How to choose a dowel?
If you look at dowels in catalogues or on websites, you’ll see a variety of different things listed, such as the species of wood the dowels have been made from and whether they’re hard or softwood.
Having lots of information is great, but which of these pieces of information are important?
A Matter of Species
The type of tree that wood was cut from is referred to as its ‘species’. Examples of species include oak, ash, birch and cherry.
Dowels are most often made from hardwoods such as beech, poplar or mahogany.
Softwoods, such as pine, can also be used.
What is the difference between hard and soft wood?
Timber that is cut from trees with leaves is known as hardwood. These trees are referred to as deciduous trees, and lose their leaves in the winter.
Timber that is cut from trees with needles is known as ‘soft’ wood. These trees are referred to as evergreen, as they keep their foliage all year round.
Softwoods are not always soft and supple – This is a common misconception. Some softwoods, such as pine, can be very strong.
On the other hand, balsa, one of the softest woods, is actually a hardwood.
As the terms ‘softwood’ and ‘hardwood’ do not reflect the strength of a dowel, it’s better to think about resilience in terms of density.
Density indicates how tightly packed the molecules in a material are.
For example, polystyrene has a low density and lead has a high density.
Dowels made from higher density wood will be more resistant to breakage and are therefore ideal for joints that need to hold weight. Examples of these include chair backs and shelves.
The highest density woods commonly used in dowelling are oak, beech and cherry.
As with most other measurements, density is indicated in both metric and imperial measurements. For example, beechwood has a density of between 0.7 and 0.9 g/cm3 (grams per cubic centimetre), which is equivalent to between 32 and 56 lb/ft3 (pounds per cubic foot).
Another factor in choosing which species of wood to use is colour. This will only be important if your dowels will be visible once the project is completed. If you will be using your dowels to make furniture joints then this becomes irrelevant, as your dowels will be hidden from view.
Choice of colour is completely down to personal preference. As you’re likely to be using wood in a home workshop, you’ll be choosing a shade of brown. Whether that’s lighter, darker or the same shade is up to you.