Dowels are the most underrated woodworking tools to ever exist that are often overlooked. They are great for joinery and are structurally durable enough to be used in furniture. When it comes to joining wood edge to edge, dowel joinery is an amazing technique to use. Though you need to know how far you should space each dowel to ensure the integrity of the wood. In this article, we are going to explore exactly that. Let us explore how far apart should dowels be spaced for the best results.
When it comes to using dowels in an edge-to-edge joint, you space them at least 10″ apart. However, if you are drilling mortise for dowels on the front, then they can be placed approx 65-100mm. Placing dowels too far apart can weaken the joint significantly. So this is the best distance to space them. Also, depending on the density of the material, you can either place dowels closer or further.
Dowels come in various thicknesses and can be used in a variety of projects. The most common ones are the flute dowels which are considerably inexpensive and can be found at almost all hardware stores. Then there are dowel sticks which are longer and you can cut the length you want to use making them great for customization. There was also the use of wooden biscuits to join wood edge-to-edge. However, due to the biscuits being weaker than dowels, people often avoid using these.
How to Determine Spacing Between Dowels
As we briefly touched earlier, spacing dowels too far apart can weaken the joint significantly. There are a few factors that you can keep in mind that will help you determine the spacing between dowels. First and foremost is the type of material you are going to use the dowel in. The dense the material is, the more space you can leave in between. If you are, for instance, installing a dowel in a concrete wall, then you can leave a 12″ space between them. The closer the dowels are, the more the chance is that due to the density of concrete, it will weaken.
For wood, you can leave around 10″ space between dowels when joining it edge-to-edge. This is because even though a dowel is replacing the wood that you drill out, it will still weaken the integrity of the wood slightly, specifically if you are drilling in end-grain or side-grain. If you place it any closer then there is more chance of splitting the wood. For face-grain, you can install dowels with a space of 2-3 inches apart. Placing them too far apart will weaken the joint itself.
How Close Can You Put Dowels
You can keep dowels 2-3 inches close to each other, but anything closer than that will ruin the joint. As you drill and take out material from wood to replace it with a dowel, the closer you will have to drill, the worse it is for the wood itself. Wood is made out of fibres, and when you are drilling into wood, you are decreasing the wood’s surface area and increasing pressure. The pressure will displace these fibres, causing them to crack the wood if the mortise for the dowels is too close.
The ideal distance for dowels to be placed is 3 inches, but the closest you can go without any compromises is 2 inches. A dowel joint provides good structural support, and to keep it that way this is the ideal closest spacing.
Issues of Dowels Placed too Close or too Far Apart
We briefly spoke about how if a dowel is placed too close it will weaken the integrity of the wood between them. When you are inserting a dowel into a tight-fitting mortise, it will add stress to the piece. If you don’t want to add pressure to the piece of wood you are joining, then you need to at least have 3-inches of distance.
If you place dowels too far apart, it will ruin the purpose of the joint as it will weaken significantly. Placing dowels too far will make the joint weak as each dowel supports the other. At a distance, this is not possible and it will easily break with a little leverage. The whole point of using dowels is strength in numbers. Too close weakens the wood that you are joining so you have to keep that in mind as well.
With bigger space, there is also the issue of aligning the dowels. You want to avoid misaligning dowel holes at all costs, otherwise, it will ruin a perfectly good piece of wood. You will need to patch the hole with a dowel from the same species of wood and glue it. Of course, it will not be the same as the piece was originally, but at least it can still be used.
What Problems Can Occur When Doweling
Misalignment is a huge issue when it comes to doweling for joints. If you don’t align your dowel holes, you are going to end up wasting wood. This is why placing dowels too far apart is a bad idea. However, there are jigs to solve the alignment issues at close range.
Also, if you are not very well versed when it comes to using a drill, then you might end up not drilling straight. To avoid this probability you will need a dowel alignment jig which helps avoid such blunders and mistakes. You also need to align the mortises in both pieces that you are joining. Misalign one and you will not have a straight joint between the pieces.
Last, but not least, people often don’t account for glue when drilling holes. People often don’t leave enough depth for the glue as it will take around 2 mm of depth. So keep that margin in your mind when you are planning to drill mortise for the dowels.
Tips for Aligning Dowels
- Take proper measurements ahead: Taking measurements in any woodworking joint will help guide you. When it comes to aligning dowels, taking measurements will make sure you don’t misalign the mortises.
- Using a dowel jig: While it is not necessary to use a dowel jig, it is highly recommended. If you are not confident in your abilities when using a drill, a jig will help save time and give you assurance.
- Take your time to drill straight: Take your time to drill straight into the wood to make the mortise for the dowel. If you aren’t confident that you can drill straight even with a jig, then use a drill press instead.
- Make sure to keep depth in check: When you are drilling mortise for a dowel, keep in mind its length. If you drill in too deep, you might end up misaligning the dowel joint. Using a drill press can solve this problem as you have better control of depth with it.
If you are working on a dowel joint, hopefully, our article will have given you a good idea of how much space you should keep between each. Using such a joint properly will not only improve the structural integrity of the overall piece but also make sure that it can support a lot of leverage. So keep the distance in check always when you are working with dowels.