Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hypothetically Speaking

Let's pretend that you've built a PA German sawbuck table, and the last time you knocked it apart and put it back together, the top refused to slide onto the rails.

Rather than waste time trying to figure out what might be wrong, because it had never given you trouble before, you reach for your mallet and persuade the table top to slide home.


That was the sound of the dowel portion of two spindles—which hold the rails to the leg assemblies—breaking in half.

No wonder antique sawbuck tables are frequently missing their pegs; impatience is not a character flaw exclusive to the 21st century.

Upon discovering that the ill-fitting table top was the result of one of the leg assemblies having been inadvertently turned around while putting the table back together, you are faced with the task of repairing or recreating two spindles.

The dilemma is, you really, really, REALLY do not like to use the lathe.

So you decide to make new dowels by hand using a block plane to rough-shape the pegs, and a metal dowel plate to finalize it.

Photos one and two show a rough-shaped dowel and a finished one (in the foreground). Notice the smoothness and shininess of the finished dowel. You sanded and waxed it, right? Nope.

You discovered by accident that (after using the dowel plate—photo 4), if you tap the "wee-bit-too-tight" dowel through the peg hole a few times to compress the fibers, the endgrain that lines the hole burnishes the facegrain of the dowel.

You think to yourself, if you need for a dowel to slide easily upon removal, you can always bore a slightly smaller hole in a scrap piece of wood and tap the dowel back and forth through it to compress the fibers even more. (In theory, 'cause you haven't actually tried it.)

Now all you need to do is bore a hole in the handles of the two broken spindles and glue the new dowels in place.

But let's imagine that you haven't gotten that far and haven't quite figured out how to do it yet.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.


rgdaniel said...

If it was me, I'd probably ask you.

Dyami Plotke said...

Sorry about your dowels, Kari. Nice job re-makng them. Why'd you break down the table? Because it's meant to be, or because you needed to move it? Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Jonathan said...

Where did you get the dowel plate?

JimK said...

I often encounter those "hypotheticals" in my own woodworking... not having tried it.
Yours is a much more elegant solution. Good work Kari ;-)

Unknown said...

Well that was fast..or uh, will be when you do it. Wasn't it just a week ago that I said that if it was me I'd never go back and fix it. Well, I guess haven't 'really' fixed it yet ;-)

Kari Hultman said...

Bob, nice one. ; )

Dyami, if this were to have happened, I most likely would have been tweaking the fit of some part and then putting it back together.

Jonathan, it's Lie-Nielsen.

Thanks, JimK. :o)

Mark, I've been thinking about you the whole time!

Anonymous said...

here I am ! yes I dont like to use a lathe, dont ask me why I´d rather prefer to use spokeshave o dowel plates or whatever my mind can figure out to round and shape
beautyful work Kari as usual

Gye Greene said...


Sorry -- I remember the photo of that table, but I can't envision what went wrong.

Slidey dowels -- couldn't you just, in fact, wax them (candle wax, not beeswax)?

Dislike lathe work: That still surprises me -- given your otherwise fearless nature towards all sub-genres of woodworking.


rjb37 said...

I feel the same way about lathes. The downside is I don't have a lot of turned items in my work.

Anonymous said...


Dowels busting????? Too thin, perhaps? That L-N mplate will make dowels up to 5/8", I thnk.

You may also consider marking off the portion that may intend to slide and to relieve the dowel slightly with a curved scraper - simulates a few years wear in one go.

Good Luck,


Woodbloke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Woodbloke said...

Hi Kari - nice use of the LN dowel plate. I use mine quite a lot these days for the odd time I need a bit of dowel.

4mm ebony dlowel is no fun to punch through the plate though...bits ping off into all corners of the 'shop and are a nightmare to find later on - Rob

Kari Hultman said...

Julio, I've heard from several other woodworkers who simply do not like to work on the lathe. I'm glad I'm not the only one. :o)

GG, I think that, because the one leg assembly was flipped around, when I pegged the rails onto the legs and tried to slide the table top on, the legs were racked a bit. It was really hard to push the table top onto the rails so I used a mallet. Bad idea.

rjb37, I keep hoping that I'll learn to like it, because it would be fun to make a tavern table. Our dislike does limit us a bit, doesn't it?

Howard, you might be right about the thickness of the dowels. I don't know how thick they were on the original because they're missing. Mine are only 3/8" thick. 5/8" would have been much better. Thanks for the tip on the taper—good idea.

Rob, I bet purpleheart wouldn't be much fun either. Those splintery woods don't work so well with dowel plates.

Gye Greene said...



I bet Peter Foll. would suggest making some sort of mark on the interior side, to positively I.D. "This is the inside face!".

Like this --

Or, just with a permanent marker, marking on a place that's hidden after it's assembled "RIGHT LEG - FRONT", and etc. ;) I've been doing this with my projects that drag on to the point where I've forgotten which parts go where.


Kari Hultman said...

Gye, here's how big a doofus I am—all of the pieces have a mark (L or R) CARVED into them. And still I put them together wrong! I need to go back to kindergarten to learn my left from my right....

will said...

Personally, I would have found a nun to do the repair work.

Kari Hultman said...

Will, why didn't I think of that?!

Dean said...

Hi there! This is my first time to visit this kind of sites and I think you guys are having fun doing what you are doing. I am not into this kind of hobby or work but sounds like fun and I think I am going to like it. Building thing can be really fun.