dowels are TOO tight. What to do?

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Forum topic by spaids posted 05-26-2009 08:26 PM 4811 views 0 times favorited 39 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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699 posts in 3692 days

05-26-2009 08:26 PM

I have 1/2” dowels and a 1/2” forstner bit. The trouble is the dowels are VERY tight. I only need them to go in about 1/4 inch deep into the 1/2” forstner drilled holes.

First: is this common? My forstner bit set is a super el cheapo and I’m wondering if thats the root of my trouble.

Second: It is what it is so hows the best way to deal with it? I guessing sanding the ends of the dowels till the fit is the best way to go. Got any ideas for making this fast and or easy?


-- Wipe the blood stains from your blade before coming in.--

39 replies so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3987 days

#1 posted 05-26-2009 08:28 PM

Either sand or get a new 1/2” bit.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3584 days

#2 posted 05-26-2009 08:30 PM

try a half inch drill lip and spur is good and see if that helps.You need to make the hole bigger the dowel can’t be made smaller realistically easily so keep trying with a standard drill. Actually I never heard of anyone using a forstner for dowels although it’ should work fine what made you go down that route in the first place

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View SplinteredBoard's profile


59 posts in 3606 days

#3 posted 05-26-2009 08:31 PM

What did you do to get the walnut ‘bar’ centered on the middle of the back dowels? Did you get those together? Or are you just trying to get the dowel ends into one of the pieces first?

I would probably try sanding, but even then, there’s no room for expansion when you finally get them in the mortises.

Have you tried taking a sharp chisel to the ends? I’m not saying that’s the best way to go, but I’ve done it in the past. Yeah, it looked messy, but I got them in the mortises.

Again, though, think about the bar you have to slip over half of the dowels in the back…


-- Splintered Board Podcast - Woodworker Un-extraordinaire

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3743 days

#4 posted 05-26-2009 08:32 PM

It’s usually better to have them a little on the tight side, especially if you’re only driving them in 1/2”. Could be your dowels and not your bit. Most of the dowels you buy are imports and they are closer to a metric size than standard.

View spaids's profile


699 posts in 3692 days

#5 posted 05-26-2009 08:37 PM

Scotsman: I a complete uneducated and inexperienced newcomer. So I just try the first thing that comes to mind. I needed flat bottom 1/2” holes and grabbed a forstner bit. If there is a better way I’d love to learn.

Rick: I’m good with that bar in the back. I took a piece of 1/4” dowel and wrapped it in sandpaper and chucked it up in my drill press. Since that back piece has holes all the way through I just slipped it on on the little dowel and sanded the inside of the wholes.

So is this the result of a cheap forstner set?

-- Wipe the blood stains from your blade before coming in.--

View Randy Sharp's profile

Randy Sharp

363 posts in 3672 days

#6 posted 05-26-2009 08:48 PM

Waid, I’m facing the exact same situation myself (3/8” though). Was going to address it this evening and try to come up with a solution. Your’s is a great idea!! Thank you!!

BTW, I did put a caliper to the dowels and found that three coats of poly was just enough to make them too big for a comfortable fit.

-- Randy, Tupelo, MS ~ A man who honors his wife will have children who honor their father.

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3576 days

#7 posted 05-26-2009 08:50 PM

Hey spaids
Your problem could be that your dowels have been storied were it’s moist and have swelled a little bit so if you put them in a micro for a short time that might help and or your forstner bit is under size. I think you could have chucked your dowel in your drill press and sanded them as well. Good thinking on your aproach.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View printman's profile


72 posts in 4072 days

#8 posted 05-26-2009 08:53 PM

I don’t know when you were working on that project but with St. Louis weather (Rain every three or four days) maybe your dowels swelled from the humidity. Do you keep them in a dry place?

-- St. Louis - just a cut away from finishing!

View spaids's profile


699 posts in 3692 days

#9 posted 05-26-2009 09:06 PM

Hey man I’m just down the road from you (O’Fallon) and I was working on this project this weekend and you know it was raining the whole time. Hmmmmm…

-- Wipe the blood stains from your blade before coming in.--

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4217 days

#10 posted 05-26-2009 09:18 PM

They should be snug, but if they really don’t fit, either your dowel is too big (moisture or poor manufacturing), or your hole is too small. :-)

There is no need for a flat-bottomed hole since the dowels are not going all the way to the bottom anyway. A standard twist drill or brad-point bit will be easier to work witj, and a little wiggle when drilling will give you a bit bigger hole to accept the dowel.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2656 posts in 3526 days

#11 posted 05-26-2009 09:30 PM

I have bought several dowels from the same store at the same time and most of them were all different sizes, not by much but enough to want to turn some of them into kindling. ...also, if you heavily flute the dowels that too will add in their instalation and getting past that piston thing.

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4299 days

#12 posted 05-26-2009 09:46 PM

I some times crimp the dowels with a pliers to shrink them.

They will swell back to normal when glued.

This is the way they make biscuits for joining with a biscuit joiner.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 3990 days

#13 posted 05-26-2009 10:03 PM

You might also try sawing/filing/chiseling some grooves in the dowel (if they don’t already have grooves) because if they are air tight, and there is nowhere for the air/glue to go…

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View kerflesss's profile


182 posts in 3367 days

#14 posted 05-26-2009 10:23 PM

Hi Spaids, Drill a hole in a piece of steel the same as the drilled hole and run you dowels through it. I use my vintage WWII drill gage which has all the sizes I need…

View spaids's profile


699 posts in 3692 days

#15 posted 05-26-2009 10:32 PM


What solution are you referring to? I’ve come up with nothing yet. That sandpaper wrapped down thing is only good for the through cuts and I think I got that idea from Rick.

There are some very good ideas on this thread. I think if I’m not able to crimp the ends I’ll try cutting the thinnest kerf I can in the end.

Should the kerf go with the grain or against it? I’m guessing the dowel could split over time if I do this wrong.

-- Wipe the blood stains from your blade before coming in.--

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