Recently I made a dowel plate from washers I bought at my local hardware store. It’s not pretty, but it does a decent job forming accurate dowel pins. For a couple of bucks I’m able to make 5/16" dowels out of any species of wood available.
I’ve got a backlog of projects a block long, and generally I put them off until they take up more space than I can afford in the shop. I decided this week that the six dining chairs stacked in the corner were taking up a bit too much space.
These are mid-century teak chairs from Denmark. They’ve been through a lot; I have two kids. For a while, they were on carpet, and wood end-grain doesn’t slide well on carpet. Eventually, some of them developed splits near the top of the legs from torsion stress. I glued them once with Titebond II, and they split again. They’ve been shelved since.
I hear that Titebond III is the goo to go to for oily woods, so this time I’ll be using that. But I’m also going to pin the splits. I did this a while back with a maple rocker on an Eames shell chair, and it’s held well. Should be plenty stout for a vertical leg.
To pin the legs I plan to use teak dowels. End grain against side grain still won’t be pretty, but it’ll look a lot better than poplar. The trouble is, teak dowels aren’t available locally. I tried ordering teak dowels. Twice. I just couldn’t win… so it’s time I make my own.
Dowel plates are nothing new. Lie-Nielsen makes a nice one that gets great reviews, there are similar plates on Amazon, and Veritas has what they call a dowel former. I’ve decided that I’m going to pick up the Veritas set, but I struggle with the 25% premium for shipping. Next free shipping event that Lee Valley holds I’m planning to swoop it up. (edit: I did buy the Veritas. It’s pretty great.)
Make One in the Meantime
I’m not sure how long it will be that I’m waiting to order the former from Lee Valley, so I decided to scab one together to get me through this one project. I headed to the local Ace Hardware and started looking through washers. After an amount of digging, I found that a 1/4" hardened thick washer had a hole that perfectly fit a 5/16" dowel that i picked up in another aisle. I had the center. I then found 2 others that stacked well, with a decent amount of overlap. I think the middle one is a 1/2" hardened washer, and the big one is a 3/4" fender washer, that is about 2 inches in total diameter.
I decided on using hardened washers for the first two for two reasons. First, was the 1/4" washer was the right size. Second, I thought that using hardened washers would help with durability, and the little guy also needed to be a cutting edge, and a hardened washer seemed like it would be better for cutting. The 3/4" washer was big enough and thick enough that I didn’t feel I needed to pony up the couple more bucks for the hardened version.
Next I needed to stack ‘em up and fix ‘em together. Bronze brazing rod seemed the logical choice, especially seeing that the washers were likely different material and I didn’t want to melt any of them. I got out my Mapp torch and started heating. And heating. And.. this wasn’t going to do the job. I couldn’t get the brazing rod to melt. Not sure if it was the washers or the brick soaking up the heat, but it was just taking too long.
Out came my relic Oxy-Acetylene rig. It says “Montgomery-Ward” on the regulators! My seriously lacking brazing skill aside, I got the washers stacked and stuck together no problem.
The last thing I had to do was clean up the top surface. I used sandpaper glued down to plate glass, the same that I use to get edge tool edges established. I went from 220 to 600 grit, and the 600 left a good enough surface to seem like it would cut. I also lightly ran a round file through the hole vertically, to knock out any rough stuff. Lastly I used a countersink bit on the backside to shorten the vertical edge, but I’m not sure how necessary that was.
Knocking Them Home
With all of that done, all that was left was to make the pins! I picked up a six inch length of 3/4" teak from Rockler. I roughed out some slightly oversized 5/16" blanks on the bandsaw, cut them to octagons with a block plane, and finally made them nearly round with the plane. I drove them through the plate over a doghole in my bench with a mallet.
The dowel pins turned out serviceable enough for what I need, and I’m happy with that. I’m still going to buy the Veritas kit down the line, in case I want pins of different diameters. But for this particular job my homemade rig will work just fine.