After completing my last project I realized how much I absolutely hated buying dowel rods. If you hate buying, said me to myself, why not make them? Well, I did legally change my name to Make_Things, so this inner dialogue shouldn't be a surprise. And make one I did, but not after scouring the internet for the easiest, quickest jig. I found a lot of ho hums, but so many of them seemed to be too complicated, too slow or too large for my already cluttered garage.
So I put my thinking cap on and got my pencil and paper out, created an even more complicated jig that ended up being a disaster. What did I do then? "I nuked another grandma's apple pie. And hung my head in shame," is what I did. It really beat me up because I had wasted so many resources, too much money on springs and steel conduit and a few bearings.
But then lightning struck, burning my apple pie and blowing my thinking cap back onto my head. Eureka!
(What follows is that inspiration.)
Step 1: Gather Materials / Tools Needed and Used
- 14" x 3 5/8" x 1/2" rectangular piece (I used plywood)
- (3) 12" x 3 5/8" x 1/2" rectangular piece (I used plywood)
- 12" x 3 5/8" x 1/2" rectangular piece (hard wood like hard maple or oak highly suggested)
- 12 3/8" x 14" x 1/2" rectangular piece of plywood
- Hot Glue sticks (optional)
- Brad nails or narrow crown staples
- Screws (optional and depend on your patience)
- Miter saw (did it need to be said?)
- Drill press
- Drill (corded preferred)
- Framers/Carpenters Square
- Drill bits (Forstner set preferred)
- 2" Forstner Bit (or a coping saw)
- Socket set (to create the dowels)
- Socket adapter (for the socket set)
- Awl or a nail
- Sander of some kind or a crapload of sandpaper (as well as brute strength)
- Bar clamps
- (3) C-clamps (smaller the better)
- large spring clamp (to hold the trigger down)
- Ruler or tape measure
- Glue gun (optional)
Step 2: Gluing the Main Body
As you saw in the listed materials, this is an easy project. Most woodworkers should easily be able to put this together without breaking a sweat. In this step we'll simply create a standard jig sled by gluing the back and sides to the bottom. The bottom plate will be the largest rectangle on the list (12 3/8" x 14" x 1/2"). Be sure to use the flattest piece of plywood for the base...heck, let's make sure all the plywood is flat. We'll glue the 14" x 3 5/8" x 1/2" rectangle along the edge of the bottom plate that's 14" wide. I know, I know, some things don't need to be said, but there's always the chance that someone will try to glue the 3 5/8" side to the 14" end and...well, yeah, we'll be thorough.
Once you've laid a bead of glue on that edge and pressed it to the wood, you can clamp it together by using bar clamps and a 4" x 4". Don't have a 4" x 4"? You could use a 2" x 4" as well. No problem.
From here, you could wait and let it dry, but I put narrow crown staples in because...well, I'm impatient.
After you've either exercised a good 12 hour window of patience or used brand nails or staples, unclamp the boards and move on to the edges. We'll take one of the 12" x 3 5/8" x 1/2" pieces of plywood and we'll cut it in half. If you're interested in making yours look like mine, cut them into triangular form, although, if you've watched the video you'll see that I cut off the ends as they were too long. Again, this is simple. It's a basic sled that could be used for a million and one different things on just about every woodworking tool.
After cutting the rectangle in whichever way you choose to cut it, lay a bead of glue on the two edges that will be glued up against the sled and press against the newly glued back and the bottom. If there's any question at all to what I mean here, watch the video, or study the included pictures.
Step 3: Cutting the Kerf
Now that we've made our shiny new sled...let's cut into it! Ahh, I know how hard it is to pull that blade down and into your beautiful creation...but it'll be worth it. First center the jig with the blade. Make sure that it absolutely flat to the miter saw table and use 2 c-clamps to hold it against the fence, again, making sure that the blade is centered in the middle of the jig.
Take a look at your creation and give it a salute before pulling the blade down and making a cut. If you have slide rails on your miter saw, be sure you lock them in place so you don't cut the entire thing in half. Yeah, that wouldn't be smart. Also be sure to not cut into any staples or brad nails that you may have used in the last step. Remove those before cutting.
Step 4: Stacking and Preparing the Window
Now it's time to take the 2 remaining rectangular pieces (the 12" x 3 5/8" x 1/2") and glue them together. When I glued mine, I actually (as you can see in the video) first marked where I was going to put the window first. I did that because I didn't want to wait on the glue to dry and used screws on the back side and didn't want to drill into the screws. Again, my patience is very thin and I didn't want to wait on it to dry. So why use glue at all? Some consider it blasphemy to use anything other than glue...but that's not important.
