frustration and trouble with dowels x2

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Forum topic by siggs posted 02-20-2014 05:19 AM 2134 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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24 posts in 1598 days

02-20-2014 05:19 AM

Well this is my second attempt at using dowels to join table legs and aprons, in this case I was making a stand with a drawer for my drill press. I bought the self centering dowel jig a while ago and I was damned if the thing was going to sit in the drawer unused anymore. The first go I had with it I had similar trouble, way to tight when once I apply glue, I even enlarged the holes this time. One of the boards totally cracked in 3 spots maybe form having to pound the whole thing together. I’m using the dowels with the ribs on them, and tight bond glue. The jig works pretty good in some ways with A LOT of car full attention but it doesn’t do it all. Pretty frustrating indeed I tell you to spend a bunch of time and not having the desired results. At this point I’m like why did I even bother when I could of just bolted something together, well I am striving to improve my skills and work, and am super stubborn. So the big issues are it takes a lot of time, the glue swells the dowels despite me enlarging the holes a bit, and the wood itself cracked apart. The good thing is I was only using scrap wood for the whole project so I got to practice using my planer which I just bought and laminating some boards.

Any tips or other ideas of how to go about building this stand would be appreciated. There has to be another way that works better, through dowels or 45’ brackets attaching the apron to the legs with a bolt?


18 replies so far

View HarveyDunn's profile


328 posts in 1755 days

#1 posted 02-20-2014 05:24 AM

Did the splits appear after the clamps were applied? If so, then the textbook says it is because the holes are not parallel.

View woodchuckerNJ's profile


1276 posts in 1657 days

#2 posted 02-20-2014 06:23 AM

So like Harvey says, but here’s some other info.
  1. putting glue on the dowels is mostly useless. put the glue in the hole.
  2. take a back saw and put a slight groove in the dowel to let the glue pressure out. you can build a little jig that does the same with a cutter just drill a hole in maple for the dowel, drill another for a screw that intersects the hole, use a wood screw or drywall screw in that hole, and set it so the point will groove the dowel. drive the dowel through the first hole to create the groove.
  3. work quick, as you don’t want the wood swelling too much.

Alignment is usually the biggest problem though, but I have had problems with pressure. I don’t use dowels any longer except when I peg something.

-- Jeff NJ

View siggs's profile


24 posts in 1598 days

#3 posted 02-20-2014 07:02 AM

Thanks for the information, the dowels I used had the ribs in them, i guess that isn’t sufficient. About them not being parallel where it split I used the self centering down jig from lee valley, but who knows things can get mixed up… Yes I can appreciate the glue tip but I was paranoid about not enough glue, the last project I made which looked awesome, and recognition in a contest was starved for glue the box joints are a bit loose now and well that just kinda sucks!

One question if I were to use those metal brackets that connect the apron and legs at a 45 angle, does one normally use dowels at the intersection of legs and apron also?

View jdh122's profile


1018 posts in 2841 days

#4 posted 02-20-2014 11:37 AM

I’ve pretty much given up on dowels, for exactly the reasons you mention – too hard to get the holes both lined up and exactly in line, although the dowelling jig I have is much cheaper than the one you have. Drilling perfectly perpendicular holes in the end of stretchers is really difficult. It might seem like a weird thing to say, but I find it easier to handcut mortise and tenons than do dowel joinery.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View johnstoneb's profile


2937 posts in 2196 days

#5 posted 02-20-2014 02:25 PM

It looks like too much glue in the hole and no relief groove on the dowels. The groves on your dowels are there for glue adhesion and are not going to let glue past. As you clamp the glue in the bottom of the hole biulds up pressure and splits the wood. You do need to have glue on both the edges of the dowel and the edges of the hole.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View siggs's profile


24 posts in 1598 days

#6 posted 02-20-2014 03:40 PM

Thanks for the information jdh122 and johnstoneb good tip, sounds totally like what the problem was. I may give it another go in the next day or so when my patience returns. Life was easier carving spatulas and using screws.

View distrbd's profile


2252 posts in 2470 days

#7 posted 02-20-2014 04:34 PM

Face mark to face mark,side mark to side mark,is ingrained in my memory so whenever I use my dowelmax jig I follow the said simple rules but also there are a few other rules you also have to follow,for example the thickness of the two sides you are joining,they must be equal in relation to the dowel holes.the size of the drill bit is also very important.

I suggest you try to put in only one of the three dowels ,dry fit the two sides and see if the height or width is off ,if it is ,then imagine multiplying it by 3 dowels,you’ll never fit them without breaking the stock.

All the dowels I use are kept in a dry ,sealed jar,the reason as you guessed it is they can absorb moisture and swell a bit.I usually put them in the oven for a few minutes but be careful doing this ,preheat the oven,then turn it off then put them in ,be safe.

-- Ken from Ontario, Canada

View HarveyDunn's profile


328 posts in 1755 days

#8 posted 02-20-2014 04:46 PM

I recall seeing my dad set out the dowels he was going to use that day on a piece of tinfoil then pulling a gooseneck lamp down right over the top of them, so the heat of the bulb would warm and dry them.

