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What is a Dowel?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A dowel is a type of round pin which is used to attach things to each other. Dowels can also be used to make things like racks, curtain rods, and so forth. As you might imagine, dowels are made from a wide assortment of materials, and they come in a range of sizes, with and without tapered ends and a variety of other features. Most hardware stores carry a formidable dowel selection, and you can also order dowels for specific purposes or machine them, if you have access to a metal or woodworking shop.

One common choice of material for dowels is wooden. Wooden dowels are often used in woodworking to reinforce joints in furniture, and they are also included in flat pack furniture to allow consumers to quickly assemble the furniture with minimal construction skills. You may also have seen wooden dowels in bird cages as perches, or used as curtain rods for drapes and curtains. Some people also use dowels to construct drying racks, or they mount protruding dowels in convenient places for hanging coats and other garments on.

Dowels can also be made out of various metals, and even plastic. Plastic and metal dowels can be tooled with things like ends which will expand once the dowel has been inserted, locking it into place and creating a very strong join. Metal and wooden dowels can also be used as pivoting pins in something with moving parts, or they can be designed to be removed to separate various parts of an object.

Some dowels have tapered ends to facilitate easy insertion, while others have blunt ends. Dowels may also be grooved to provide traction, and they can be painted, left plain, or reinforced with a variety of materials. They come in a range of widths and lengths, from thick lengthy dowels which can support heavy draperies over large windows to very small, slender dowels used to join the pieces of a cabinet.

In fine woodworking, dowels can be extremely important. Some woodworking disciplines place a high value on avoiding nails and screws, relying on very sound joins to keep a piece of furniture together, and dowels are commonly used in these disciplines. A dowel can also provide stable support with a reduced risk of cracking or breaking a piece of furniture, as the dowel can be designed to break under stress without damaging the furniture; this feature can be useful for things like chairs, which sometimes bear unexpected loads.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By seHiro — On Jun 06, 2011

I've always wanted to try my hand at making one of those pin dowel, no nails or screws kind of pieces of furniture. I wonder how many little dowel pins it would take to make something like that?

Dowels are basically the original nail; long before we learned how to easily mass produce nails, everybody nailed furniture and buildings and everything together with little dowel pins. I think there's a certain art and beauty to something being made completely out of wood. It's also kind of a cool concept that each little dowel individually isn't very strong, but since you use so many, each of them only has to support a little weight, and as a whole they're really strong.

Or maybe I'm just a sucker for doing things the old-fashioned way. I always have been fascinated with the way of life they had back in the wild west era and before then...

By Hawthorne — On Jun 04, 2011

It took me the longest time to make this connection, but I just realized recently that the hanging rod in my closet is actually nothing but a giant hardwood dowel. It was a real "duh" moment, but I guess I've just started to think of wooden objects in a whole new light since I started doing woodworking as a hobby.

Suddenly, that closet rod that could only hold clothing up before is looking useful for all sorts of projects that require a great big dowel...I wonder if I could replace it with something else? It seems like a shame to waste a wooden dowel on hanging clothes -- closet rods should be made out of metal or something.

By gimbell — On Jun 02, 2011

Wood dowels are some of the most handy pieces of small woodworking material you can get for making things at home.

When I think of small dowels, I will always think of this project that my mother did with me during her years of teaching a fiber arts class, which incidentally I was an assistant in. Because there were too many students to get everyone a spinning wheel and try to make yarn, instead we taught the class drop spinning -- that is, spinning yarn by hanging a wooden spindle from it.

The spindles we made from pieces of wood we bought at the craft store, and the main shaft of each was made out of wooden dowel. We hooked round wheels of wood near the bottom of each dowel, pointed the tips so they could spin like tops, and put notches in the upper ends so that the yarn could be tucked there after a spindle was wrapped in yarn. Voila, gorgeous and very functional drop spindles! Ever since this project, I'm convinced that dowels are awesome.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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