3 Ways to Remove Broken Dowels

Dowels are an important part of woodworking when it comes to joinery. A wooden dowel is an easy way to join two pieces of wood. It also keeps the wood’s aesthetics intact and even enhances it. Though, unlike a screw, a dowel is hard to take out once it is inserted. When it comes to a screw, you can easily drive it out and it won’t break. On the other hand, a dowel is made of wood and can break apart with ample force. Once it breaks, how do you remove that dowel? If you have asked yourself this question, then you aren’t the only one. To answer your query, we will explore the 3 ways to remove broken dowels.

The 3 ways to remove broken dowels are: if you can grip the dowel with pliers, you can use the force of a hammer to push it out. If the dowel is completely stuck in the mortise and cannot be gripped with pliers, then you can drive a screw in it. Using the grip of the screw, pull out the dowel using a pair of pliers. In case the dowel cannot be pulled out because of an adhesive, then you will need to drill it out. By doing so you carve the dowel out in its entirety.

A screw can be driven out with relative ease when compared to a dowel. Once you insert a dowel inside a mortise, even if it is for a test fit, it can get stuck. You need to pull out the dowel using pliers most of the time. This is why most of the time people prefer using screws for joining wood. It is easier to repair furniture with screws in it, as it takes little to no effort in driving screws out. However, a metal screw is not exactly stronger than a wooden dowel. Both can break apart with ample force, so using either is all about your own convenience.

The Best Way to Remove Dowels

The best and surefire way of removing a dowel is to drill it out. When you are trying to extract a dowel by pulling it out, it is not always going to work. The adhesive in the joint might not let the dowel come out with ease. Even if you try to pry it out using a pair of pliers, it just won’t come out. Not to mention when the dowel gets broken and you cannot grip it with a plier, you need to drive a screw in it to pull it out. Most of the time even that method does not bear fruit and the dowel just does not come out.

In this kind of scenario, the only thing left to do is to drill out the dowel. The only problem with this method is there is a slight chance that you might widen the mortise. If you don’t have confidence in your skills with a drill, we would suggest trying the other methods first. Because if you make even the slightest mistake, then you might end up widening the mortise. This will ruin its loosening grip on a dowel that was once able to fit tightly.

To ensure that you don’t end up loosening the mortise, first, you have to start off using a very small bit. You drill out the dowel using that small bit and gradually increase the size of the bit. Once you have drilled out a significant portion of the dowel, only leaving a bit at the edges, use a small chisel or screwdriver and break the edges down. Break the edges into the mortise itself so that you can drill it out completely.

After breaking down the dowel, use a drill bit as big as the mortise, not bigger but exactly as big as it, and drill out the remainder of the dowel and any adhesive inside. When you are done doing so, you can blow out any sawdust or remainder remaining inside. Now your mortise is ready to accept another dowel. As we said before, there is a slight risk of widening the mortise if you deviate from a straight path as you drill into it. So be sure to use any means necessary to ensure you are drilling straight.

How to Remove Ikea Dowels

Ikea furniture is pretty much common throughout the world where the brand is available. It is because the brand not only provides sturdy enough furniture but also it is reasonably priced. So it will not be surprising if you or anyone you are repairing furniture for has Ikea furniture in their homes. The caveat with Ikea is that you need to assemble everything from scratch. So everything comes separately, including the screw and dowels.

Even if it is reasonably priced and sturdy, you might need to renovate your Ikea furniture every now and then. If it requires you to remove any broken dowels, then don’t worry, it is quite easy to extract them. You can use the screw method for any dowels that are broken in too deep. For any dowels that are not broken and can be gripped with a plier then that is even better for you. Because now you won’t need to drive a screw into it and can pull it out with the grip from the pliers alone.

Other Ways to Remove Dowels

Other than the surefire way of removing a dowel by drilling it out, you always have the screw extraction method. You also have the plier and hammer method for those cases where the dowel just gets stuck when you are test fitting it in the mortise.

Plier and Hammer Method

When you insert a dowel into a mortise for test fit or for joinery purposes, chances are it will not come out by just yanking it. You can use pliers but since there is no lubrication the dowel will stay in place and won’t budge since it is such a tight fit. In such cases, using a hammer to extract the dowel while holding it with the pliers is an option.

Use the pliers to grip the dowel tightly so that it does not move. Now using a hammer, tap the pliers lightly from below. With a few gentle strokes of the hammer, the dowel will come out with relative ease. This method only works when there is enough dowel for the plier to grip. If there is no way to grip the dowel with a plier then the screw extraction method is the best.


  • Easy method.
  • Does not require many tools.
  • Can be done by oneself.
  • No risk of damaging the mortise or dowel.
  • No risk of damaging the furniture.


  • Requires enough dowel to grip with pliers.
  • Might not work all the time if the dowel is stuck because of adhesive.

Screw Extraction

This method is pretty similar to the previous one but requires you to drive a screw into the broken dowel. Oftentimes when a dowel does not budge and you cannot remove the joint, you have to cut it. When you do cut it, there isn’t any place for a plier to grip on to for you to pull the dowel out. In this scenario, you create a place for the pliers to grip on to.