If you're going to go my route, place one piece perpendicular to the back, stacked next to the blade. Lock your miter saw in the down position and draw a line at the farthest edge of the blade arch. Next take your Framers/Carpenters square and draw a line straight down. Back to the first mark you made, measure down 2 1/2 inches and grab your 2" Forstner bit. You'll center the point on the line at that measurement and give it (the Forstner bit) a good tap to mark the point.
Now let's glue the other rectangular piece to the one that we just prepared, leaving, of course, the marked side on the outside. After spreading the glue I used a couple drops of hot glue, but only to keep it from sliding around when I put the clamps on. That's the problem with fresh glue: it tends to wander when you put the clamp down.
You'll wait for it to dry, or, if you chose to just screw it, continue on this step, being sure you left a 2" window free of screws.
From here you could get away with drilling it out with a drill, but you'd be much better off if you head to the drill press, where you'll clamp the wood down (always clamp when using Forstner bits!), and place the point of the bit back in the dent you made previously. After drilling is finished, move on to the next step.
Step 5: Finishing and Installing the Window Wall
OKAY. Either glued or screwed...or both, but you've gotten the last step finished. In this step it's time to install your window wall. This is an important step so let's make sure we do it right. If you notice in our materials section, you had two sets of items with the same dimensions. The common size was 12" x 3 5/8" x 1/2". The differences were the materials. We used the first item, which were all made out of plywood. Now we'll use the second item, which needs to be made out of some sort of hardwood. The harder the better. We'll call this the 'dowel plate', which will be what will make the holes...or at least helps to make the holes.
I used plywood my first go round, and it was a dismal failure. Oh, it worked just fine, for the first couple rods I made. The problem is this: the man made wood is not nearly as strong as nature's lovingly made hardwoods. The plywood I used quick degraded and made inaccurate sizes. This will not due. Next I switched to pine, which definitely had longer life, but still wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Then to oak...and oh, what a difference.
We'll take this hardwood board and we'll stack it next to the 'window wall'. We'll want them to be perfectly stacked side by side and we'll place them in the center of the jig sled we made. We'll place the hardwood board so that it is directly on top of the kerf. This is important because we want to cut down part of it to use as a pattern for the dowel hole placement.
Now that we've established where the 'window wall' will sit, due to the placement of the 'dowel plate' (again, over the kerf), we'll add some glue to the bottom and the back (that sits perpendicular to the fence), carefully set it next to the left of the dowel plate. We'll use brad nails or even screws to fasten it properly. As a note: once the 'window wall' is glued and nailed, the 'dowel plate' will be pulled away and will not get any glue on it. More on that in the next step.
Step 6: Getting Key-rrrazy With Dowel Plates
In the materials I listed needing one 12" x 3 5/8" x 1/2" piece of hardwood. Well, that's fine so long as you only want one dowel plate. You'll really want to create your own Dowel Plate army to fill your dowel needs in the future. Or really, you might not. I recently made a table and only needed 1" dowels. A single plate would have been perfectly for that. So you decide. The reason I'm telling you this, dear citizens of Instructable Villa, is to explain to you that the 'dowel plate' should be free floating. The next part of this step will apply to every 'dowel plate' you make in the future, so you might want to print it out or take a picture of it for future reference.
When the glue is dried and the 'window wall' is nicely secured, place the sled jig back in front of the miter saw fence and center the kerf in the sled to the blade. Bring the blade down and lock it in the downright position, to ensure it is exactly where it should be. Place C-Clamps on either side of the miter saw fence, clamping the jig tightly. Use a bar clamp to tighten the sled bottom to the miter saw table so that it is nice and secure. Unlock the miter saw and let the blade retract.
Next take the 12" x 3 5/8" x 1/2" hardwood plate and put it back against the 'window wall' and secure it with a c-clamp, placed on the front of the boards. There need not be a clamp on the back as it would be impossible with the spinning blade. Once this is done, turn on the miter saw and bring it down so that it cuts into the hardwood 'dowel plate'. Do this slowly. There is no need to rush this step. Once this step is done...tada! Time to go on to the next step.
Step 7: Finishing the Dowel Plate
Now it's time to drill the hole in the plate. For this I cannot recommend using Forstner bits enough. It's extremely important that the holes are straight, so I can't recommend enough that you use a drill press. Drill presses are relatively inexpensive and it's not necessary you run out and get the most expensive one. A cheap, $50 press will more than pay for itself in your shop.
In other words, proceed at your own risk if you choose to use a drill.
Now let's use a Forstner bit and come down about an inch from the top of the arching cut (from the blade). We're going to put the Forstner bit edge right next to the cut arch. Check to make sure that as you rotate the bit that none of the actual bit comes into contact with the precut ridge. This is extremely crucial. When you are sure it is exactly on the edge, you're going to hit the top of the Forstner bit with something like a hammer and make a little dent.
You'll now go to the drill press and put the bit in, line it back up with that indentation and drill straight through.
