Dowels have always frustrated me. They always seemed to come in two sizes: too big and too small. Even ordered online, species selection is often limited, and don’t even try to guess what species that “hardwood” at the box store really is. Without a doubt, making your own would be superior, but how?
I know many are fans of the classic doweling plate. This is essentially a steel plate with holes of varying sizes bored through it. Slightly oversized pieces of wood are driven through the holes to make dowels of the desired diameter. The problem for me is that the hole sizes are fixed, and fine-tuning is difficult. When I drawbore or peg a joint, I generally use an auger bit in a brace, and the size of mine is just a hair over a stock 3/8″. I suppose you could make a plate yourself with the requisite holes using machinist’s bits, but then you’re often left with a rough finish on the dowel.
Since I use primarily 3/8″ dowels, I chose a different approach. Veritas’ Dowel and Tenon Cutter was just the ticket for me. This tool’s sole purpose in life is to take a piece of 7/16-1/2″ square stock and convert it into a 3/8″ dowel, and it does it well.
The overall design is strongly reminiscent of a handheld pencil sharpener, and works in much the same way. The square stock is fed in one end using a square socket in a drill or brace, and a round dowel emerges from the other. Simple. The real beauty, though, is that it’s adjustable. Loosening the screws holding the curved blade with the supplied allen wrench allows you to alter the dowel size by gently tweaking the position and angle of the cutter. I can’t give you a hard and fast formula for doing this – you just have to fiddle with it. However, once you get the knack, you can perfectly adapt the size of the dowel to your particular bored hole.
It comes in three sizes – 3/8″, 7/16″ and 1/2″. The 3/8″ has met all my needs so far, though I could see adding a 1/2″ for larger projects. With a price of under $30 each, that certainly wouldn’t be a big expense.
Besides, where else can you get such cool shavings?