ALWAYS THINK SAFETY! Drill bits can shatter during use. Always wear safety glasses when operating power tools. Always disconnect power before changing drill bits.
2/ Use a Riving Blade
3/ Use push sticks or feather boards
4/ Never place hands behind blade
5/ Wear goggles
Router or radial arm saw:
Always read and follow all manufacturers safety guidelines.
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I have been designing and building furniture for approximately 35 years, and am self taught. Due to the misconceptions and misguided opinions regarding dowels and their usage, I have decided to expand my step by step instructions for new furniture, in the hope that our detailed descriptions will enable woodworkers to make a more informed opinion with respect to furniture construction using dowels and the Dowelmax.
Dowels are somewhat unpopular mainly due to the fact that they are difficult if not impossible to align. With the advent of Dowelmax, that problem has been eliminated. Our small company has been testing under rigid and supervised conditions, strength with respect to all jointing systems including mortise and tenon, biscuit, pocket hole and loose tenon. We have proved unequivocally that a closely spaced dowel joint is as strong, if not stronger, than a comparable mortise and tenon. The Dowelmax system is also approximately 200% stronger than a biscuit joint. These are statements of fact and have been verified on numerous occasions.
Detailed video instructions are available on our web site, or on our DVD provided by Dowelmax. The learning curve for the first joint approximates 10 minutes, and since all other joints are accomplished in an almost identical manner, the device is relatively simple to use. At this point we would stress on the importance of continuing to use the check marks (√) and “X”s as described.
My latest project involves the design and construction of a small end table, either for bedroom or sitting room use. The table height in this particular case equals 25 inches, however the height can be adjusted to suit the requirements of the craftsman.
We begin with a 2 inch x 12 inch section of cherry. Cut 4 legs, 1 ½ inches+ x 2 3/8 inches x 25 inches. I have a small shaped template as shown in photo 1 to mark the lower section of the leg and to ensure that all 4 legs are identical.
The inner face of the shaped leg has been cut on the table saw, consequently a nice clear edge has been obtained. The lower profile will be cut in the band saw, however in order to ensure a clean, straight outer face, we again will use the table saw. The cut however, will be incomplete since we want to avoid fouling the curved profile at the bottom.
To achieve this, mark a horizontal line perpendicular to the vertical at a position above the curvature.
Adjust the table saw blade to the correct height, ensure that the leading edge of the blade does not overshoot the horizontal line and place a mark on the table saw bed or fence to indicate the final stop position of the work piece.
Before cutting the 4 legs, ensure that the table saw blade is absolutely true to 90° to the bed plate.
Once the 4 legs have been cut to the approximate size required, and before marking the lower leg profile, adjust the mitre saw to ensure 90° accuracy and trim all lower sections
Adjusting all your machinery and equipment in the early stages will pay dividends during later construction and assembly.
The next step is to mark out the profile of the lower leg, and complete cutting the lower profile on a band saw.
The design of this small end table incorporates 4 inner verticals located on the inner face of all 4 legs. Each measures 7/8 x 7/8 x 22 ½” and the lower profile is shaped to match the curved profile of each leg. All 8 roughed out sections are shown in photo #3
I like to ensure that all related lengths and widths are identical, again this pays dividends with final assembly, and to achieve this, I constructed a simple shop made adjustable stop, which serves this purpose. Prior to cutting leg lengths, ensure your mitre saw is cutting true and adjust as necessary.
Begin by cutting the 3 forward transverse rails, all of which are 7/8 x 7/8 x 1 ½ x 13 ½”. Once again, check the mitre saw for truth, and use the shop made stop to ensure that all 3 rails are identical in length.
Pick out the best grain for the forward rails, verticals and legs, and butt all the pieces together.
Mark check marks on all reference faces and ends, mark X on all surfaces to be drilled. We are now ready to begin the drilling process. Each 1 ½ inch rail will accommodate 2 dowels. With respect to the leg and vertical and in order to maintain accuracy, within thousands of an inch, we use the distance gauge.
With all widths and lengths being identical, and using the Dowelmax in conjunction with the distance gauge, we are assured perfect alignment and truth when assembly takes place.