Can you explain what you mean by the thickness of the two sides you are joining must be equal in relation to the dowel holes? I’m afraid I don’t follow you.

View Tenfingers58's profile


96 posts in 2701 days

#9 posted 02-20-2014 05:20 PM

I don’t use dowels for furniture making anymore, but I do use them for axels on toys. I’ve found sizes vary quite a bit from supplier to supplier and day to day.

When I did build furniture, I drilled the holes so one of the dowels would easily go in the hole (to line everything up) and the other had a “drop in” fit.

I would try drilling your holes slightly oversize, the glue swells the hole smaller and the dowel bigger to take up the gap. Also the glue makes a good “gap filler” inside and unseen in the joint.

In my opinion it’s a waste of time to try to joint with “machine shop precision” using handheld tools. Make the joint so it goes together easily (not sloppy)without glue, and the glue will have no trouble holding it together.

View distrbd's profile


2252 posts in 2470 days

#10 posted 02-20-2014 07:51 PM

Harvey, if you have to join two pieces of 3/4” stock,.there is less chance of misalignment if the faces or edges to be joined are clearly marked and also if the doweling jig is positioned the same(for example:toward the face) on both pieces,just in case the dowelling jig did not drill exactly in the center ,or,one piece/side is slightly thicker than the other.
Some doweling jigs are designed so the drilled dowel holes are off center,which means the distance between the hole and the edge of the stock is different if measured from the left side of the dowel hole or the right. .

-- Ken from Ontario, Canada

View runswithscissors's profile


2764 posts in 2049 days

#11 posted 02-21-2014 08:12 AM

Thanks. You reminded me why I hate dowels. I have found that pressing the joint together with clamps works better than pounding. Things tend to bounce when you pound them. But if the dowels aren’t perfectly lined up and parallel, the devil himself couldn’t close up the joint.

The point about making the holes oversize is well taken.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View hobby1's profile


335 posts in 2321 days

#12 posted 02-21-2014 02:39 PM

I have one of those old time sears craftsman turret dowel jigs.
I take the turret off and use it only as a vertical drill guide to help keep the bit perpendicular to the work.

First I mark off on one workpiece all the holes where I want a dowel, then drill those holes first only.
then I put in one of those dowel point centers, then laying this workpiece flat on one side to my bench I take the adjoining workpiece and lay it flat on the bench and line them up by touching off on there corners with eachother, then rocking the second workpiece into the dowel center point.

Then I take a brad point bit, put it through the jig (turret part), and stick the point in the dowel point divot I made, then bring the turret down flat to the workpiece and drill the hole.

Then I put a dowel dryfitted into that hole to check for alignment, if out of line I enlarge the hole enough to get it back in line, then I put a dowel center point in the next hole and press both workpieces together with the dryfitted dowel as an alignment guage, and proceed the same steps over until all the dowels are drilled.

When it comes to long workpieces for slabs, I’ll drill all the holes in one workpiece again, then follow above procedures, then I’ll drill a second hole at the other end and follow above procedures,
if the both boards line up properly, then I use all my dowel centers in the remaining holes at one time to mark off the remaining holes in a long board edge to edge glue up for a panel.

The nice thing about this procedure for me is, I can dowel a workpiece at any angle anywhere on the face of a board for joining, because my drill jig is the turret part just to hold the drill perpendicular, the real jig as I always say using my method, are the dowel centers, and a brad point bit.

View BHolcombe's profile


180 posts in 2099 days

#13 posted 02-22-2014 10:36 PM


Couple thoughts for you;

- Dry fit! If it doesn’t fit by hand, then something it wrong.

- Make panels rather then glueing everything at the same time. In this case the sides could be glued up as panels then attached to the front and back.

- If the dowels and corresponding holes fit up nicely and you are still getting cracks, your using too much glue. Back when I used dowel jigs (and I still do on occasion for quick/easy pieces) I will drip the glue in each hole, on the face of the mating joints and put dowels in the hole and turn them to squeeze out the excess. A ton of glue can hydrolock the joint and blow out of the side when you put clamping pressure on it.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18754 posts in 2591 days

#14 posted 02-22-2014 10:45 PM

I use dowels a lot. Make sure you’re holes are deep enough to. To deep is better than not deep enough. Try a few by putting glue in and using a q tip to spread it around and make sure there is not to much.

I never knew so many people had problem with dowels. The only problem I ever had is I run out in the middle of a project and have to make my own!

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View siggs's profile


24 posts in 1598 days

#15 posted 02-28-2014 07:21 AM

Well I figured out the problem I was having the bit I was using was pretty worm I redid the whole thing tonight with a good bit and all the joints fit no prblem. Also used less glue and a set square to mark all the lines at once. I also only used the jig the way it was intended to. I guess a bunch of little things added up. Okay well thanks for the help and it will be great to get this drill press up on the table so I can make my own jig to my specs.

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