What is a Dowel? Using Dowels to Build Furniture and More

You may have heard the term "dowel rod".

Well, a dowel is more-or-less a miniature version of a dowel rod. The more common name for the miniature "rods" is "dowel pins", and they most often are made of wood, plastic or metal.

The small, solid, cylindrical shape makes this pin versatile and it is used for many purposes. Dowels are used for making strong and accurate joints in wood. 

Dowels have been used as toy axles, structural support for cabinet making and support for tiered wedding cakes. It doesn't seem like this is true, but experts claim that since dowels are thicker than nails or screws and are less likely to break. 

In addition to these common purposes, and depending on the size, dowels are used for many other things:

  • moveable game pieces 
  • shelf supports
  • to hang items (keys, clothing, etc...)

How is a Dowel Made?

Traditionally, in order to make a wood dowel, something called a dowel plate is used mainly to make sure it's the correct desired size, but also to shave off excess wood in order to make it smooth.

One will take a piece of wood, whittle it down to be slightly larger than desired, then put through a hole on a dowel plate, and this smooths out the dowel. 

To mass-produce the dowel, more sophisticated machinery is used.​

Common Uses for a Dowel 

Putting Furniture Together

Oftentimes, you run to Target or Ikea to pick up a "shelf in a box" or a new tv stand, or some other DIY project that you have to read instructions and put together yourself. It's a rare thing NOT to find dowels as part of the kit to put this DIY furniture together.

In the bag of screws and the allen wrench, you'll be sure to find miniature dowel "rods" otherwise known as dowel pins. The instructions will typically require you to use the mini bottle of glue to put into the pre-cut holes where you will stick the dowel. Once the glue dries and the shelf is put together, the dowel serves to strengthen the shelf you have just put together.

​If you were to simply use glue to join two pieces of wood, it wouldn't be nearly as strong as using dowels.

Cross Dowels

These are used in putting together furniture as well. These allow you to join two pieces of wood together. These are metal ​and have a threaded hole inside like other metal nuts. The ends (at least one of them) are slotted and the slot is parallel to the threaded hole. 

Other Uses for Dowels

  1. Spreading grout evenly in tile​ where it's otherwise difficult to reach. Sometimes it's challenging to get grout deeply into the ceramic tile. Specifically, you can use the dowel to push the grout tightly and firmly into corners of the floor or shower you are tiling. 
  2. Make a dispenser for twine or other types of rope. This cool, DIY project would be a perfect set up for you to keep your twine, rope, etc. from getting tangled up. Keep these in your shed or garage. Keep yourself organized.
  3. As a rolling pin - spread out the dough or pastry using a dowel rod.
  4. Make a DIY lantern. This nice project could be used to decorate your back deck or porch. In addition, it's a great gift idea!
  5. DIY cheap curtain rods - Are you on a budget? You can purchase cheap ornaments for the ends of your dowel rods to make your curtain rods look amazingly chic. No one has to know the actual rods are cheap dowels purchased for a few bucks at your local hardware store. 
  6. Towel rack - you can quickly hang a dowel rod from a wall-shelf in your bathroom or kitchen, and voila! You have a cheap, DIY towel rack.
  7. Sometimes, a screw-hole gets stripped. Dowels can be used to repair those stripped holes.

Who knew such a little thing could be used for so much in the world of DIY and home improvement. Now that you know many of the uses of a dowel, and what a dowel even is, you can get to work on your latest DIY project and see if you have a special use for one yourself. 

About Russ Thompson

Hey I'm Russ and I have been a contractor for over 20 years. I know what the cost of having the right tools and materials for the job. My passion for woodworking and helping others by workshops in my wood shop. I have beginner classes all the way up expert trade classes. Check out my bio for more.

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