In joining these various pieces I have decided to attempt something rather unusual. In this particular design, we are required to join the rails to the inner verticals and then to the leg itself. I am anticipating that Dowelmax is so accurate that with respect to one joint, we can join all 3 components using 1 longer dowel.
In order to achieve this, we reference and drill the outer leg and the rail as normal, using drill guides 1 and 2. However when drilling the inner vertical, we have to drill completely through that component using a backing block to prevent excessive tear out.
If all three work pieces are drilled in the same setting of Dowelmax, all three will be absolutely flush when complete. However it would be more aesthetically pleasing to have a “relief” with respect to the leg. This relief could be 1/8, ¼ or 3/8, and we have chosen to use the 3/8 spacer to give an exact 3/8 relief.
Install the 3/8 spacer between the reference bracket and the reference block, tighten the brass knobs, place on the 1 ½ x 1 ½ work piece and with 1 check mark aligned to check mark on the reference bracket, and 1 check mark aligned to the check mark on the guide block, X to the underside of the drill guides. Drill bores using guides 1 & 2.
The drawer width is 4 ½ inches, the upper rail width is 1 ½ inches, therefore we measure down 6 inches and a draw a horizontal line on the outer leg. Using the proper check marks, align the Dowelmax guide block with the drawn line, then tighten the clamp screws. Insert the distance gauge into the upper hole, butt the distance gauge rod to the face of the reference block as shown in photo 7. Drill through guides 1 & 2.
Follow the same procedure on the opposite side, using the same distance gauge setting.
The lower transverse rail is located 6 inches above floor level, therefore draw a horizontal line at 7 ½ inches from the bottom. Using the appropriate check marks, place Dowelmax with the reference block edge aligned with the marked line. A longer rod is required for this setting. Set the extended distance gauge to touch the upper face of the reference block as shown in photo 8.
This setting can be obtained from the upper rail or the intermediate rail, provided the same procedure is followed on the opposite leg. Drill through guide bores 1 & 2. Then repeat the exact same procedure on the opposite leg.
Use the same distance gauge settings for the bores on the inner verticals, again using the appropriate check marks. As before, drill completely through the inner vertical using a backing block to prevent excessive tear out.
Drill all rails again using the check marks and X as required.
Using Dowelmax, 2 equidistant bores can be created on the end of a 1 x 2 component (refer to photo 9).
This whole process with Dowelmax from invention to prototype, to manufacture and distribution, has been fascinating, but also frustrating. One of the pluses of this whole endeavour is that occasionally I get to discuss projects, designs etc., with some really fascinating people. Last week I had the opportunity to discuss Dowelmax with an interesting guy from New York, first name Phillip. The conversation evolved into an interesting narrative which I think is worth mentioning. He had only purchased the Dowelmax Kit three months prior to our telephone conversation, and after a few woodworking joints, he was so impressed that he took the unit to his woodworking instructor who had never heard of Dowelmax. Phillip showed him the accuracy and versatility of the system, then asked him to attempt to break a glued up joint. Phillip advised me that the joint did not fail, however the adjacent wood did fail, which is the scenario we have always encountered during our various tests. Phillip then stated, his mentor, as he referred to him, was completely unimpressed and informed Phillip that he would rather continue to use his biscuit joiner. I of course surmised the outcome of the conversation before Phillip had even finished the story. However I would have partially understood the instructor’s mind set if he had insisted on using mortise and tenon. But a biscuit joiner in my opinion would not be the choice of any proficient craftsman, for any reason. And in any case, should not be used as a learning tool. Phillip went on to say that he later took an idea or design to his “mentor” for comment and was seriously advised against using oak, but to use plywood and brads! I then advised Phillip that in all probability he understood more about woodworking than his mentor, and that he should find a different woodworking instructor.
