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A dowel is a cylinder of wood. They can be any length. Standard wood dowel sizes range from 3/16 of an inch to two inches in diameter. While drilling a hole in the end of a dowel isn’t much more difficult than drilling into wood, centering the hole requires specialty accessories.
Drilling Holes in the Center of Dowels
To complete this project you will need either a drill press or a handheld drill. It is much easier to make a perfectly centered hole using a drill press, so choose this method when precision matters. If you don’t need an exact hole, a handheld drill is acceptable, but you may need to sacrifice a few dowels to trial and error.
Using a Doweling Jig
In construction terminology, a jig is any device that holds or guides other tools. For some purposes, premade jigs are available for purchase. To drill holes in dowels, it may be easier to make your own.
- Make or buy a doweling jig. To make your own jig, you will need a Forstner bit the same size as your dowel. This is a specialty drill bit used to make flat-bottomed holes in wood. Find a block of wood about three or four inches thick. Drill two inches into the block before backing the bit out of the hole. You should see a small dimple or mark in the exact center of the hole. Switch to a brad point bit that is exactly the size of the hole you want to make in your dowel. Using the dimple to guide your drill, bore through the rest of the block.
- Secure the dowel using clamps or a vise. Alternatively, you can create another jig to stabilize the dowel during drilling using the same method described in step one. Simply stop before switching to the brad point bit.
- Attach the jig to the end of your dowel. Whether homemade or store bought, the dowel should fit snugly into the jig. When your dowel is secured and the jig is on, the guide hole should line up with the precise center of the dowel.
- Attach a sharp brad point drill bit to your drill chuck. If you are able to adjust the torque and speed of your drill, set both to ‘high’. Mark the bit with a piece of tape or use a depth guard to ensure you don’t drill deeper than you intend. When measuring the depth, be sure to account for the size of the jig.
- Insert the bit into the guide hole. Squeeze the trigger and plunge the drill through the center of the dowel. When you reach your desired depth, back the bit out of the dowel and the guide, and release the trigger.
- Inspect the hole. Ideally, it will be perfectly centered. If it’s not, you can either try again with a new doweling jig, or use a drill press. Use sandpaper to smooth the edges of the hole.
Using a Handheld Drill Without a Jig
This method is less accurate, but also less time consuming. Most DIYers have a drill, but many don’t have a doweling jig, so this method might be more popular.
- Find and mark the center of the dowel using a center gauge or center square. A sharp pencil or marking knife can make thin, precise lines. Since precision is so important when drilling holes into dowels, choose one of these tools to mark the center, rather than a fat pencil or felt-tipped marker.
- Use a punch or awl to make a dimple in the center of the dowel. The end of the dowel is usually either edge grain or end grain. These types of grains are more difficult to drill into than face grain. To prevent the drill bit from wandering as you start the hole, choose a brad point bit instead of a traditional twist bit. The sharp, pointed tip will nestle into the dimple, helping you drill a perfectly straight hole.
- Secure the dowel horizontally to your work surface, with one end hanging off the edge. Attach a brad point drill bit to the chuck of your drill. Set the depth guard based on how deep you want the hole to be. Alternatively, wrap a brightly colored piece of tape around the drill bit as a visual guide for when to stop drilling.
- Center the bit on the dimple or mark you made in step two. Drilling at lower speeds makes the bit more likely to wander. Using the highest speed you feel comfortable with, plunge the bit directly into the dowel’s end. The resulting hole may not be perfectly straight or perfectly centered, but it should be close enough for many, if not most, purposes.
Using a Drill Press
A drill press is a stationary tool used to bore precise holes, usually in wood. This method is best for drilling holes in the exact center of a short dowel. If you’ve never used this machine before, familiarize yourself with safe drill press work practices.
- Create a dowel stand. Clamp a board to the table of the drill press. Select a drill bit that is the same size as the dowel you’re working with. Power on the drill press and start the bit spinning at a high speed. Lower the bit using the rotating lever, and allow the drill press to bore a hole through the board. Lift the bit clear of the wood and turn off the drill press. Leaving the board clamped, insert the dowel into the hole.
- Switch to a drill bit the size of the hole you want in the dowel. Set the depth guard to the appropriate length. As long as you haven’t moved the board, the drill press is now perfectly positioned to drill into the exact center of the dowel. When the drill press is operating at full speed, use the rotating lever to lower the bit and introduce it to the end of the dowel. When the bit reaches your intended depth, use the lever once again to remove the bit from the dowel.
- Remove the dowel from the board and inspect the hole. The same set-up can be used to drill holes in multiple dowels, as long as you don’t unclamp the board.
Drilling holes in the center of dowels is a tricky task that may take some trial and error or expert assistance. You can mark the center of the dowel using a center square or center guide, or create your own doweling jig from a scrap block of wood. A drill press is best for precision holes and high-volume drilling.
If precision is less important or you only have a few holes to drill, a handheld drill can do the job.