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 pc 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.”

Enter the next Shop Smarts Challenge

Other notable responses:

Other Jig Tips

"Create a simple jig using 1/4-inch Masonite. Attach it to the top side of a piece of stock and drill the dowel pattern through the Masonite. Then place the template over the stock to be doweled. This can be used in any configuration and with good drill press alignment will last for hundreds of holes.” — Ron Dodd, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

"Make a boring jig out of scrap 1/4-inch plywood or sim, that will register from a mutual fixed point. Or buy an inexpensive set of dowel centers. These will require drilling one set of holes, inserting the centering plug — a button with a stop collar and an on-center projecting pin — align the members, tap lightly with a mallet or sim, and you'll have your locations. Always use a drill press to drill the dowel holes." — Craig Schoppe, Eastbay Co.

"The best way to line them up is to build an indexing jig with pins. Build it so the pins can slide in and out as they are needed, spring loaded so as you slide the material down the fence they can push in with the pressure of your workpiece. Build it with multiple pin bars; you can buy them at McMaster-Carr in all different sizes in mm and stock for a steel fence." — Jon Rickert, Wooden Valley Carpentry

Mark the Spot

"Place the panels together, then use a machinist square mark across the edges. Use a small square gauge with the depth the same. They both should line up exactly every time as long as they are drilled properly." — Eric Hudson, Eric Hudson Construction

"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

"Place dowel centers in the drilled holes and place the end panels in position. Press to mark the center positions of the holes in the end panel." — Harold Patterson, Patterson Design

"Use dowel locators and a marking gauge to really dial in your layout." — Zachary Salmans, Mammoth Woodworks & Remodeling

Try a Joiner or Buy a Jig

Dowelmax 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.

"I switched to a Festool Domino. It works just as good or better and your panels line up real good." — Philip Lenz, Mt. Hood Cabinetry

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

"Stop using dowels and use biscuits instead. Much easier to use and align." — Robert Burr

"Ditch the dowels and use Lamello splines." — John Bunday

More Solutions

"Use a layout rod with a stop. This will perfectly line up the vertical. Then adjust the horizontal depending on the thickness of the bulkhead." — Jessie Hall, Pontifex Millwork

"Get rid of the dowels and use a locking miter joint." — Grayson Ferguson, Grayson Ferguson Woodworking

"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 Drill your pilot holes or where you want your dowels to go." — John Wallace


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