The Freud Dowel Joiner - A New Take on an Old Technique
posted on October 24, 2008 by Rockler

Leave it to the inventive tool designers at Freud to put a new spin on one of the oldest joinery technologies in existence – the humble dowel joint. All but killed off by newer methods – notably the biscuit joiner and more recently Festool’s Domino System – the dowel joint appeared to be on its way to the annals of woodworking history. Now, with the soon-to-arrive Freud Doweling Joiner, we predict a lively comeback for this time-honored technique.

This is very good news, in our opinion. There was never anything wrong with doweled joints: they’re just a little time consuming to make and require a precision that can be difficult to attain with typical everyday woodshop equipment. That’s why the biscuit joiner was such a hit. Compared to a drill and a doweling jig, biscuit joints are fast and easy. Cutting the biscuit mortises required to edge join two boards takes only a few seconds. And while a doweled joint requires meticulous alignment and spacing of each dowel hole, biscuit joinery is forgiving of slight discrepancies in mortise alignment.

But for all its speed and user-friendliness, the biscuit joint loses out to the dowel joint on a couple of fronts. First of all, it’s much weaker. Most experienced woodworkers think of biscuits as little more than a joint alignment method. They’re great for keeping stock surfaces flush during glue-ups, but no one would ever trust them to hold on the legs of a chair or table. Secondly, there limited to joints that can accommodate standard biscuit sizes. Even Porter Cable’s miniature face frame biscuits work for joints where there’s at least 1-1/2” of material width to work with. A dowel, on the other hand, takes up only the width of small hole, and can be as short, long, fat or thin as the situation requires.

Enter the Freud Doweling Joiner. With one smooth, simple action it lets you cut two perfect dowel holes on the surface of a material, the edge of a material or at an angle with the same speed and ease a biscuit joiner provides. Building on the biscuit joiner’s basic design, the Doweling Joiner uses a more than adequate 6.5 amp motor to cut dowel holes from 3/16” to 1/2” in diameter at any depth up to 1-3/8”. A rack and pinion system makes fine tuning the bore height accurate and simple, and an adjustable fence lets you drill holes at any angle from 0 to 90 degrees. The tool accepts standard 10mm shank boring bits – the same as industrial line boring machines.

new freud doweling joiner

With two bits installed, the Doweling joiner produces holes spaced at exactly 32mm, a design feature that’s far from arbitrary. Not inconsequentially, it makes the tool compatible with the “System 32” spacing scheme, a cornerstone of the European style cabinetmaking philosophy and a practice that makes installing everything from shelves to cabinet hinges to slides a simple matter of fitting parts into neatly spaced rows of holes on the interior of cabinet walls.

The simple decision to adopt the 32mm hole spacing scheme - and the inclusion of an adjustable indexing pin, which allows the operator to make clean, perfectly spaced rows of  32mm OC holes in cabinet walls - is likely to double the tool’s appeal. System 32 cabinetmakers and installers can now replicate the action of a shop-bound line boring machine in the field, with huge time-saving potential for impromptu on-site custom work or covering the occasional “oops”. For small professional shops and hobbyists, the 32mm hole spacing set-up opens the door to the convenience of system 32-compatible hardware, and makes the tedious task of hand drilling shelf pin holes accurate and twice as fast as using a template and drill.

But the best thing about this new Freud offering is still its potential to revive the good-ole dowel joint. Used successfully by furniture makers for centuries, this simple joinery method is strong, versatile, familiar and unintimidating. And now, with the Freud Doweling Joiner (coming soon) and its do-able $330-ish price tag, we can add to its list of qualifications “quick”, “easy” and “attainable”.

posted on October 24, 2008 by Rockler
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8 thoughts on “The Freud Dowel Joiner - A New Take on an Old Technique”

  • AB

    Price is a little steep isn't it? At $175 - $200 I'd add it to my collection... but not EVER at $330.

  • <br />this could make the pocket hole system obsolete.<br />

  • I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder... and I see one ugly piece of work. "The biscuit joint loses out to the dowel joint on a couple of fronts. First of all, it’s much weaker." What? The last time I checked, a dowel joint has almost zero side-grain to side-grain contact, and fails in a relatively short time due to expansion/contraction cycles. Anyone who has ever owned a dowel-jointed chair has also had the pleasure of re-glueing a failed joint in said chair. If in doubt, there is a great article in an old Fine Woodworking mag comparing joint strengths in the door-frame application. Dowels beat out a few, notably the butt-joint. On the upper end, biscuits beat out mortise-and-tenon joints (although the authors noted they'd still use a mortise-and-tenon over biscuits because of the joint's mechanical strength; if the glue fails it's still going to hold together for a while, while a biscuited joint would just fall apart). I'll keep my dollars, thanks.

  • Blog Editor

    Allen – Thanks for your comment. We’re in partial agreement. Mortise and tenon joints beat just about everything else hands down. The fact came through loud and clear in Wood Magazine’s “Wood Joint Torture Test” (Nov. 2006).<br /><br />The same article also found dowel joints to be roughly twice as strong as biscuit joints in both pull-apart and shear tests.<br /><br />Dowel joint failure, as you point out, is often caused by conflicting dimensional behavior resulting from changes in moisture content. Bruce Hoadley studied the matter and reported the results in great detail long ago in “The Dowel Joint” (Fine Woodworking, issue 21). He made a few recommendations, including (to grossly oversimplify) making sure that the dowels are at least as dry as the wood they’re going into and positioning the grain orientation of the dowels/member so that the tangential movement of the two parts are in less conflict. He also recommended silicone adhesive – a radical concept, but who argues with professor Hoadley?

  • sean

    It looks like a nice tool and dowels have their place in joinery but Freud wasn't the first to produce the handheld machine. I have the Hoffman PDS 32 which came out years before the Freud.

    I find 8mm dowels indispensable for assembling cabinet boxes, furniture, and many job site trim and millwork applications. The benefit with dowels is the combination of precise alignment with joint strength without requiring glue or fasteners. When building furniture dowels make it possible to mock assemble the piece without glue to shape and mill pieces before the glue up.

    Dowels do have their limitations and it takes experience and knowledge of all acceptable joinery methods to decide when and how to use dowels. The price i paid for my Hoffman PDS 32 was considerable much more than 300 but even at that it was a worthwhile investment.

  • mike

    if you think the freud is $$... try the hoffman. prices start at $680 and go up to from there. i use it and it's a sweet machine, but never enough to justify the price.

    http://www.hoffmann-usa.com/htm/pds32/pds32.htm

  • Ken

    I don't use dowels and have never felt the need to. If the joint is hidden, as on a face frame, a pocket hole can't be beaten. M&T where the joint is exposed to view, and biscuits on a multiple board glueup, such as a table top. In my view dowels should be consigned to woodworking history.

  • roger m schramm
    roger m schramm March 11, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    This machine was first releast by G.M.C. about 10 years ago in Australia, but it did'nt take off.
    Very good idea, I am glad to see it is back.

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