How to Make an Adjustable DIY Dowel Jig (step-by-step)

Dowel joinery is strong. It is stronger than screw joinery and even stronger than pocket hole joints. Build an adjustable DIY dowel jig with this step-by-step tutorial and video and add this joint jig to your workshop gear.

Some time ago I built my first doweling jig, more precisely, a self-centering doweling jig. Having a dowel jig in the shop is definitely useful. Unfortunately, the self-centering dowel jig I made only allows making edge-to-edge joints but does not allow face joints. That is one of the main reasons why I decided to make an adjustable DIY dowel jig.

This adjustable dowel jig not only allows you to make all of the above-mentioned types of joints, but it is easier to set up and more accurate to work with.

Add this woodworking joint jig to your workshop equipment and you will see how easy it is to work with and how good the results you get are.

DIY Doweling Jig. How to make a dowel jig.

Dowel joinery is strong. It is stronger than screw joinery, and even stronger than pocket hole joints – the additional glue penetrating inside the wood provides more holding power and makes sure the wood pieces are tightly fixed together.

For dowel joinery, you will need a dowel jig. You can get one in the store or you can build one. There are many types of dowel jigs, from simple to complex.

This version of a dowel jig I am making is a bit more elaborate but very accurate (not all the steps are needed and some can be omitted). It is a project suitable for an advanced woodworking beginner and can be finished over a weekend.

Read on to find out how to make a dowel jig, how to set it up, and how to use it.

Adjustable DIY Dowel Jig Video

If you want to see how it is done, watch the video below for a step-by-step guide on how to make a self-centering DIY dowel jig.

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Table of Contents

  1. The Material you will need
  2. General Questions
    1. How far apart should dowels be placed?
    2. What are the disadvantages of a dowel joint?
  3. How to Make an Adjustable Dowel Jig
    1. Step 1: Make the Base of the Dowel Jig
    2. Step 2: Drill the Holes in the Dowel Jig
    3. Step 3: Cut Slots in the Dowel Jig
    4. Step 4: Make the Adjustable Fence
    5. Step 5: Cut the Shape of the Dowel Jig
    6. Step 6: Insert the Centering Pins
  4. How to Use a Dowel Jig
  5. Jigs used for the project

*Safety is your responsibility. Make sure you know what you’re doing and take all necessary safety precautions while working with power tools. Safety comes first!

Always be cautious and careful when using any power tool.

What you'll need to make a DIY Dowel Jig

Dowel Jig Base
Plywood – 22cm x 9cm x 1,2mm
MDF – 22cm x 9cm x 0,5cm
Aluminum Hollow Rod – outer ⌀8mm, inner ⌀6mm
Beech Dowels – ⌀8mm

Dowel Jig Fence
Plywood – 12cm x 3cm x 1,2cm
MDF – 11cm x 2cm x 0,5cm

Other:
M6 Bolts, M6 Wing nut, Washer
Wood Glue, Epoxy
8mm/6mm drill bit
6mm router bit

Tools:
Cord Drill
Trim Router
Mini Table Saw (Optional)
Narex Chisels
Clamps

How far apart should dowels be placed?

There are a few factors that determine how far apart should dowels be placed. These factors are in particular the type of material (especially the density of the material) and the thickness of the material. The denser the material, the more space should be left between dowels.

The first dowel should be placed around 30 mm from the end of the board. Such a distance will ensure that the wood will not split and the joint will still be strong.

  • Edge-to-edge joint – (end grain, side grain) – leave around 25cm (10 inches) space between the dowels to avoid wood splitting.
  • Face joint – (face grain) – leave around 5 – 8cm (2-3 inches) space between the dowels to ensure sufficient joint strength.

What are the disadvantages of a dowel joint?

There are a few disadvantages to dowel joinery. These are in particular the misalignment of dowels (difficult installation), and limited durability (joint strength).

  1. Misalignment of dowels – It is quite difficult to ensure that the joint is perfectly aligned and all the dowels fit exactly. Even a tiny misalignment will cause the joint to deviate and its subsequent weakening. Proper tools are needed in order to create a precise connection. This is particularly difficult for beginning woodworkers.
  2. The durability of joint – Even though dowel joinery is strong is it not as strong as a mortise and tenon. Eventually, the dowels shear and the connection wears off which leads to the installation of new dowels.

Read through How to make a self-centering doweling jig if you are interested in these related topics:

  • How deep should a dowel hole be?
  • Are dowels supposed to be loose?
  • How to use a self-centering dowel jig?

Let's start building!

The dowel jig consists of 3 main parts – the body, the adjustable fence, and the self-centering pins.

All the parts are made of Baltic birch plywood and MDF. Birch plywood is high-quality, strong, durable, and has a nice grain texture. Great for good quality projects.

The overall dimensions of the dowel jig are 22cm x 9cm x 2,8cm.

NOTE: This dowel jig is designed for 6mm dowels.

How to Make an Adjustable Dowel Jig

Step 1: Make the Base of the Dowel Jig

First, measure and cut the base pieces (plywood – 22cm x 9cm; MDF – 22cm x 9cm). Then glue the pieces together.

To make the cuts I am using a mini table saw crosscut sled. The cuts are clean and precise.

DIY Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.
DIY Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.

Step 2: Drill the Holes in the Dowel Jig

Drilling the center hole and the holes for the centering pins is the most important part of the project. The centers of the holes must be on one line. This will determine the accuracy of the jig.