We now begin to prepare the joints on the rear face of the table. In this case we need to visually blank out the rear of the drawer, and also we require faces for the drawer slide mechanism. The upper rail is 7/8 x 7 ½ inches x 13 ½ inches long. The lower transverse rail is positioned in an identical manner to the front rail with the same dimensions, i.e. 7/8 x 1 ½ x 13 ½. Use the long distance gauge to set the position for the lower transverse rail. I drilled 8 bores to accommodate the 7 ½ inch rail which undoubtedly would be the strongest joint in creation, and overkill to a major degree. To cut down in the number of dowels we could use the distance gauge, or employ the indexing pin in a different fashion, to achieve 4 bores over the 7 ½ inch breadth of the rear rail. Proceed as follows:
Insert Dowelmax using the check marks and X marks as required, drill bores 2 & 4, unclamp and slot the indexing pin through guide 1 into the second hole, drill through guide #5. Unclamp, insert pin through guide #1 lined up with third hole, and drill through guide #3.
Use the longer distance gauge to accurately place the 2 bores for the lower rail.
We now begin construction for the two side rails, noting that the lower rails are omitted since a shelf is formed between the front and rear rail. The upper side rails measure 7/8 x 7 ½ x 15 ¼ inches. These side rails will be formed from 2 work pieces of different thicknesses, in order to create a more aesthetically pleasing panel. The upper section of the rail will measure ¾ x 6 x 15 ¼ inches, the lower section will be 7/8 x 1 ½ x 15 ¼ inches.
In order to obtain a raised portion and keep the inside faces flush, we will on this occasion (unusual) reference from the inside. This will allow the flush face of the inside and a 1/8 inch protrusion at the outside face. Lesser strength is required for this joint, therefore we can utilize the ¼ inch Dowelmax system. Pencil in the check (√) and X marks, leave the 2 joint components slightly oversize in length to allow for the final cut following the joining procedure. Reference from one side, drill through guides 2 & 3, insert the ¼ inch distance gauge through 1st hole, drill 2 centre holes, insert distance gauge as shown in photo # 10, then drill 2 final holes through guides 1 & 2..
With reference to the end joints for the side rail, there are a myriad of combinations and we have chosen 6 bores, using the indexing pin.
Insert check (√) and X marks on appropriate faces and edges of side rail and leg, install and clamp Dowelmax according to reference marks, drill bores 1, 2, 4 & 5, realign Dowelmax and insert indexing pin through guide #1 and 3rd bore, drill through guides 4 & 5 (please refer to photos 11 & 12) Please note decorative raised profile at lower section of rail.
The corresponding bores (6 on each leg) are now drilled. Place check marks and X’s on the ends, edges and face of the various rails and legs, and repeat the process carried out for the rails.
A small relief or offset is advisable (rail to leg), consequently when drilling the leg, we introduce a 1/8 inch spacer between reference block and reference bracket.
Once drilling of all 4 legs has been completed, we now trim the 2 side rails to the proper dimension, i.e. 15 ¼ inches. This can be done in the mitre saw using the shop made stop as described, to ensure identical lengths. Ensure that the saw is cutting absolutely “true”, trim 2 sides, then install the work pieces butting up against the shop stop and trim the second two ends.
I prefer to use the table saw, but again, care has to be taken to ensure absolute right angle cuts before proceeding. Refer to photo below.
It is advisable to ensure that the 2 lengths of the rails are identical and to that end I use the Universal Tape Gauge (UTG) as shown. Since the UTG is physically in contact with edges of the work piece and a reading is taken from a cross hair on the lens, a more accurate reading can be obtained.
On the subject of table saws, and as an interesting aside: I have been involved in furniture design and construction for approximately 35 years, and the following is merely for the benefit of newcomers to woodworking. Several years ago I had a visit from a Dowelmax owner who wished to purchase the ¼ inch guides, and I noted he was wearing a glove on his left hand, and since it was mid summer at that time, I was somewhat mystified. He removed the glove and showed me two fingers which had been severed on his table saw, and subsequently reattached. The two digits were greyish in colour and looked far from normal. At that point in time, since I tend to be absent minded, I made up my mind to take the plunge and purchase the table saw with a solenoid stop mechanism. The unit I bought was way over engineered in my opinion, and weighed about 600 lbs. The unit cost close to $5,000. Even though this table saw was extremely expensive, the fence was an absolute disaster and required extensive modification. More recently I have become aware of two table saw accidents, both of which were caused by the same type of incident. On occasion when cutting long panels in the table saw, whether due to moisture content, internal wood stress or whatever, once the initial cut has been made, the wood tends to bow towards the centre until the two severed edges meet. This effect binds the wood, particularly at the far end of the blade, thereby causing the work piece to be driven backwards towards the operator. On both occasions mentioned, the table saw operator had their left hand extended over the blade towards the initial cut, and when the reverse surge took place, their arm or hand was pulled through the table saw blade. These were both serious injuries and could have been avoided in two ways (1), never place your hand over and beyond the rotating blade, or (2) ensure that you table saw includes a “riving” blade. Refer to photo 14
The riving blade in effect, keeps the cut sections of the plank apart, thereby preventing these edges coming together and binding on the rotating saw blade.
