Introduction: Dowel Notching Jig (or Making Things to Make Things)
It’s probably not often that you find yourself needing to notch the ends out of round dowels, but if you ever do then it probably makes sense to make a nice jig to do so. As a part of a larger ongoing project (yet to be instructabled) which uses a system of parametric joints or nodes to connect any number of struts (walnut dowels in this case) into any number of configurations (furniture, racks, building systems, etc.) I found myself needing to accurately notch and align both ends of wooden dowels.
I’ve been using ½” and 3/4" dowels so far, but the same technique can be applied to any number of dowel diameters within reason (i.e. – I wouldn’t use this technique to notch smaller dowels, nor would I go much larger than 1 ½”, though you could)
- TOOLS / SUPPLIES:
- -Table Saw (w/thin kerf blade preferably)
- -Miter Gauge w/fence that can be fastened to
- -Drill press
- -Drill bits and/or forstner bits
- -A nice square (Starrett or other)
- -various screws , bolts + nuts -countersink
- -shallow angle or channel (longer than your dowels – for marking purposes)
- EXTRA (optional)
- -access to a laser engraver
Step 1: Size + Cut Stock
The first step is to cut your stock to size. Initially I started out with a scrap piece of red Oak sitting in my bin (the first few step photos are of the oak), but I got fairly far along and had some issues with tear-out and cracking so I started over with some pieces of MDF glued together (which I should have done from the beginning!) You want the jig to be large enough to accommodate all the features, but not so large that it becomes cumbersome or difficult to use precisely. Features you need to consider when sizing your stock:
-dowel size/diameter -space for marking (if needed – more about that later) -accommodating tensioning screw -method of fastening to the miter gauge fence (height, clearances, etc) My jig ended up being 1.25” deep (2 pieces of .75” MDF glued together) x 2” high x 7” long. Your jig does not have to be these exact dimensions. I recommend sketching out the ‘block’ and then measuring/marking on the piece directly.
Step 2: Engraving Jig (optional)
This step is optional and doesn’t make sense to do, UNLESS you think you might need to notch the ends at different angles to one another at some point. I thought that at some point I might want or need to have notches that were indeed at different angles, so I thought an easy way to do so would be to somehow mark or engrave a degree scale on the jig. I have a small laser engraver so I drew a scale in a CAD program as well as the precise outline of the jig in relation to the scale. If you’re doing this step then you might as well use the laser engraver to mark your centerlines for drilling as well!
First engrave your jig outline on a piece of scrap, and then place your jig inside that outline without moving the scrap. Adjust your laser focus for the new top-of-stock and engrave the scale – Done!
Step 3: Mark Jig
If you skip step 2 then you’ll still need to accurately mark your jig for drilling hole on the drill press. Use a Starrett or other precision square to mark centerlines for the dowel hole, the tension screw hole and the mounting holes.
Step 4: Drill Holes
On a drill press, through drill the 4 holes (do not try to drill these by hand as it’s extremely important to the precision of the notches that the holes be true) You can use a Forstner bit if you like – I used a ½” Forstner bit because it cuts very clean holes. I followed with a 33/64” jobber bit (hard to come by, but the extra 1/64” makes inserting and removing the dowels a breeze!) Since the mounting screws and the tension screw I used were ¼-20 I used a 17/64” drill so I had a little clearance. I then countersank the holes on the face of the jig (for mounting to the fence) to a depth where the screws went into the nuts in the slotted channel just the right distance (in my case I use an Incra miter gauge with a continuous slot in the fence for mounting jigs and fixtures to).
Step 5: Cut Relief Slot
With your jig marked and drilled, it’s now time to cut the relief slot through the end of the jig into the dowel hole. This is necessary so that you can put a small amount of tension on the jig with the tension screw and nut to grip the dowel in the jig firmly. I clamped the jig to a thick board so I could safely push the piece through the table saw. For all intents and purposes, the slot should be centered on the hole.
Step 6: Mount and Assemble
So much work just to make something to make something else! It’s OK – almost there! Just put the tension screw though the jig and use a nut on the other side. I used an allen nut (also known as an insert nut) as it has small knurls for gripping – making it easy to tighten/loosen just with your fingers! Lastly, mount the jig to the fence. Make sure you have all the proper alignments and clearances. Most importantly, you want the jig to align perfectly so the center of the blade hits the exact center of the dowel. I used a square to transfer the top edge centerline down the face of the jig.
Step 7: Mark Your Dowel and Notch Away!
Whether you plan to have your notches on both ends of the dowel in the same orientation or at angles to one another, it’s necessary to draw a reference line along the length of the dowel. A good way to do this is use a small piece of angle or channel to scribe an accurate line – place the dowel in a shallow angle or channel and press it firmly against one of the legs while you draw a line along the dowel.
Next place the dowel into the jig and align the mark with the front edge / 0 degree. Adjust your saw blade to the depth you want the notch to be. Run the jig though the saw and there you have it – a clean cut notch in a round dowel. If you need to notch the other end, then flip the dowel around and repeat the alignment. If done carefully, your notches should align just right! My 3D printed nodes fit pretty well…..stay tuned for more on this larger project.