Spend a bit of extra time on this part. It will pay off.

Here are a few tips on how to make sure the holes line up:

  • Use a marking gauge to mark the holes on the base
  • Mark the holes with an awl so the bit won’t wander when drilling
  • Use a brad point drill bit
  • Use a drill press stand when drilling the holes

1. Drill the Holes for the Centering Pins

Mark the centers of the holes and drill them out with an 8mm brad point drill bit.

DIY Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.
Homemade Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.

2. Drill the Center Hole

Mark the center hole and drill it out with an 8mm brad point drill bit. Apply epoxy in the hole and insert an aluminum tube (a steel tube would work as well).

Clean the epoxy excess and make sure the epoxy does not get in the bushing.

Homemade Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.

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Step 3: Cut Slots in the Dowel Jig

Cut a 6mm slot in the front of the dowel jig. The slot and the center hole should be perfectly aligned.

Use a router table to cut the slot. Use the center hole as a reference. This way you ensure that the center hole and the slot are in one line. (A router table will make precise and clean cuts. Is not necessary though, you can cut the slot with a jigsaw and a drill as well.)

Do not cut all the way through and end just before the center hole.

Homemade Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.

Cut the bottom slot in the same way. I used an adjustable router dado jig to do that but the router table would work as well. Both methods work just fine.

Homemade Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.

Turn the dowel jig upside down and cut a wider slot on the bottom of the jig. This created t-track will serve as a rail for the fence.

Homemade Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.

Step 4: Make the Adjustable Fence

Cut the fence wood pieces and glue them together. Drill a 6mm hole in the center and cut a hexagon around the hole to sink the head of the screw.

DIY Doweling Jig. How to make a dowel jig.
DIY Doweling Jig. How to make a dowel jig.

Step 5: Cut the Shape of the Dowel Jig

Refine the shape of the dowel jig. Cut out the handle so it fits better in the hand. You can also shape the head of the jig like I did (not necessary though).

Sand the edges for better comfort.

Step 6: Insert the Centering Pins

Glue the centering pins in the holes. I am using beechwood dowels but metal pins would work as well. I would recommend epoxy to fix those.

Dowel Jig DIY. How to make a dowel jig.

Below is a picture of a finished DIY Dowel Jig.

Dowel Jig DIY. How to make a dowel jig.
Self Centering DIY Dowel Jig

How to Use a Dowel Jig

The dowel jig can be used to make edge-to-edge joints as well as face joints. Use the jig to join boards of 10 to 40 mm in width. Also, watch the video provided to better understand how to join boards using a dowel jig.

NOTE: When using the dowel jig, I have a better experience with metal drill bits than wood drill bits. They turn easier in the bushing.

Edge-to-edge joint with a dowel jig

  1. Place the dowel jig around the edge of a workpiece and use the centering pins to line up the jig with the center of the edge.
  2. Set the drill depth. The ideal hole depth exactly accounts for half the length of the dowel plus 2mm to catch excess glue.
  3. Insert the drill into the bushing and drill a hole.
  4. Drill all the other holes, add glue, and insert the dowels.
  5. Place the center hole of the dowel jig on the inserted dowel. Push the fence until it touches the face of the board and lock it. Now the dowel jig is set up.
  6. Align the two boards. Place the dowel jig on the edge of the second board around the inserted dowels using the routed slot in front of the jig. Make sure the dowel jig fence touches the face of the board.
  7. Fix the workpiece in position and drill the other holes. Then, join the two boards together.
DIY Doweling Jig. How to make a dowel jig.
Self Centering Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.
Dowel Jig DIY. How to make a dowel jig.

Face joint with a dowel jig

The process is similar to edge-to-edge joinery. Start with the holes and dowels on the edge of a board.

  • Place the dowel jig around the edge of a workpiece and use the centering pins to line up the jig with the center of the edge.
  • Set the drill depth. Drill all the holes along the edge of the board and insert the dowels.

1. Face joint on the edge of the board

  1. Place the dowel jig on the inserted dowel. Push the fence until it touches the board and lock it. Now the dowel jig is set up.
  2. Place the two boards on top of each other and align them accordingly. Make sure the joined edges are parallel to each other. Once set up clamp the boards down.
  3. Install the dowel jig around the inserted pins and make sure the jig fence touches the edge of the board.
  4. Drill all the holes and join the boards together.

2. Face joint in the center of the board

  1. Place the two boards on top of each other and align them accordingly. Make sure the edges are parallel to each other. Once set up clamp the boards down.
  2. Remove the fence from the jig.
  3. Install the dowel jig around the inserted pins and make sure the jig fence touches the edge of the board.
  4. Drill all the holes. Make sure all the holes are drilled in one line.
  5. Join the boards together.
Self Centering Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.
Self Centering Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.
DIY Dowel Jig. How to make a dowel jig.

My Take

I love this jig. I have used it for several projects and I am really happy with how it works. The dowel jig allows to make both edge-to-edge joints as well as face joints.

The self-centering capability works great and the joints are accurate. Although this is the most crucial part of the build. The holes and the centering pins need to be perfectly aligned in order to get a nice flush joint. This is specially the case of edge-to-edge joints.

I used a drill stand to drill the holes for the centering pins. Without it, it would be quite difficult.

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Adjustable DIY Dowel Jig, How to make a dowel jig

I hope the information shared in this blog post inspired you and now you are adding this doweling jig to your workshop. 😉

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