We now begin construction of the top which will measure 21 ¼” x 21 ¼”. The outer board will be 3” wide with the ends mitred. The center panel comprises 3 boards, each just over 5” wide. Mill 3 boards ¾” x 5 1/8” x 15 ½”.
We want the outer section of the top to over lap the bottom by approx. 1/8”, therefore we leave the mitred section at 7/8” x 3” x 21 ½”.
Once the three centre pieces have been joined, the edges and ends are trimmed on the table saw to the final size, i.e. 15 ¼” x 15 1/4”. Butt one of the outer pieces (mitred perimeter) and centre on finished piece as shown. Pencil in check marks and X’s as required and scribe a horizontal line at junction with end piece and central core. Using check marks and pencil line reference mark, install Dowelmax, tighten clamp and drill through drill guide #3. Use distance gauge set at approximately 3 11/16”. Drill 2 additional holes, referencing from 1st drilled bore. Insert dowels and dry fit arrangement. Using extremely fine pencil, mark mitre pieces at junction with centre core. Repeat process on 3 remaining mitre panels.
4 single dowels are used to secure and position the 4 mitred joints. These must be in the same plane or axis as the adjacent dowel holes, in order to ensure that the 2 opposing mitre panels can be installed.
With one mitred panel dry fitted, and the ends protruding at approximately 3/16” (boards are 3 inches wide), install and butt Dowelmax against central core as shown in photo # and drill through centre guide.
Follow the same procedure on the opposite end of that same mitre panel, again using the appropriate check marks for alignment. Follow same procedure on the opposite mitre panel.
The 2 remaining mitre panels will now be drilled into the edge, aligning from the inside out. Again drill through the centre guide bore and ensure penetration including guide depth of approximately 4 1/8”.
Using the pencil line inscribed on the 4 inside edges of the mitre panels, begin cutting the 45 degree angles. Use test pieces the same width as the mitre panel to cut and test joints before cutting mitre panels. Proceed slowly and carefully with this aspect of the arrangement.
Once the mitre panels have been cut and dry fitted to ensure perfect mating of the faces, we cut decorative edges using the router table, and a recessed section on the underside of the mitre panel, to overlap the legs and rails when installed. Install and glue two opposing mitre rails and glue and install the second two, ensuring that the dowel orientation is in the correct axis. NB, the correct sequence has to be followed otherwise final assembly will not be possible.
The drawer is constructed from oak faced plywood, ½ inch thick. The top edges are capped to hide the plywood laminate. The drawer runs on two rails on the bottom face. Cut 2 – ½ inch x 4 3/16 x 12 ½ inch rails and 2 – ½ inch x 4 3/16 x 15 inch panels. The transverse rails are doweled to the inner faces of the outer panels in order to hide the plywood laminate. Mark all faces with check marks and X’s as required, use the ¼ inch guides, change over to the face type configuration of Dowelmax, install Dowelmax and drill holes 1, 2, 4 & 5. Leave the lower section clear for routing a recess to take the bottom plate.
The recess can be achieved on the table saw using a dado blade, however I cut the ½ inch deep recess using a straight router bit. Once complete, lightly sand and install the 16 – ¼ inch x 1 ½ inch fluted dowels. Clamp and ensure all corners are true and the bottom edge is flat.
