How To Cut Wooden Dowels

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We know what wooden dowels are, and we have all used them from time to time, either in making something or repairing something in our woodworking shop.  You run to the local hardware store, where you will find wood dowels of various diameters standing upright in a display frame labeled with their gauges, and grab the one(s) you need for your project. 

They’re cheap and ready-made, so you don’t need any fancy gadgets or accessories to make your own.  At hardware stores and the big DIY home improvement stores, they are usually stocked in lengths of 3′, 4′, 5′, and 6′, along with a number of diameters, so it’s pretty easy to find the dowel size you need in sufficient length for the job.

Key Points:

  • Dowel cuts are not difficult and are pretty obvious in execution.
  • Dowel cuts do not necessarily require a saw, as there are other ways, some more accurate methods than others, depending on the size of the wood dowel.
  • Care is needed to avoid splintering and splitting wood dowels when cutting them to size.  

There are also the pre-sized dowels we use with a dowel jig in joinery.  We don’t usually have to worry about cutting them:  the jig helps us drill to a measured and specific depth in the wood on both pieces to be joined, and we use the appropriately-sized dowel that fits the combined depth measurements for a flush joint.

We’ve written about this in some past articles:  doweling jigs, dowels vs biscuits, and dowels vs pocket holes.  

When it comes time to cut them to size for the project, though, how best to accomplish the cut?  That may seem a silly question – you measure the desired length, you grab your saw, and you cut.  Problems can arise, though, with both larger dowels (in diameter) and smaller dowels (again, in diameter).

So, again, how best to accomplish a cut?

Wooden Dowel Common Uses In Woodworking?

There’s no need to describe what a wooden dowel is – a cylindrical rod, a piece of wood, uniform in diameter along its entire length.  We all know that.  

And we all have some idea of common uses for wooden dowel rods in our shops:

  • Joinery: Dowels can be used to join two pieces of wood together. This is often done by drilling holes in the two pieces of wood and then inserting the dowel into the holes. The dowel is then glued in place, creating a strong and durable joint.
  • Augmenting joints: Dowels can also be used to augment existing joints, such as screws or nails. This can help to make the joint stronger and more secure.
  • Reinforcement: Dowels can be used to reinforce weak or damaged areas of wood. This can be done by drilling holes in the wood and then inserting the dowel into the holes. The dowel is then glued in place, providing reinforcement to the weak or damaged area.
  • Alignment: Dowels can be used to align two pieces of wood so that they are flush with each other. This can be done by drilling holes in the two pieces of wood and then inserting the dowel into the holes. The dowel is then glued in place, holding the two pieces of wood in alignment.
  • Decorative purposes: Dowels can also be used for decorative purposes. For example, they can be used to create patterns or designs on furniture or other objects.

Dowel rods are available in a variety of sizes and materials, so you can choose the right dowel for your specific needs. Dowels are a versatile woodworking tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. If you are looking for a way to join wood, reinforce weak areas, or add decoration to your woodworking projects, dowels are a great option.

Other considerations when using wooden dowels in your shop:

  • Choose the right size dowel: The size of the dowel should be appropriate for the size of the hole that you are drilling. If the dowel is too small, it will not be strong enough. If the dowel is too large, it will not fit in the hole.
  • Use the right type of glue: Dowels should be glued in place with a strong adhesive. Epoxy glue is a good option for dowels, as it is strong and durable, although most of us probably use Elmer’s Wood Glue or Gorilla Wood Glue.
  • Clamp the dowel in place: Once the glue has been applied, clamp the dowel in place. This will help to ensure that the dowel stays in place while the glue dries.
  • Allow the glue to dry completely: Once the glue has dried completely, the dowel will be ready to use.

Why Cut A Wooden Dowel?

The simple, almost fresh answer to that question is because dowels come in pretty standard sizes, but projects do not.  Dowels must fit the size need of your project.

But there is more to answer:

  • To make the dowel the correct length for your project.
  • To create a specific shape or design.
  • To remove any imperfections or blemishes from the dowel.
  • To make the dowel easier to work with.

