How to Make Dowelled Joints

Monday 9 July 2018

When furniture ceased to be handmade and mass production took over in the first half of the 19th century, manufacturers worked out that it was easier to drill a matching pair of mating holes, glue a dowel into one hole and then glue that component to another component which also had a pre-drilled dowel hole in it. Provided that the holes could be drilled accurately, the entire process was faster than using a mortice & tenon.

The ability to drill accurate dowel holes repeatedly in components was a major factor in the explosion of cheaply produced furniture in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, non-mass produced dowel joints had been made for hundreds of years before that.

In recent times the inserted-plug type of jointing method has been expanded into a whole variety of jointing systems, some of which I referred to last month. Bearing in mind that a dowel joint is just a butt joint with locating and fixing pins, its success depends upon the accurate use of a marking system. In this article I will show how some of these systems are used.

Dowelled joints verdict

Given the choice I would always prefer to use a tenon joint but as a restorer I know that it is easier to repair a dowel joint that has become loose than a mortice & tenon joint that has become loose. So you could argue that dowelled chairs are likely to last longer because they are cheaper to maintain although in pure cabinet-making terms mass-produced dowels are a less elegant solution.


Easy to make and assemble

Easy to prise apart, drill out and repair


Joints in chairs tend to work loose over time

In chairs shear failures in dowels are common