When you need a strong way to connect two pieces of wood, you have several good joint options: the mortise-and-tenon, the dovetail, and other traditional ones. But none are quite as easy as a dowel joint. Plus, when working with dowels, you can cut all your parts to final length before producing the joinery. (There’s no need to add length for tenons, so you’re less likely to make mistakes when creating a cut list.) With our simple dowel jig, some dowels, a square, tape measure, and a drill, you can build durable projects that look just as good as anything built with mortise-and-tenon joints or dovetails.
Dowel Joint Overview
Like any kind of joinery, dowels require some layout work up front because they aren’t very forgiving. Accurate layout work is critical!
You’ll need to mark the location of every hole. *Tip: The best way is to mark a part. Then butt it against adjoining parts so that you can transfer the marks.
Once you have marked the dowel locations on all of your parts, you can install the appropriate guide bushing in your dowel jig. *Tip: ¼” diameter dowels are perfect for ¾” thick stock, so you’ll probably find yourself using this size often.
The bushing screws into any one of the threaded holes in the jig, but you should install it close to the center.
Slide the drill bit into the bushing so that it extends past the bottom of the jig by a little more than half of the dowel length.
*Tip: Most ¼” diameter dowels are 1-¼” long. If you’re using this size, your bit should stick out of the bottom of the jig by slightly more than 5/8”. You can mark the drill bit with a permanent marker so that you know how deep to drill the dowel holes when you’re using the jig. Alternatively, you could use a stop collar on the drill bit.
Using the Dowel Jig
*Tip: You should test fit a couple of your parts before drilling them all.
Align the etching on the side with the layout line on your part.
Clamp the jig to the part by turning the handle.
Insert the drill bit into the guide bushing and drill down to the mark or stop collar.
Repeat this process for each mark on the remaining parts.
Once you have all of the parts drilled, do a dry fit of the project to make sure everything comes together as it should. If you made any mistakes during the doweling process, you want to find out before you apply the glue. Assuming the parts fit properly, you’re now ready to assemble the project.
Finishing & Assembling the Dowel Joint
Don’t put too much glue in the dowel holes. You want just enough to see a small amount of squeeze-out during glue-up. (This is important, because too much glue will prevent joints from closing. Because woodworking dowels have small grooves that allow excess glue to escape. But the grooves can only do so much, so you should apply a small amount of glue to each hole.)
Finally, clamp your project together and allow the glue to set before removing the clamps.