Here are some examples of projects where you might need to cut a wooden dowel:

  • Building furniture
  • Making toys
  • Creating art projects
  • Repairing broken objects
  • Building or repairing tools
  • Supporting multiple cake tiers of wedding and other cakes; supporting cakes with dowels is an old practice and works well as cakes get taller.  Each cake tier is supported by a cardboard piece cut to the shape of the cake layer, dowels support the cardboard piece.  Layer cakes with dowels come with one final step, too – removing the dowels before you begin cutting.  🙂

No matter what your reason for cutting a wooden dowel, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Use the right tools for the job. A sharp saw or a drill will make the job easier and will help to prevent the dowel from splintering.
  • Be careful not to cut yourself. Woodworking tools can be sharp, so it’s important to use caution when working with them, and to wear appropriate safety accessories like gloves, masks, and safety goggles.
  • Sand the ends of the dowel after you cut it. This will help to smooth out any rough edges and make the dowel look more finished.

Various Ways To Cut Wooden Dowels

Plowfar 14 inch Hand Saw 11TPI Pro Fine Cut for Wood, Plastic Pipes, Drywall, Trees Trimming & Pruning, Sharp Manual Saw for Woodworking, Red

Obviously, saws come to mind.  The size of the dowel, though, will impact on the choice of saw to use.  But there are many ways to cut dowels.

For instance:

  • Saw: Yes, we know we already said saws.  It is the most common way to cut a wooden dowel. You can use a handsaw, miter saw, or table saw. When using a saw, be sure to use a sharp blade and to keep the dowel steady.
  • Drill: A drill can also be used to cut a wooden dowel. You will need a drill bit that is the same diameter as the dowel. Drill slowly and evenly to avoid splintering the wood.
  • Chisel: A chisel can be used to cut a wooden dowel, but this method is not as precise as using a saw or drill. To cut a dowel with a chisel, score the wood along the desired cutting line several times. Then, use the chisel to chip away at the wood until you have cut through.
  • Knife: A sharp knife can be used, but this is not an accurate method and is not as precise as using a saw or drill. To cut a dowel with a knife, score the wood along the desired cutting line several times. Then, snap the dowel along the scored line.  Once you have cut the dowel to the desired length, you may need to sand the ends to smooth them out.

Here are some additional tips for cutting wooden dowels:

  • Use a sharp blade or bit. A dull blade or bit will make it difficult to cut the dowel straight and may cause the wood to splinter.  This is good advice for cutting anything, though, not just dowels.  Sharp tools make the work easier and more accurate.
  • Keep the dowel steady. This is especially important when using a saw, where a stable surface is essential. If the dowel moves, it could result in a crooked cut.
  • Sand the ends of the dowel. This will help to smooth out any rough edges and make the dowel look more finished.

With a little practice, you will be able to cut wooden dowels like a pro!

Here are some additional methods that are less common but may be useful in certain situations:

  • Bandsaw: A bandsaw can be used to cut a wooden dowel to a very precise length. This method is often used by woodworkers who need to make exact measurements, and thicker dowels will work well.  It’s not a good choice for narrow dowels, though, because they may splinter
  • Lathe: A lathe can be used to cut a wooden dowel into a variety of shapes, such as cylinders, cones, and spheres. This method is often used by woodworkers who want to create custom pieces of furniture or other objects.

Which method you choose to use will depend on your specific needs and the tools that you have available.

What If You Don’t Have A Saw For Cutting Dowels?

 We’ve already mentioned some alternative methods for cutting dowels that don’t include a power tool, but let’s review them and a few more:

  • Use a knife: A sharp utility knife, or a box cutter, can be used to cut a wooden dowel, but this method is not as precise as using a saw. To cut a dowel with a sharp knife, score the wood along the desired cutting line several times. Then, snap the dowel along the scored line. We’ve also seen someone use a power drill to turn a wooden dowel with a sharp knife held against the dowel and pressured through the spinning dowel – we’ve seen it but never tried it.  The dowel size will have a bearing on this method – for narrow dowels, it’s okay, but not for wide-diameter dowels.
  • Use a chisel: A chisel can be used to cut a wooden dowel, but this method is not as precise as using a saw or a knife. To cut a dowel with a chisel, score the wood along the desired cutting line several times. Then, use the chisel to chip away at the wood until you have cut through.
  • Use a drill: A drill can also be used to cut a wooden dowel. You will need a drill bit that is the same diameter as the dowel. Drill slowly and evenly to avoid splintering the wood.
  • Use a wire: A length of wire can be used to cut a wooden dowel. Wrap the wire around the dowel where you want to make the cut. Then, twist the wire back and forth until the dowel breaks. While on the subject of wire, let’s also mention using a wire cutter for the task, another alternative to a saw.

