Sunday, February 20, 2011

Poor Man's Dowel Plate

Many years ago a dowel plate or dowel sizer was a pretty common thing to find in a furniture or cabinet shop. Even then, the diameter of the dowel would change with humidity and they weren't always the correct size so the dowel plate corrected that.  If you want to have dowels of a non commercially available species like Ebony, you could make your own.  Well, things have changed and the dowel plate is a hard to find item.  Lie-Nielsen has a beautiful one in their catalog but it has a back order time of 2-3 weeks.  How do I know that? my friend Vince, ordered one and said I could use it but it won't be here soon enough.
After an extensive Google search I found that it is possible to make your own but results were mixed.  Since I need about 8, 1/4" Ebony dowels I thought I'd give it a shot.  Here's what I came up with:

I had a couple of pieces of Ebony that were slightly under 1/4" square.  In my vise you see a piece of a miter box saw blade that I've screwed onto a piece of maple.  After attaching the blade, I drilled a 1/4" hole through it and completely through the wood.  I removed the blade temporarily to increase the diameter of the hole to 9/32" and replaced it.  I also drilled another 9/32" hole at the other end of this piece of wood as a "pre-sizer". The final step was to chamfer the metal with a countersink to create a cutting edge.
Here's what I did, first I used the block plane to ease the corners.  Since the Ebony pieces were about 20" long it was easy to hold one end while planing.  I would eyeball it for roundness and also test it in the 9/32" hole drilled into the wood.  When it seemed right, 2" or so of the dowel was cut off and hammered through the hole with a mallet.  It would stay in the cutter until I ran the next piece in.  I forced each dowel through the hole twice and although they're kind of rough they will be acceptable for the project I'm working on now.  You can see the sample hole I did in the background.
This weekend has been one of figuring out how to get Ebony dowels and also making jigs.  The project I'm designing is a small bench of Honduras Mahogany.  The seating surface will be woven rush and it will have some design influence from the Greene & Greene style.  The jig that's in progress is one put a detail on the ends of the legs.  You can see that detail on the cover of Darrell Peart's book.  Me being me, I had to complicate things somewhat!  In my sense of design, some of the Arts & Crafts furniture is a bit heavy.  To overcome that I'm putting about a 3 degree taper on the bottom of the legs, about 8" worth.  Of course, this necessitates a jig that has that same taper and it has to be reversible.  I've figured it out and will show how it works in the next blog or so.


  1. So, I'm a beginner here. I need a small stock (about 8) 9/32" end grain dowels for a guitar project I'm doing. Where can I get the materials to make my own dowel plate? Would it be worth it?

  2. Just need a plate of steel and the correct size drill bit. No need to counter sink the other side really it just helps cut and especially if you don't plan making a whole lot. I would imagine a 1/4" piece of steel should work. For the drill bit, get a bit used for drilling steel that is the diameter of the dowel you want. If it is 9/32" dia, get a 9/32" drill bit. Make sure when drilling steel you use a center punch and hammer before drilling! Otherwise the bit will go all over the place. As for getting the steel, any big box hardware stock have steel stock if you want to buy it or if you have a salvage yard (more than just automotive) I would go there to get a piece of steel that is flat and around 1/4" thick or more.