How to use dowels to make wooden joints

 
     
     
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 DIYer drilling a hole for a dowel in the edge of a plank of wood 

In theory, using dowels to join wood is relatively easy, as it just involves drilling holes and pushing dowels into them.

 
     
 Statue of a man thinking carefully about how to approach his dowelling project 

In practice, it will take a little thought, planning and measuring to ensure that your dowelling is a success - as accuracy is vital.

 
     
 Joint made with multiple dowels for extra strength otherwise known as a reinforced dowelling joint 

Remember: The more dowels you use to support a joint, the stronger it will be.

 
     
   

Making a dowel joint

 
 Planks marked with centre lines and dowel location lines 

Step 1 - Finding centre of edge butt 

Measure and mark out a centre line along the length of the edge butt using a pencil, as shown on the two adjacent boards in the image on the left.

 
     
 Pre-cut wooden fluted dowel pin 

Step 3 - Choose dowel width

When making joints, you'll most often find yourself using pre-cut dowels. (Dowel rods can be cut to size, but they are less suitable due to lack of flutes and human error when cutting). 

 
     
 Diagram to illustrate that 4mm has been left either side of a dowel peg that has been inserted into a piece of wood to make sure the joint does not split under pressure 

When choosing what size of dowel peg to use, you need to bear in mind that you'll need to leave at least around 4mm (3/16") of wood either side of your dowel.

 
     
 Image showing a calculator, used by a DIYer to decide what the maximum width of dowel peg that they can use is 

For example, if you were joining two pieces of wood that were 16mm (5/8") deep, you wouldn't want to choose a dowel larger than 8mm (5/16") wide (16 - 4 - 4 = 8).

 
     
 Dowel joint that has split under pressure 

If you don't leave enough wood either side of your dowel, your joint could split open (fail) under pressure.

 
     
 Two planks with correctly drilled dowel holes and dowel pegs inserted 

Step 3 - Drilling edge butt

Measure and mark out the locations where your dowel holes will go on your centre line. Drill holes at these points.

 

For more guidance on choosing a depth for your holes, see: How to drill holes to an accurate depth.

 
     
   Wonkee Donkee warns that if you don't drill perpendicular dowel holes your dowelling joints will not fit properly 
     
 Dowel peg inserted half way into each piece of wood in a dowelling joint 

Edge to edge joints will be strongest with roughly half of the dowel in each part of the joint.

 
     
 Using a dowel peg to measure drill holes in a dowelling joint where an edge is being joined to a surface 

Edge to surface joints need a little more thought. To prevent the dowels from pushing through the surface, measure carefully and drill so that the drill bit does not bore all the way through your piece of wood.

 

For tips on drilling accurate holes, see: How to drill holes to an accurate depth.

 
     
 DIYer tapping dowels into glue-filled holes 

Step 4 - Insert dowels as guides

Using a little wood glue, push the dowels into the holes. These will act as guides that will help you drill holes in the right places on the other piece of wood in the joint. 

 
     
   Wonkee Donkee warns that your project will be wonky if you don't line up your dowels. 
     
 Matching up two mating surfaces for making an edge to edge joint by using centre points to mark dowel locations 

Step 4 - Mark up mating surface

Make marks on the opposite surface of the joint, being careful to make sure they are accurate. There are a few different ways of making sure they line up, such as using centre points, so choose the one you feel most confident with.

 
     
 DIYer dry fitting a corner joint to test if the dowels are correctly aligned 

Step 5 - Dry fit

Without putting glue in your second piece of wood, put the joint together to make sure it fits. If it doesn't, then you'll need to figure out the reason and try to fix it.

 

See: What problems can occur when dowelling?

 
     
 Completed dowel joint with wood glue being connected by a DIYer 

Step 6 - Assemble joint

Once you are happy that your joint will slot together neatly, apply glue to the second set of dowel holes and connect the joint.

 
     
 Mitre joint that has been assembled using dowels and glue and is now being clamped so that it can dry 

Step 7 - Leave to dry

Clamp your joint securely and leave it to dry for a couple of hours.

 
     
   

Joints with visible dowels

 
 Image of a joint with visible dowels 

Making dowel joints is much easier if you don't mind the dowels being visible. However, this type of joint can only be made if one of your pieces of wood is thin enough that you can drill all the way through it.

 
     
 Dowel rods for use in visible dowelling joints 

You will most likely need to use dowel rods for this type of joint, as dowel pegs are likely to be too short to reach all the way through one piece of wood and into another. 

 

The dowel that you use should be a little longer than the hole you drilled.

 
     
 DIYer using a clamp to hold two piece of wood together so that a joint with visible dowels can be made 

Step 1 - Clamp joint

Clamp the two pieces of wood that you will be joining together in place with the thickest piece on the bottom.

 
     
 DIYer marking the position of the dowel holes they are about to drill to create a visible dowelling joint 

Step 2 - The toughest part

Make a mark on the uppermost piece of wood to show you where the centre line is on the wood below. You can do this by measuring the lower piece of wood to find the central point and using it as a reference to mark an accurate line on the upper piece of wood..

 
     
 Drilling dowel holes through two pieces of wood at once to create dowel holes that will result in a joint with visible dowel rods 

Step 3 - Drill holes

Drill holes on the line you just marked. Drill all the way through your upper piece of wood, down into your lower piece of wood.

 
     
 DIYer hammering dowels into a pre-glued joint where the dowel rods will be visible 

Step 4 - Glue dowels into place

Put some wood glue into your holes, then insert dowels and leave them to dry.

 
     
 Dowelling joint that had been drilled and dowels that are a little longer than the drill holes have been inserted 

Your dried joint should now be ready for you to remove the excess length of dowel for a smooth finish.

 
     
 DIYer chiselling off excess length of dowels in a visible dowelling joint 

Saw or chisel off the excess length of dowelling once the joint has dried.

 
     
 Visible dowelling joint with sanded dowels 

For a neat finish, sand down the tops of the dowels to make sure they are level with the rest of the wood surface.

 
     
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