You do this simply by first making a pilot hole in the dowel using a small drill bit. After which you drive in a screw deep enough that it has a good grip. You do not have to drive the screw in too deep, you just need it to grip onto the dowel tightly. After which you use a pair of pliers and jerk the dowel out. You can use a hammer to gently strike the pliers similar to the first method. This will loosen up the dowel and it will come out.

In case the dowel does not come out and is stuck, then your only option is to use the drilling out method.


  • Easy method to apply.
  • Does not require a lot of effort.
  • Can be done by an amateur as well.


  • Works half the time, the other half you need to drill out the dowel.

How to Remove Dowels From Concrete

Removing a wooden dowel from concrete is much easier than removing it from wood. Concrete is a durable material and much more forgiving. Due to the grainy texture of concrete, there is always wiggle space inside it. So unless the dowel is deep in, using a pair of pliers to grip on it and pulling it out won’t be a big issue. Because of the grainy texture of concrete, the dowel won’t be as tight a fit as it would be in wood. 

However, if the dowel is too deep in the concrete, driving a screw in it will only tighten its grip inside. This is because as the screw is driven in the dowel expands in the concrete. When it does, it will try to grab on to it and not want to come out. In that case, the most simple solution is to use a drill. Drilling out a dowel from concrete is similar to doing so in wood. However, in the case of concrete, you don’t have to worry about widening the mortise like in wood.

You can try to extract it using a screw, but you should only drive it in very slightly around 1/4 of its length. There is a chance that it won’t expand from being a screw driven into it at that length.

How to Remove Dowels Without Breaking

Dowels are very cheap, they can cost around 10 dollars for around 400 pieces. So it should not be a huge deal if you end up breaking one or two. However, removing a dowel is a pain, and you would want to keep it intact whenever possible. As we said before, it is more about the hassle of removing a broken dowel than the price itself. So most of the time you want to remove it without breaking it.

The one and only way in which a dowel can be taken out without damaging is with a pair of pliers. There aren’t many other ways to remove one without breaking it. In most cases, dowels in furniture can be pulled out with a little bit of force. In case one does not come out, it is impossible to remove the piece of the furniture without breaking the dowel itself. You need to cut the dowel and then use a screw extraction to remove it.

If the dowel is just stuck in one piece and you can grab onto it with pliers, then you can salvage and remove it without breaking. This is a very rare scenario though because a lot of times dowels just don’t budge. Since people use adhesives in these joints, it becomes hard to just pull it out. In a screw extraction method, the dowel does not exactly break but it does get a big hole in it from the screw driven into it. So considering that the only safe method of removing a dowel without breaking is using a pair of pliers to grip them tightly while using a hammer to gently tap it so it gets pulled out.

3 Tips to Successfully Remove Dowels

  • Always make a pilot hole if you are planning on extracting it using a screw. If you drive the screw directly into the dowel, it might end up breaking and expanding inside the wood which makes it even harder to pull it out properly.
  • If you are using pliers to pull it out, you can either use a piece of wood as pulley to wedge out a dowel or use a hammer to gently tap it from below as you pull on it.
  • When drilling out a dowel, draw lines on the wood to guide you. You need to drill straight into the dowel and not too deep either since you don’t want to weaken the wooden piece the mortise is cut into. To help you drill straight, drawing lines on wood will give you reference.

Best Wooden Dowel Removal Tool

There isn’t one tool that is used to remove wooden dowels from any piece of furniture. In one method you can use pliers and hammers, another one requires you to use a drill and impact driver to drive in a screw and then use pliers and hammer to pull on it. The third one requires you to drill it out completely using a set of bits from the smallest to one as big as the mortise itself. Most woodworkers already have these tools in their workshop since they use them almost on a daily basis to work with wood.

Since drilling out a hole is the best way to remove a dowel that works 100% of the time, then this Ryobi Drill Kit with Bits set is perfect. The cordless drill is powerful enough to not only drill out dowels but also make mortise holes in wooden pieces.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to remove a wooden dowel without drilling into it?

It is possible to remove it without drilling into it only if there is enough dowel outside the part of furniture or wall that pliers can grip onto with ease. Otherwise the only other option to remove the dowel is either by screw extraction or drilling it out. 

What if the dowel is stuck and won’t come out because you used adhesive before inserting it into the mortise?

In such a scenario, the only way to remove the dowel is to drill it out. This way you not only remove the dowel itself but also clean out any adhesive in the mortise to insert a fresh dowel with adhesive.

What to do if you can’t pull out a dowel with pliers alone?

If you can’t pull out a dowel with pliers alone then you can use a piece of wood to wedge it out. If you don’t have a scrap piece of wood thin enough to help wedge out the dowel then you can always use a hammer to gently strike it from below.

Can you directly drill out a dowel with a bit as big as the mortise?

You can, the only problem is that there are chances you might deviate and end up widening the mortise. To avoid that you can always use a drill press, but it depends on where the dowel is. If the dowel is in a piece of furniture that is not flat, then it won’t sit still for a drill press. If it is in a wall that is even worse, so using smaller bits and gradually moving up is the best course of action.

Final Thoughts

Using dowels is a much more stable way of joining two pieces of wood. Which is why most antique furniture either used tenon and mortise or dowels to join different parts. When repairing such furniture it is important to have the knowledge to remove these dowels without any issues. Hopefully our guide will have given you the confidence and information you needed to safely remove broken dowels.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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