How to Use a Dowel Jig

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Dowel jigs are used for drilling holes on boards, either on the edges or the boards’ face. They are used to make dowel joints in a much faster way than when doing it manually. In this guide, we will show you how to use a dowel jig. 

How to Use a Dowel Jig

If you have never used a dowel jig before, it can be difficult trying to figure out how the whole thing works. To help you get started, we will go through a step-by-step process on how to use it with a real project example.

A dowel jig is basically a steel structure with perpendicular holes that help you guide your drill bits while joining boards with a dowel joint. These holes are threaded so you can install bushings for drill bits of different sizes. There is also a screw passing through the steel block to help during clamping a piece of wood.

Dowel jig

Using a Dowel Jig to Make a Dowel Joint

To further illustrate how to use a dowel jig, we’ll use the example of making a dowel joint. Making joints using a dowel jig is relatively easy. Using dowels over screws makes your final product stronger with more appealing features. 

 What You Need 

  • Center points for proper positioning of dowel holes 
  • Drill stop and Allen keys for maintaining an accurate depth of the holes
  • Tape measure and try squares
  • Dowel Jig
  • Wood glue for reinforcing the joint
  • Drill bits for drilling the holes. These should match the size of the dowels you are using.
  • Mallet
  • Saw for cutting wood
  • Pedestal drill 
  • Planed wood boards (the workpieces you’ll join).

Procedure

Follow these steps to make a simple dowel joint 

Step 1: Mark the Positions of the Joint

Draw straight lines on the board to mark the exact position of the joint and where to drill the holes. Place the edge dowel holes at least ¼-inch away from the board’s edges. This ensures optimum joint strength for every 3 inches width of the wood, mark for two drill holes.

Step 2: Clamp the Dowel Jig

If you’re using a self-centering dowel jig, directly clamp the jig to one of your workpieces. Likewise, when using a jig with interchangeable bit sleeves, use a suitable bit for the sleeve you will use. While clamping this jig, make sure the drilling registration mark aligns with the dowel layout line.

On a ¾-inch stock, you may use ¼-inch diameter dowels. If you use very thick dowels, the walls of the stock will be reduced and become too thin, thus weakening it. This way, the joint may break during assembly.

Ensure that you tighten all the components well enough that they will not move.

Man clamping glued wood pieces
Step 3: Drill the Holes

Drill holes for the dowels using the pedestal drill fitted with drilling bits. Drill the dowel holes to a depth that will fit the dowels that is a little over half of the dowel length to create space for gluing. You may use a stop collar to set the drilling depth.

Step 4: Test-Fit the Dowels

When satisfied with your drilling depth, unscrew the jig and check for any inconsistencies. Clean out the dowel holes so that the dust doesn’t cause resistance while inserting the dowel. Test fit the dowels.

If the dowels do not fit into holes, you may have to pre-drill (to make the holes a bit wider or more profound). Sometimes, the mistakes are irreversible; for instance, if you drilled a wide gap, you may have to replace the piece of wood.

Repeat for the mating workpiece. 

Step 5: Join the Dowels

Slip the dowels into their respective holes without the glue. Make sure the dowels fit and can hold even without glue. Carefully dismantle the setup and apply the glue to reinforce the joint once the pieces fit snugly into one another. Clamp for about one hour and you’ll be done.

Types of Dowel Jigs

While the different types of dowel jigs have the same working mechanism, familiarizing with them will give you a better understanding of what to expect, especially when it comes to choosing the right one for your tasks. 

Dowel jigs come in different types and categories according to their use and size. Below are some of the dowel jigs you are likely to come across. 

  • Self-centering Jigs
  • Simple Dowel Jigs
  • High Capacity Dowel Jigs

Every jig will be useful depending on the size and type of job you want to do. To identify the best jig for your particular task, you must consider several features. For example, the Self-centering jig allows you to determine the hole you want to drill automatically. 

Man showing how to use a dowel jig

On the other hand, the self-clamping jig makes your tasks more comfortable by using the jaw’s tension to hold the material and keep the jig from shifting. 

Simple Dowel Jigs

Although these jigs have holes for many drills, they do not have bushings. They are not suitable when using multiple dowels as the jig must be moved, thus causing alignment problems. These jigs come with four threaded holes providing you with a variety of options in spacing. 

Some manufacturers produce dowel jigs that have bushings of various sizes screwed into compatible female threads. This allows you to drill holes of the same size without moving the jig to ensure that all the holes are well aligned. This type of dowel jigs is used for tasks that involve drilling two parallel holes on the ¾” center for double dowels.

High Capacity Dowel Jigs

These are the best performing jigs. You can always attach them onto the stock of between 2 to 6 inches. Such jigs hold more capacity, provide higher performance, and are relatively more expensive. 

These are used for mass doweling for intensive production.

Self Centering Dowel Jigs

The steel blocks on these kinds of jigs have screws that go through them. When the screw handle is turned, the sides of the jig move symmetrically as it still holds the wood.

These are fast and are very convenient when doing short notice projects.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now know the different types of dowel jigs, their working mechanism, what to look for in one, and how to use them to make a simple dowel joint. Don’t forget to be careful and follow the recommended safety precautions for using hand tools

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.