Dowels Shredding

Dowels Shredding

I build Adirondack chairs from kits. I then stain and paint them: fish, lizards, things like that. I like to countersink the screw holes and plug them with dowels. My problem is, the dowels have to be very thin, 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch, and I can’t figure out how to consistently do this without shredding them. For a loveseat, it takes about 50-60 plugs. Any ideas? – Steve Cousins

Tim Inman: I think there might be a better plug material than the dowel for this job. Two-part “Tootsie Roll®” epoxy sticks would be my first choice. You could also use a catalyzed polyester filler. Either one would “stick” better than that little piece of dowel. Since you’re painting over it anyway, I’d go synthetic on the screw hole plug/filler.

That said, if wood is your option, then I’d set up a little jig for your table saw, and zip off a few hundred at a time. To make the job go fast, I’d use something like a vacuum mounted right at the point of cutoff to suck away the little plugs as you go. Not only would this save time – it might also save fingers! A separator (see last issue Q&A) mounted in front of your shop vac would be ideal. These little devices are readily available from better woodworking suppliers (Rockler), and easy to use. All your little plugs would end up in the separator can, where you could collect them for use.

What adhesive do you use to set these plugs? If speed is important, a CA [cyanoacrylate] would be great. A final sanding to level the plug surface flush with the rest of the chair, and you’re ready to go.

Chris Marshall: Steve, you don’t mention when the plugs are shredding for you— when cutting them from the longer rods or when flush-cutting them after gluing them in place. If the former is the case, I’d head to the band saw for cutting them to length and use a fine-tooth blade. It will cut more cleanly than the table saw and might even keep the occasional plug from launching across the shop. If they’re shredding after you glue them in place, try a different method than sawing or chiseling to bring them flush. On soft woods like cedar or treated (which you may be using for your chairs), I’ve used 80-grit sandpaper before and just sanded them down smooth. It’s quick and provides good results. One other thought here: have you ever considered using pocket screws instead of countersinking through the slats? You might be able to get those smooth seat and backrest surfaces you’re after without needing to plug the screw heads at all. I went this route for a garden bench years ago, driving screws in from below. Those pocket screws are still holding the bench slats in place beautifully, and it sits outside year-round. I’ll do the same thing again when I build another one.

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