Saturday, December 22, 2007

3 Ways to Make Dowels

You can buy wood dowels in common species like walnut, cherry, and pine, but if you need a dowel in an uncommon species, or if you're making authentic reproductions, or you just like to try different techniques, here are three ways to make them.

One: Use a beading plane to round over both sides of a board, then snap off the dowel. Shave the rough, snapped-off edge with a block plane or chisel. Match the thickness of wood with the diameter of the bead so the dowel is perfectly round.

Two: Use a block plane to round over a square blank and eyeball it as you go. This works great if you like that imperfect, handmade look, like you find in PA German furniture. (If you take your time, though, you can make very precise dowels with this technique.)

















Three:
Use a dowel plate (mine is from Lie-Nielsen). Make sure you cut your blank very close in size to the final dowel diameter, otherwise, it's likely to split as you tap it through. Use a chisel to taper the leading end. Dowel plates work best with short pieces of wood.

15 comments:

Wyldth1ng said...

WHy not use a lathe?

The Village Carpenter said...

Hmmm, good question. Here's hoping a reader will comment who knows more about lathe work than I do (which is next to nothing).

I mainly look for ways to do things with handtools as much as possible. It's just my preference.

Ron said...

I never thought about using a beading plane I will have to try that.

The Village Carpenter said...

Ron, Gene Landon taught me that trick. He said that's how they used to make them in the old days. It's fast and works very well.

Dale Munschy said...

Great suggestions! I'm in the process of restoring a Stodart Compensator Grand Piano, built in 1827, and need several small dowels to use as hammer shanks.
You've helped me to solve one of many issues.
Thanks!

AK said...

I picked up one of those doweling plates from LN and have really been enjoying it. I've been trying to make dowels from bubinga though, I suppose it is because of the figure of the wood that it is so difficult to hammer through. I tried an oak peg, and it practically made itself.

If you have any advice please let me know.

The Village Carpenter said...

AK, when it's hard wood like bubinga, you need to make the blank only very slightly larger than the final diameter. You can also taper the leading end. Also, especially with harder wood, it's best to work with short lengths, like an inch long. Otherwise, the wood tends to split. If you need to make a longer piece of dowel, then I would try one of the other techniques.

Anonymous said...

I usually use a rounding plane, (like a pencil sharpener). You can get them to make different size dowels. Just plane the edges off square lengths, find a socket that you can knock the end into and attack it to a drill. Then you can drill it through the rounding plane. I use a square shaped rounding plane without handles and fix it to a jig to hold it in place while drilling the dowel through.Works well if your making quite a few.

The Village Carpenter said...

Thanks, Anonymous, that's a great idea. I've never used a rounding plane, but it looks like an easy tool to make.

gchpaco said...

I've never liked making really thin dowels on lathes, because the cutting action tends to deflect thin spindles, which causes a real headache. Works fine for dowels of around 1" in diameter, or for very short pegs, but any time the length gets to be more than I'd guess around 5 times the diameter, maybe less, it gets to be a pain and some way of supporting the dowel while you work it is much better.

Anonymous said...

I just made a long dowel, I chucked the stock into the drill press and used sandpaper to bring it to round. If you start with the flat measurement close to right, it goes to round at almost the perfect diameter

Mike said...

Thanks so much for this post. I'm a beginner who might want to peg some tenons with wood that matches, or doesn't match... as I please. I really hated the thought of being limited to what's at the local store in the way of dowels.

I do like the dowel rounding plane idea. Perhaps its the charm of pencil sharpeners (remember when you had a pencil that you used for something other than woodworking?). I discovered that the site japanwoodworker.com has some examples of rounding planes for a reasonable price. I suppose that I could also make a rounding plane for myself from scratch if I could just get some of the right kind of cutting steel.

Mike said...

Me again. Looking at the bench plane method again, for those of us who need help with hand tools, I wonder if a V-shaped groove in a board (stopped at one end) and two flat pieces of wood, runners, of a calculated thickness, running along parallel to the groove and spaced a couple of inches apart wouldn't help.

That is, the skew cut approach to using the plane to shape the dowel (ably demonstrated by you, master) means that the plane could be supported by the runners parallel to and above the V-groove, which would support the plane fore and aft of the blade without interfering with the blade (except for occasional goofs, which wouldn't matter because it's just a jig that's getting cut).

You would reach into the grove occasionally to rotate the stock of course, but I'm by no means sure that roundness would follow automatically--- even with the fixed height of the blade above the groove. Perhaps it would be more difficult to arrive at roundness than with just a flat surface as shown in the picture.

If it were to work though, such a jig could be modified so as to make tapered dowels, by arranging for the tops of the runners to be sloped relative to the groove.

The Village Carpenter said...

That sounds like a great idea, Mike. The only thing I would add is that you might want to have a way to hold onto the back end of the stock that you're shaping. Once you're close to round, I'm wondering if the workpiece might start to shift/spin while you're planing. Also, if you could hold the end, you could rotate the stock in small, consistent increments as you plane.

You mentioned steel in your previous comment. I buy 0-1 tool steel from MSC Direct, then grind it to shape and heat treat it to make blades/cutting tools.

Anonymous said...

If you need to make larger amounts of dowel, a table router with a dowel jig might be the way to go. eg. http://www.woodworkersinstitute.com/page.asp?p=977