Once you have cut the dowel to the desired length, you may need to sand the ends to smooth them out.

How About A Serrated Knife For Cutting Dowels?

A serrated knife can be used to cut a wooden dowel, but it is not the best tool for the job. A serrated knife is designed to cut soft foods, such as bread or tomatoes. It is not as effective at cutting hard materials, such as wood.

If you are only cutting a small dowel, a serrated knife may be sufficient. However, if you are cutting a larger dowel or a dowel made from a hard wood, you will be better off using a saw or a drill.

Here are some of the disadvantages of using a serrated knife to cut a wooden dowel:

  • It can be difficult to get a clean cut. The serrated blade can cause the wood to splinter or chip.
  • It can be slow. A serrated knife is not as efficient as a saw or a drill.
  • It can be dangerous. The serrated blade can easily slip and cause you to cut yourself.

If you need to cut a wooden dowel, it is best to use a saw or a drill. These tools will give you a clean, straight cut and will be safer to use.

Here are some of the advantages of using a saw or a drill to cut a wooden dowel:

  • They are more efficient than a serrated knife.
  • They are less likely to cause the wood to splinter or chip.
  • They are safer to use.

If you are only cutting a small dowel, you may be able to get away with using a serrated knife. However, if you are cutting a larger dowel or a dowel made from a hard wood, you will be better off using a saw or a drill.

How To Prevent Splintering When Cutting Wooden Dowel Rods

Splintering can be a problem when cutting dowels, especially with narrow dowels that will tend to be more delicate, if you will.  But there are steps you can take to minimize spintering:

  • Use a sharp saw or drill, or a sharp knife. A dull blade or bit will make it difficult to cut the wood dowel straight and may cause the wood to splinter.
  • Keep the dowel steady. A stable surface is especially important when using a saw. If the dowel moves, it could result in a crooked cut and splintering.  Perhaps with a little imagination and creativity, you can devise and make your own dowel cutting jig to use with your miter saw.
  • Use a backer board. A backer board is a piece of wood that is placed behind the dowel when you are cutting it. This will help to prevent the wood from splintering by providing support.
  • Cut slowly and evenly. Don’t try to force the cut. Cutting slowly and evenly will help to prevent the wood from splintering.  This is especially important when using a knife – don’t force it through the dowel.  Be patient, or you will splinter the wood.
  • Sand the ends of the dowel after you cut it. This will help to smooth out any rough edges and make the dowel look more finished.

Here are some additional tips for preventing splintering when cutting a wooden dowel:

  • If you are using a saw, use a saw blade that is designed for cutting wood. A saw blade that is designed for cutting metal or plastic may cause the wood to splinter.
  • If you are using a drill, use a drill bit that is the same diameter as the dowel. A drill bit that is too small or too large may cause the wood to splinter.
  • If you are cutting a thin dowel, you may want to use a saw that has a fine tooth blade. A fine tooth blade will help to prevent the wood from splintering.
  • If you are cutting a dowel that is made from a hard wood, you may want to use a saw that has a coarse tooth blade. A coarse tooth blade will help to prevent the wood from chipping.

Video Jig Demo

After watching a number of videos about cutting wood dowels, we found one on making a dowel cutting jig that was pretty ingenious.  It’s 12+ minutes, and a bit laborious to make it through, but the result is fairly easy and a very accurate method.  Give it a watch.

Bet you never thought cutting wooden dowels could take you this far in an article.  We even worked a little baking into woodworking, too – supporting cake tiers with dowels.  How’s that for an interesting mix?

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