Furniture-building and cabinetry usually require building joints that don’t have visible fasteners, like screws or nails, so the beauty of the wood isn’t marred by holes and other marks. A joint that’s secured only with glue, however, may not hold up to heavy use. That’s why furniture makers have long depended on joints that have hidden reinforcement. The technique of making a blind tenon is beyond most DIY-ers, but a joint pinned by dowels – though nowhere near as elegant – is almost as strong. Drilling the holes for dowel pins is “only” a matter of careful measurement and drill orientation, a task that’s made less tedious (and less error-prone) by using a doweling jig. Here’s a quick look at the two jigs stashed in my tool chest.
Wolfcraft Dowel Quick 4641
The Dowel Quick is a two-piece plastic device that, according to the instructions, allows you to connect boards edge-to-edge or in a T– or L-shaped butt joint. The jig is self-centering on boards up to 1¼ inches thick, and has guides for drilling holes with brad-point bits in diameters of 1/4, 5/16 and 3/8 inch. After you’ve drilled holes in one of the two boards of your joint, the jig design helps you transfer the hole locations to the other board.
Wolfcraft’s jig is made of two heavy-duty molded plastic parts that you assemble into an L shape for the transfer step. The centering process uses four heavy pegs that center on one of three guide holes, depending on which pair you use. A disadvantage of this design is that if you want to use the outside holes (1/4 or 5/16 inches) you can only locate dowels a couple of inches in from the end/edge of a board that’s thicker than about 1 inch. The largest hole (3/8 inch) can, however, be placed anywhere along a board’s length. Another disadvantage is that the jig doesn’t clamp in place for use, you simply twist the works into place. Nonetheless, it does its job just fine as long as you’re conscientious.
The two parts of the jig disassemble for storage and for use in certain joint configurations. The kit comes with a set of instructions that are, regrettably, not terribly well-written or -illustrated.
The Dowl-It is both simpler and more complicated than the Dowel Quick. This design, which includes drilling guides for six common dowel sizes (3/16, 1/4, 5/16, 3/8, 7/16, and 1/2 inches), is a solid aluminum clamp that closes down on a workpiece ranging from about half an inch up to slightly more than two inches thick. It’s self-centering and the quide holes, which are set in a hard steel alloy, are slightly chamfered to ease insertion of the drill bit. Other models from the same company (the original patent-holder, located in Michigan) allow for larger-diameter bits and for stock up to six inches thick. Some models come with replaceable guide bushings.
Using a Dowl-It is a more demanding process than is using the Wolfcraft jig: you must carefully measure and mark your hole locations and transfer those locations to the matching workpiece.
Choosing a Dowel Jig
If you’re an intermediate woodworker trying out your first doweled joints, Wolfcraft’s solution will probably do the trick for you. It’s inexpensive and – if you can puzzle out the instructions – will help properly place dowels in a wide variety of joints, doing it for just a few dollars. This one’s a good option for someone who will only use it a time or three. For more advanced woodworkers, those who have frequent need for a doweling jig and those who have more exacting standards, I’d recommend the Dowl-It 1000. It’s considerably more precise, but also requires more attention to detail.
Dowel Center Set (Amazon)
Whichever you choose, but especially if you go for the Dowl-It 1000, picking up a set of dowel centers in the most common sizes is a darned good idea. These inexpensive little doodads are the perfect solution to transferring hole locations from one surface to a second.