That's it! You're done! Really!!
There is absolutely nothing left for you to do but to go and try making a dowel. The next step will give you some technical information as well as some tips to make things work smoothly. This is an extremely simple project that has an excellent end result, so long as you followed these instructions (and tips in the next part).
Step 8: Operation / Tips & Trick / Troubleshooting
- * Make sure you add a point to the stock you will be making a dowel rod from.
- Make sure all clamps are on before you start.
- Hammer on a socket that is slightly smaller than the stock
- ** Use a socket adapter with your drill and attach to the socket attached to the wood.
- While operating the drill, don't worry about going super slow but don't go as fast as the drill can go. Use a medium speed.
- When all is done, turn off the saw before pulling the dowel out. Don't follow the idiot in the video, he didn't realize it was damaging to the newly created dowel to pull it out while it was running. D'oh!
* It is absolutely important for you to prepare the wood that you will be putting through this jig. You'll need to use a sander or a crapload of sand paper to form a point on the end of your intended rod. You should know this already if you've watched the video, which I highly recommend as it shows you how long the point should be. This point is important because it helps pilot the beginning of the rod to where it needs to go for the rounding to happen. Be sure the point is centered and not lopsided or you will have a lopsided dowel where one side will be flat.
** Also, there have been many methods for attaching a drill to the end of wood. Some round it off the same way we did to form the tip, but I find that way to be inaccurate, allowing a wobble to misform the dowel. Instead, I'd recommend using sockets, carefully hammering them on to the opposite side of the tip we formed. Once the socket is on we'll use a socket adapter and attach it to the drill. When you're done making the dowel, you'll take a lag bolt or anything narrow and pull the socket off and knock it till the dowel comes out. Simple and far less likely to break or to leave an inaccurately cut dowel.
What's actually happening here?
Very little, if any wood is actually being cut by the tip of the blade. Rather, the teeth on the side are sheering away everything but the round part that enters the hole. Since carbide teeth stick out on the side of the blade, it's those part of the teeth that are actually doing all the cutting. I would even venture to guess that we've found a different way to cut with the blade, if only slightly.
The nice advantage this brings is you can use a larger piece of wood and get a much smaller rod on the other end. So let's say you have a scrap of wood that is not entirely straight, this jig, with a little practice, can straighten it out easily.
BONUS: The video also gives a bonus I'd like to expand upon. You could place a board parallel to the 'Window Wall', on the opposite side as the dowel rod is (to the left of the 'Window Wall') and string the rod through it. This will eliminate shaking and help to straighten your drilling out. It's not crucial but it does give two points of reference for the rod. In order to do this, just grab another rectangular board that's the same size as the 'Dowel Plate' and tape them together before drilling your dowel hole through. Viola!
- Be sure all clamps are on at all times. This is not a joke. The entire jig works very well and is extremely safe, but not having 4 clamps on (2 against the fence, 1 holding the bottom flat to the table, 1 holding the 'Dowel plate(s)' against the 'Window Plate'
- Be sure to use a spring clamp to keep the miter saw button compressed. Do not try to hold it down as you drill. Do not have someone else hold it down.
- As you are pushing the stock into the hole, don't go any further than about 5" away from the blade. It could go fast and you don't want to take a chance that you'll run your sockets into the blade.
If you have any problems, please leave them in the comments below and I will respond.
It's not cutting and just spinning inside the hole:
- Check to make sure the tip has been sanded back enough that the tip is actually in the hole.
- Check that the blade is protruding ABOVE the width of the 'Dowel Plate', that is, that it's not buried inside of it. The sides of the blade teeth must be higher than the actual plate so that it can grind the extra off.
- Check to make sure that the blade is, indeed, a blade with carbide teeth. No other blade will work. Most to probably all miter blades are carbide so it shouldn't be a problem.
- Check to see if it's an older miter blade with missing teeth
The dowel I'm trying to make is getting chewed up and is not coming out the right size.
- Your dowel hole overlaps where the blade arch was cut. It is absolutely crucial to make sure that your bit does NOT extend into the hole.
- The 'Dowel Plate' hole has been deformed due to excessive heat or wear. Try making another plate.
There is smoke and the hole is black
- You're spinning the dowel to fast. Slow it down.
- Check the 'cutting and just spinning' trouble shooter.
- Make sure you use hardwood. Softwood does not hold up as well and degrades much easier.
Step 9: Thank You!
Thank you so much for looking at this instructable and for any future comments or follows you might give me. It truly is appreciated and I really enjoy coming up with these projects to help others in their workshops. You want to do me a favor? Subscribe to my youtube channel and follow me on instagram. I'm very close to getting my 1000 subscribers and that would be fulfilling a huge goal for myself. I mean, it is free, right?
Finally, why not give my last project a quick glance over? It compliments this project perfectly!