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Dowel Plate How To

DonStephan's picture

Several years ago I made a dowel plate (of 1/4" iron plate) by drilling holes increasing by 1/16th from 1/8" to 1/2" with the hope of making dowels of different hardwoods. The first dowel attempts always came out crooked. Made a matching 3/4" thick base of poplar hoping the extra length would keep the dowels straighter but no luck.

Roy Underhill made it look easy when Cincinnati still carried his show. Has anyone ever had success making dowels with a dowel plate? If so, willing to share a secret or two? Thanks.

mwenz's picture

(post #103445, reply #1 of 7)

Hi Don,

My best success has been with woods such as Oak, and then only when I have rived it for the straightest grain. That way it pushes through the straightest.

Take care, Mike

bigfootnampa's picture

(post #103445, reply #2 of 7)

You can only make short dowels this way.  Rough sizing needs to be fairly accurate.  I like to use a small froe or my carver's hatchet to split out shakes of the proper thickness and then resplit to squares of the proper dimension.  These will be rough dowels but okay for gluing and such as that.  Start them straight and pop them through in one to two strokes of the hammer.   It takes a little practice.  You need nice straight grained stock, but short pieces are fine.  Some species are better than others... real stringy interlocked fibers are much harder to use.

eddiefromAustralia's picture

(post #103445, reply #3 of 7)


It's common here - dowels for restoration work are 7/16", which is a size you can't buy.

It's all about starting the bit of stock off straight and hitting it through straight - if you don't believe me here, try tapping it through the dowel plate as though you're driving in a finishing brad.

My success rate is probably about 3-4 dowels out of 5.

If this doesn't work, you can get some flexibility into the dowel by cutting a single dovetail saw kerf into each end of the dowel about 30-40% of the way in (two kerfs per dowel.)  To avoid splitting the dowel in half, the two cuts are aligned at 90 degrees to each other.  It's an old trick for fitting stuff prior to gluing - the centre of the dowel is still round so alignment is still spot on.

To avoid dinting the plate up, I use a mallet.



Jeff's picture

(post #103445, reply #4 of 7)


Just to check my understanding, so you're saying tapping the stock isn't the way to go, but aligning the stock straight and one or two big hits is the way? I've had lousy results making dowels, so your information might just be the answer.



eddiefromAustralia's picture

(post #103445, reply #6 of 7)

Hi Jeff,

As Adam said, hold them straight as you're tapping them through, and, the less hits, the better for me.

Also, I use a hole drilled in a piece of 1/4" scrap steel, but hammer them through on the burr side up, so the burr tends to cut off the excess/act like a mini-cutting edge.  To avoid damaging the burr, use a mallet.



AdamCherubini's picture

(post #103445, reply #5 of 7)

The ole square peg in a round hole eh?

You gotta hold em as you tap em through. And its harder than hammering a nail, but not different. You have to chase it.

Here's my trick: The holes in the plate should be tapered. I found this pipe reamer thing with a tang for my brace. Works like a charm. I tapered thru the whole thickness....probably 10 degree taper or so. Then I cleaned up of the face on the small hole side of the plate, okay?

So what I have is this sharp corner. Now stick with me beat the devils thru the NARROW side. I know. But that sharp corner acts like a scraper. Now this seemingly does nothing to solve your problem. By your thinking it makes the problem worse! But it really works because the plate cuts those dowells. In my work a success rate of 60% is unacceptable. I stick down at that thing with a couple blocks of white oak and make 100 pegs. It takes a little while. I don't want to be throwing anything out. Give this a try. I've had kids doing this, moms, grandmoms. People like it, its fun, and I get the pegs I need for my projects. Try tapering your holes or at least sharpening the near side edges and see if it doesn't work better.


Lataxe's picture

(post #103445, reply #7 of 7)


I have one of those Lie Nielsen dowel plates, which is made of very hard steel, has the required taper to the holes and is accurately sized.  It works well.

The techniques mentioned by Adam and Co in the thread I discovered by trial and error (lots of errors at first).  Once you have the technique, though, you can get a high success rate, with only the odd splintery bits of wood causing a failure.

Of course, I tried making long lengths at first but the starting pieces are thin and therefore can't be hit efficiently with the knocker-in (they flex and bend).  I do have a plan to try a longer length down a holder - a piece of wood with a hole bored through it big enough so that the corners of the square length that is to become the dowel is constrained and the stock stays straight when knocked.  A steel pin or similar would have to be used once the end of the stock disappears down this hole..

One last point - I like to ensure a good start by pencil-sharpening the end of the square stock.  This seems to keep the stock properly aligned with the centre of the dowel plate hole at the begining of the operation.  I found a packet of different diameter pencil sharpeners in the local art-supply shop, so I can sharpen stock from 5mm to 10mm in cross section.