Safely and Conveniently Drill a Hole in a Dowel

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About: Greg Alvey is the owner and developer of the websites www.artinbottles.com and www.folkartinbottles.com. He is a builder, collector, historian, and researcher of the art and craft of building ships, folk art...

I have a fairly unusual hobby of building Ships, Folk Art, and Whimsies inside bottles. Once finished, the bottles are usually sealed with wooden dowels. On occasion I need to drill a hole down through the center of the dowel. Since I don’t do this often I have never taken the time to build a jig to hold the dowel while I was drilling it but it has not been easy holding the dowel steady or safely while drilling.

This article shows how you can make a quick and simple jig that will safely and securely hold short dowels of various diameters while you drill a hole in them. While similar to another Instructable article I wrote on “Drilling a Hole Through a Long Dowel,” https://www.instructables.com/id/Drilling-a-Hole-Through-aLong-Dowel/ this article takes a different approach and addresses the same theme except it is designed for drilling a shorter dowel.

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Step 1: Introduction

These pictures are two different examples showing how I use the hole in the dowel. The first two pictures show a raccoon inside a wooden stopper. The second example is my current project. At the end of the acorn shaped dowel is a doll house ceiling light. I will use this to light up my next bottle. The purpose of the hole in the dowel is to hold a battery pack and wiring.

Although you may never put a Ship in a bottle, or a raccoon in a stopper for that matter, there may be times you will need to drill a hole in a short length of dowel.

Step 2: Choose Your Materials

Before you begin you should think about the general size dowels you plan to drill holes through to best determine the size of the wood you use for your jig. Originally I had planned to use lengths of poplar wood purchased from Lowes that measured 1 ½” x ¾” x 24”. While these boards would probably have worked fine, the size did not really work with the size and type of hinge I need to use on the ends.

Instead, I found a couple of great pieces of poplar wood in my workshop and, after cutting and sanding it, the final measurement was 2 ¾” x 1 ¼” x 20 ½”. I like this size for its stability and the extra width and thickness allows me to use a larger and sturdier 2” strap hinge which measures 3 ¾” when open. This gives me the strength for holding the boards together under tension.

Step 3: How Many Holes and What Size?

Next, I determined how many and what size holes I would use in the jig. Since I have a hobby that uses many different size dowels, I allowed for eight holes of the following diameters:

¾” 7/8” 1” 1 1/8” 1 ¼” 1 ½” 1 ¾” 2”

Step 4: Drill the Holes

After marking off the holes and placement on the boards I used hole saws mounted in my drill press to drill the holes. Be sure to clamp the boards together and also to the drill press platform when drilling to ensure evenness and correct placement. You can also use paddle bits and a hand-held drill to accomplish this. Take care to keep the drill in a vertical position when drilling the holes.

Step 5: Curve the Ends of Each Hole to Securely Hold the Dowel

Since the holes correspond to the diameter of most common dowels I use, and because of some additional sanding for smoothness, I knew that the dowels would simply turn or spin in the holes while I was trying to drill them. To offset this and firmly hold the dowel when drilling, I curved each end of the holes to make them more an oval shape. I used a scroll saw to round the ends of each hole but this can also be accomplished by sanding, using a jig saw, band saw, or even a wood chisel. By adding the curved ends and slightly opening the jig I can now fit a slightly larger dowel in the next downsized hole.

For example, if I were to take a 1" dowel and put it in the 1" hole in the jig it will freely turn as I drill it. But by moving the 1" dowel down to the 3/4" hole size I can squeeze the jig together and hold it with my hand or clamp it so that the dowel cannot turn when drilled. Because of the oval shape the dowel will still comfortably fit in the smaller hole. Clamping is definitely the preferred way since it holds the dowel very securely and frees your hands to drill the dowel.

Step 6: Label the Diameters

For quick reference, I printed labels identifying the size of the hole openings. This step is not necessary but if you elect to do this you can also simply write them on the boards in pencil, pen, or black felt tip, if you prefer.

I varnished the jig both for appearance sake and to protect the labels. I also added Velcro on the ends opposite the hinge side to hold the Jig together and prevent it from opening inadvertently. There are many other ways you could do this.

Step 7: Successfully Drilling the Dowel

I had planned to glue a thin layer of rubber or similar material inside the hole openings to add grip to further insure that dowel will not slip or turn while being drilled and to help protect the dowel from inadvertent damage or denting while being squeezed. I really don’t think this will be necessary though so I will skip this step for now. It can always be done later if needed or desired.

Finally, the pictures show a 1 1/8" dowel secured in a 1" hole being drilled with a drill press and a paddle bit using the finished Jig! It worked like a charm!

Happy Drilling!

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    10 Discussions

    None
    HorusCok

    6 months ago

    That's a nice jig, I was thinking about doing something similar, but using 2" stock to add more stability. I think that taking the saw kerf into consideration a single, may a double pass down the middle should be enough to be able to clamp down on the stock sized for the hole - I'd prefer to have as much of the holding base as possible in contact with the dowel, to help prevent denting the dowel and provide a bit more hold from friction rather than force.

    BTW, you may want to take a look at your labels, I think you have the 7/8 and 3/4 over the wrong holes.

    None
    BazA4

    7 months ago on Step 7

    Rather than faffing around curving the ends of each hole, I found it simpler to merely run each piece through the table saw and take 3mm (that's about 1/8 inch in retard units) off the inside of each length. This ensures that when clamped around a dowel, it is held very securely

    1 reply
    None
    bjaunarajsBazA4

    Reply 7 months ago

    I believe "retard units" could be offensive to those that are forced to use, and are raised on those said units. Otherwise, yes, taking 0.125 or 0.1181 inches off is better than rounding all those edges. (engineering decimals is the only way to go) :)

    None
    nonobadog

    7 months ago

    Very nice! I also need to drill a dowel occassionally, probably many people do. This jig is easy enough to do that I will make one. Instead of rounding the corners though, I think I will just trim the clamping edge of one of the boards by about 1/8 inch so they fit closer together and will clamp the dowel in the same size hole. Thanks for this instructable.

    3 replies
    None
    AKOldmannonobadog

    Reply 7 months ago

    How about drilling the holes in a piece of wood then using a table saw to rip the wood into the two pieces? The kerf would automatically give you the tighter fit with no need to trim one of the edges. FFT.

    None
    Eh Lie Us!

    7 months ago

    this is so flipping clever. thank you for sharing. great work on or i should say "in" in the bottles.

    None
    malijai

    7 months ago

    very simple and usefull. Each time I have to drill a hole in round piece I begin by doing a jig which end in the fire. Now I will do a permamnent jig. Thank you for sharing

    1 reply