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Doweling - Wooden Pegs

Dowels are wooden pegs that are used in combination with glue in making joints for your wood furniture projects. You will learn how to remove a dowel, replace dowels, and add dowels for you furniture repair.

The use of dowels - Dowels are wooden pegs that are used in combination with glue in making joints. They are often necessary elements of the joint, not just extra reinforcer, and are almost always preferable to nails, screws, brackets, and other metal fasteners, which are likely to damage the wood. If joint repairs are to be made properly, even the most straightforward jobs - such as tightening a loose table leg or reattaching a broken chair rung - require careful use of dowels.

In making a dowel joint, a pair of aligned sockets are drilled into the surfaces being joined. A single piece of dowel of the correct length and diameter is glued and inserted into sockets as the joint is pulled together.

Old joints often work loose with time causing such problems as wobbly chair backs and arms. You can try correction a minor problem simply by squeezing new glue into the dowel holes and clamping the joint until the glue dries. But the presence of old glue in the socket can prevent new glue from penetrating the wood and bonding firmly; durable repairs almost always require disassembling the joint and thoroughly cleaning away the old glue.

Removing a dowel - A worn or broken dowel can often be extracted by twisting and pulling with a pair of pliers. Be careful not to use such force that the dowel breaks off or splinters. And avoid prying with a knife or screwdriver around the dowel, as this may chew up or enlarge the dowel socket.

Broken or tightly lodged dowels should be removed by drilling. Select an appropriate bit matched to the dowel's diameter. Carefully estimate the depth you will need to drill - allowing for the point on the bit - and mark this depth on the bit, with either a strip of masking tape or a commercial depth gauge. Sometimes a change of resistance as you hit a different wood or a change in the appearance of the wood  shavings  may tell you when you have reached the end of the old dowel, but you cannot rely on this.

After the dowel has been removed, thoroughly clean the socket of old glue and remove all traces of sawdust. Be careful not to enlarge or alter the shape of the socket; sand not more than is necessary to remove glue.

Replacing dowels

  1. An old dowel can often be removed from its socket simply by using pliers. Grip dowel firmly close to its base and twist as you pull.
  2. If dowel is broken off in socket, drill it out. Estimate the socket's depth, allowing at least 1/4" of solid wood beyond the end of socket.
  3. Mark the depth arrived at in Step 2 on your drill bit, with either a commercial depth gauge or masking tape.
  4. To align socket holes, tap a brad into center of old dowel. Cut off brad with pliers so that it protrudes only about 1/4".
  5. Line up joint accurately and press it together with your hands. Separate the joint. Note brad impression on second dowel.
  6. Remove brad with pliers. Brad marks on both dowels act as centers for your drill bit. Drill to correct depth, as determined above.
  7. After cleaning dust from sockets, measure length for new dowel. This is the combined depth of both sockets. Cut dowel to this size.
  8. Before applying glue, make a dry run. Assemble the joint, including dowels. Make any modifications necessary for an accurate fit.
  9. Apply glue, and reassemble joint with new dowels. Clamp firmly; wipe off glue that squeezes out. Let dry overnight.

Dowel rods are sold by most lumber and hardware stores in 36-inch lengths; stock diameters range from 1/8 inch to 1 inch. The diameters most commonly needed for furniture repair are 1/4 inch, 5/16 inch, 3/8 inch, and 1/2 inch. When buying a new dowel, take the old one with you to use in determining the correct diameter. Buy hardwood dowels for hardwood furniture, if available.

Test the new dowel in the hole before proceeding with the gluing, as you may have slightly enlarged the hole by sanding. If the dowel fits loosely you will have to use a filler or get a dowel of slightly larger diameter. Although the dowel should fit snugly, it should nevertheless slide in and out smoothly. It should be cut slightly shorter than the hole; otherwise, when the joint is clamped, the glue pressure will keep the joint apart.

Adding dowels - As a general rule, new dowels should be installed only as replacements for worn or broken dowels already in the piece of furniture being repaired. It is seldom advisable to introduce dowels where they had not initially been used by the manufacturer or cabinetmaker, or the Upholsterer. However, there are exceptions to this rule. You should use your best judgment in determining whether or not the introduction of a new dowel would make a repair stronger than it would be if it were done by gluing and clamping alone.

The basic procedure for adding new dowels is similar to that for replacing dowels, as described before. The main difference is that there are no existing dowel or dowel sockets to guide you in measuring and positioning the respective elements. Always try to center your new dowel sockets, so that as much solid wood as possible will surround the dowel on all sides.Be sure to carefully measure or estimate the depth of a new socket. You must avoid drilling too far through a leg or a supporting element of the frame. If you drill too far, you may weaken the construction.

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