in 3163 days

#6 posted 03-18-2012 03:04 AM

Thanks for the input. I have set up this temporary fixture for drilling the stretchers. I will try it tomorrow.

-- --- Measure twice, mis-cut, start over, repeat ---

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 3020 days

#7 posted 03-18-2012 12:50 PM

Nice setup, commendable work.

You’re on your way now!



-- " 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 richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3244 days

#8 posted 03-18-2012 01:33 PM

I use both loose tenons and dowels on a regular basis, depending on the size of the connecting pieces. I would have no hesitation about using dowels in this situation.

2 thoughts – -

- I always use oak dowels as opposed to, the more common, poplar dowels. Oak is stronger.

- A very slight taper on the end of the dowel makes it easier to line it up and drive it in. On small dowels, one revolution in a pencil sharpener does the trick. On bigger dowels, one spin with the dowel at an angle against the belt sander works well. My tapers only come back about 1/8”.

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

View SuburbanDon's profile


487 posts in 3163 days

#9 posted 03-19-2012 04:39 AM

Well I drilled the holes for the dowels and everything came out very well. The effort paid off and I ended up with nice looking tight joints. The dowels were so tight that some of them could not be moved at all after the dry fit. So I’m just leaving them alone and will glue the rest.

-- --- Measure twice, mis-cut, start over, repeat ---

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