I used the Universal Tape Gauge to obtain mean inside measurements of the bottom plate. Cut same on the table saw, install, glue and lightly tack with small nails.
Once the basic construction of the drawers is complete, I will hide the plywood laminations on the top by using ½ inch x 3/32” strips.
The butt ends are mitred for a more pleasing appearance when the drawer is opened. These slats are then glued and held secure by painters tape until dry. 2 –x 3/32” x 1/2” runners are then secured to the bottom, to reduce friction and enhance free running of the drawer.
I have experienced frustration over the years with known methods of drawer slides. I am averse to anything mechanical, or those constructed of metal or plastic. I decided therefore to design my own system and that system will work in conjunction with the longitudinal runners on the drawer lower section.
Drawer slide construction:
Begin with 2 wooden T section drawer runners supplied by Richelieu in Canada
Part of the T section is superfluous, therefore remove one ear as shown in photo
Construct and join 4 support assembly measuring ¼ inch x 1 ½ x 2 ½ inches and 3/8” x ¾” x 5 ¼ inches. Secure and glue together, then secure the assembly to the underside of the tracks, using screws. A small section of the Richelieu rail is cropped to provide the runner and 2 centre bores are drilled, then screwed to the underside of the drawer.
Holes drilled at the extremity of the 5 ¼ inch section are used to secure the runner arrangement to the front and rear rails.
The advantages of this design are:
- Forward and rear stops
- Perfect drawer alignment
- Smooth action
- Reduced tendency for the drawer to drop while fully open
The bottom shelf measures 13 ½ x 16 inches. I have used 3 – 4 5/8th x 16 ½ inch boards intentionally left oversize to allow for trimming and squaring after completion. Place the boards together, mark check marks on the faces and ends as required, X marks on the edges to be drilled. Reference from the top and drill bore through guide #2 (avoid end and allow for trimming on completion). Set distance gauge at approx. 4 ¾ inches, insert head in 1st hole, butt to distance gauge pointer, clamp and drill through guide #2. Repeat process for 3rd hole and third board.
Once assembled, trim ends and edges and ensure all corners are square.
The shelf abuts against the inner side of both the forward and aft lower rails and 3 dowels at the forward and rear end will suffice for these particular joints.
The junction of shelf to rail is basically a face joint, however rather than converting to the second configuration of Dowelmax, we will simply use the centering rule, i.e. 1 ½ inches divided by 2 = ¾ minus 3/8 = 3/8ths. We therefore need a 3/8 spacer to align to the centre of the forward and aft rail.
Note: when drilling the inner face of the forward rail, care has to be taken not to foul the decorative forward face, therefore we have to reduce the dowel penetration to 5/8 inch. And in order to avoid trimming dowels, we will increase the depth into the shelf to 7/8 inch.
Draw check marks and X’s on surfaces as required, install and clamp Dowelmax using the 3/8 inch spacer between reference bracket and reference block, drill through guide #3 (to avoid previously drilled hole) set distance gauge at approx. 2 3/8 inches, insert at 1st hole, abut Dowelmax, drill 3rd hole and repeat for last hole.
To facilitate final finishing, disassemble alll sections and lay out flat. Cover dowel holes and surfaces to be glued with painters tape. Place the tape carefully so that when the various components are joined, no bare unstained surfaces are visible. For cherry I use a conditioner made up from shellac and methyl hydrate , 1 part shellac to 3 parts methyl hydrate. Apply conditioner liberally with the grain, rub in and leave overnight.
Again, the stain is easier to apply with the various pieces flat and no protruding surfaces to cope with. Apply liberally with the grain. Allow to settle and be absorbed by the surface pores, then rub in, removing the excess at the same time. Re-do after 24 hours if a deeper slightly darker coat is needed.
I use a Turbo-Air system together with a water based lacquer for the final coats. I built a vertical stand with casters to enable me to rotate the piece during the spraying process. I would suggest at least three coats to finalize.
Assembly: I use a small stiff artists paint brush to apply the glue, coating the inner periphery of the holes, the exterior of the dowels, and the mating surfaces. Try to avoid excess coating, however if excess seeps out it is much easier to clean off finished surfaces than bare wood.