How To Make A Simple Dowel Maker Homemade Machines & Jigs
To date (May, 2012…), my most viewed video on YouTube is “Make A Dowel Maker”. I guess it has a broader appeal than just woodworking, as it appears that many are interested in it to use for making arrow shafts for archery. In it, I quickly show the steps I took to make the cutter and how it works.
I have had a number of requests to go into this in more detail: material, measurements and drill sizes. Given the popularity of the video, I decided to make another dowel maker, this time documenting the project here, with a series of pictures.
I start with a piece of cold rolled steel, 1/4″ thick and 3/4″ wide. The length is 8″, which will allow me to make one cutter (1/2″ and 3/8″) on each end.
The size of the stock is nominal and the only important dimension is the thickness – it should be at least 1/4″ thick for dowels this size.
In the world of precision metal working, there is a product called machinist’s dye that is used to lay out metal parts. This is typically blue in colour and sprayed on the part and left to dry. Marks are scribed through this to the metal below, giving a very accurate and high contrast layout line.
I don’t have any of the actual dye, but I do have some regular spray paint that will work nearly as well. I gave the part a thin coat and let it dry. The blue colour is coincidence – any darker colour will work:
The calipers are set to 3/8″ (half the width of the bar) and a line is scratched along the length of the steel bar.
A centre line is scribed 3/4″ from each end of the bar, since I’ll be doing two cutters, one on each end:
On this end of the bar, I’m marking for a 1/2″ dowel cutter, as shown in the video. I set the calipers to 1-1/16″ and scratch a line.
A second line is made 7/16 from the end:
This gives three layout lines, the outer ones are 5/16″ from the centre mark.
Next, the marks for the 3/8″ dowel cutter are made, at the other end of the bar. The centre mark is already in place 3/4″ from the end and the caliper is set to scribe a line 1/2″ from the end:
Then another 1″ from the end. This produces two marks that are 1/4″ from then centre mark.
The marks on each end are centre punched. My homemade centre punch is a 3″ driver bit ground down to a point. Centre punching sets a very precise starting point for the drill bit and makes it less likely to “skate” off the mark:
Each location is then drilled through with a 1/8″ bit:
Both ends with the 1/8″ pilot holes drilled. Getting these accurately located is very important, so extra time spent getting to this point will pay off in the end.
All six of these holes are then enlarged to 1/4″:
In the comments following the video, I took some heat for not clamping the work down while drilling it. It is always a really good idea to follow the best safety procedures, not just for your own well being, but to improve the end result. Clamping the part takes away the chance that it will move while it is being drilled, and increases the accuracy of the operation.
Next, the centre hole is enlarged to 1/2″:
And the other to 3/8″:
It’s very important to make sure the work is tightly clamped down while drilling these larger holes, and that you are using good quality sharp bits. Failing to do so may make the hole too ragged or large and the cutter will perform poorly.
For the cutter to work properly, relief cuts are made on the trailing edge, to open up more of the cutting edge. I just “eyeball” these and drill a pilot first with a 1/8″ bit, about 1/16″ deep.:
Then enlarged to 1/4″, and drilled to the same depth. The cutter is now finished.
Time to prepare the raw dowel stock. I’m using maple and have cut it to just over 1/2″ thick. The corners were cut off as well, with the table saw blade tilted to 45 degrees. The measurement above shows ~50 thousandths over, and while this is certainly doable, a closer fit will work more efficiently. The goal should be 10 thousandths over or less, since this will save wear and tear on the cutter and make it cut faster:
Both ends of the rod are quickly planed to fit in the cutter and in the drill chuck:
The cut is started.
At this point, I check the diameter. It’s .507 – very good, some light sanding after will bring it down to where it needs to be:
Finishing the cut:
And a measurement after sanding.
A perfectly sized, smooth dowel. More or less sanding will yield a looser or tighter fit, tailored to my specific needs.
I had a couple of questions on how straight the dowel is. Here it’s against a piece of plywood, as long as the raw stock is straight and the cutter is sharp, the result will be arrow straight dowels:
The final test. Fits nicely in the hole drilled by the drill bit that made the cutter.
Having the ability to quickly and cheaply cut your own dowel stock from whatever wood you choose can be a real benefit in the workshop, and help take your craftsmanship to the next level.