Poor man’s dowel maker

I just watched the current edition and final episode in the series on making breadboard ends on woodworkingmasterclasses.com and thought that I should post a quick blog on the poor man’s dowel maker I find delivers the goods.

DSC_0611 As a boy we drilled holes in pennies for washers because the boss, Bert Pickford, said he wasn’t going to pay more for a washer than a penny, so, as the washers started to cost more than a penny, that’s what he had us doing. Today they cost much more than that but they can be useful beyond life as a mere washer.

DSC_0716 Recently I needed 4” of 3/16” oak dowel and so I did as I often do and drilled a hole in a piece of steel, in this case an obsolete locker catch, to make the needed dowel, which works perfectly. DSC_0413 This is most useful when you need a specific wood that dowels don’t usually come in, like mesquite or Boise d`arc or ebony and such. DSC_0737 Another poor man’s dowel maker comes from two washers for about 25 cents each. Whatever sized dowel you need, buy that exact size and also buy another washer 1/16” larger if available. Now look at the washer. One side will have a slightly rounded shoulder to the rim of the hole. This will be the exit side of the hole. You will drive the stick through from the other face because this side of the washer has a sharp corner that cuts the dowel more cleanly. Your stick of wood should be barely oversized. I mean just barely. DSC_0721 Use a chisel to give the stick a start in the hole and then drive the square stock through the larger washer. The better vise would be a metal working vise but you can also drill a larger hole in a piece of hardwood.

DSC_0728 After you driven the stick through the larger hole; this is only to remove some of the waste material on the corners, drive it through the right sized washer, which in this case is 3/8”.  DSC_0730 DSC_0732 The dowel is now ready to fit the hole. DSC_0414 Usually the dowel will be exactly to size but if it’s slightly to tight for your pleasing, i.e. if the dowel is slightly oversized, chuck the dowel in a drill or screw-gun and sand as it rotates as you would on a lathe.

I used this method to create square and raised pegs where I still wanted the reality of a proper draw-bore peg but with a square-pegged appearance, slightly raised and rounded.

By using the knifewall around the peg you create a stopping point for the rounded part so you have round to square with an abrupt separation between the two. Drive the peg through the two washers to size the dowel exactly to size and tap back out. Cut the peg to the protrusion depth you want and drill the hole you want wherever in your piece of wood. Trim out the corners to the wall of the hole with a knife. square and dead sized chisel and you are ready to install the peg. I file my protruding peg to a cushion shape.


  1. Paul,

    While not quite as cheap, drill gauges also work to make dowels. They have the added benefit of having many incremental holes, so you can work your way down to the final size in several steps.


    1. It looks like it’s almost fun. On the other hand, it also looks pretty fiddly.
      Another point to consider is whether the dowels will be used for drawboring. If they are, it’s important that almost all of the grain runs the full length of the dowel. This is so the dowel will not split when it has to “make the bend” upon hammering it into the offset holes. Some woodworkers go to the trouble of using rived (split) stock to ensure this is the case, and the use of a dowel plate (or washer) is that the dowel is then split by the plate or washer to final size.

    1. The first washer is 1/16th over sized and removes the bulk of the waste wood, which also reduces the amount it takes to get it through the second washer and leads to a smoother dowel in the second cut in the second washer.

    1. Generally, yes. Some times dowel making depends in woods used. I have had no problems at 1/8″ though.

  2. Would it be possible to make large dowels with this method?

    I want to make a screw for a leg vise.
    And since I don’t own a lathe, I need to make sure that I can make the dowel before I buy a 1.5″ tap and die set.

      1. I’ll give it a try.

        Thanks Paul.
        Your methods are so practical and inexpensive.
        It has been a pleasure learning from you, I also really enjoy watching your video.


  3. Excellent! I am caught right this instant with dowels of the right wood, but over sized by several thousandths. Too much to sand down to size. Putting this method to work. Might put the Christmas project back on schedule. Thanks!

  4. I just stumbled upon the same solution last night. To hold the washer a bit better in the vice, I took a file/grinder to the washer to give it a set of parallel flats.
    Falling asleep last night I got to wondering if it would work to stack the washers, rough cut on top of finish cut. Only good way to find out if it will clog is to give it a try….

    Thanks for sharing so much with the world!

  5. I’m amazed at how well this worked. Instead of driving them on a vise, I used a forstner bit to make a seat for the washer in a piece of scrap hardwood, drilled a hole 1/32” oversize through the middle, clamped the jig over a hole in the bench, and drove the roughly sized dowel stock right through.

  6. When doing auto mechanic type of work( like pressing bearings, etc) without the proper tools or vise I often use a socket set. For example, take a 1/2″ socket, or whatever size is slightly larger than the dowel you are making, but smaller than the washer. Even better if you have deep sockets or “spark plug sockets”. This gives the washer a nice solid and perfectly flat surface to hammer against.

  7. Loved this article. I’ve used pennies and coins for anything from washers to fishing lures to headspace gages for antique guns (with a bit of labour and tuning involved). Their uses are invaluable, availability is unparalleled and expense is usually minimal (the larger coins are sometimes more than their pre-holed cousins, but how much petrol and time does it take to get to the hardware store?).

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