5 Tips for Drilling Dowel Holes in the Right Locations
November 30, 2015 | 4:29 pm CST

What’s the best method for getting dowel hole locations on the cabinet fronts to line up with the end panels?  Woodworking experts put their know-how to the test, providing solutions to October’s Shop Smart challenge, presented by Woodworking Network.  In a randomly selected drawing, the detailed answer provided by Larry Lee, owner of Pearl River Cabinet Co. in Carriere, MS, proved to be a winner.

Make a Jig

“My #1 shop rule: If you have to do something more than once, make a jig. My #2 shop rule: Use dowels only when absolutely nothing else works!
“Since it appears this is being done by hand, and dowels are insisted on, make this jig. Cut and joint a piece of hardwood the thickness of the end panel and about 1-1/2-inch wide and as long or longer than the end panel.  On a drill press with a square fence drill through the center of the edge of the hardwood with the size hole of choice at the  desired intervals for the dowels, more if you want to use this on other joints.
“Place a piece of 1/2-inch or so by 3-1/2-inch ply or stock on one of the 1-1/2-inch faces so that 1 inch is overhanging each edge of the hardwood. To use, simply clamp the jig to each piece to be joined using opposite sides of the jig referenced from the bottom of each piece.  You can put metal bushings in the holes in the jig to slow wear and wobble.
“Of course, I would simply groove both pieces on the table saw and place biscuits as needed, or blind dado and glue and cross pin nail from the inside.”
- Larry Lee, Pearl River Cabinet Co.

Other Jig Tips

“Put dowel centers in the holes, align the edge of the front with the end panel, and press the cabinet front against the cabinet to mark the location of the dowel holes that need to be drilled in the cabinet.”  
- Walter Simmons, Duck Trap Woodworking

Try a Joiner or Buy a Jig

“Doweling is old technology and almost always gives rise to problems like this. There are a few jigs out there that might work — the Dow’l Simp’l jig, Woodpecker’s MT Doweling jig, or you could make a homemade jig. Personally, I use pocket screws or a dado and rabbet setup. A biscuit joiner, Festool’s Domino or a horizontal mortiser could also be used for greater accuracy.”
—Alan Blough, RCF Corp.

Biscuits Joints Are Better

“Stop using dowels and use biscuits instead. Also you might try  pocket hole screws.  That would be my most earnest suggestion after 40 years in the business.”
— Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown’s Cabinet Shop

More Solutions

“Make a story stick. Taking 1-1/2 x 1-1/2, router a groove to cradle the cabinet edge and attach a small cleat at the top to register the face frame. Then drill your pilot holes or where you want your dowels to go.”
— John Wallace

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