Dowel Versus Mortise and Tenon Joints for Attaching Table Legs

      Dowel joinery would save time on a large production run of tables. But will dowel joints be strong enough? October 1, 2010

I have a lot of maple tables with laminate tops to make (42 X 92), and in order to cut time, would like to use dowel joints. Is this a good idea? Are these joints trustworthy for this application?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor J:
How many is a lot? I'd say it's not the greatest idea, but you could get by with it. I wouldn't do it without corner blocks glued and screwed in also. I assume you have an efficient, accurate way to do the doweling? If you don't, then forget it - it could be more trouble than you can imagine.

From the original questioner:
I have a CNC Gannomat index. Drills, glues, shoots dowel, and on to the next. Generally used for cabinet construction. These dowels are so tight in lumber, though, especially harder woods like maple, that it's better to gently tap them in to avoid splitting and swelling. It probably would work a lot better to use a 10mm bit and 9mm dowel. Not even sure if they make 9mm dowels.

Bottom line is that I know it will save tons of hours, but will it stand up to the test of time? Yes, I'll be using corner blocks glued, screwed, and bolted.

From contributor S:
There's no question that using the dowels would be inferior to M&T in my opinion. What is the expected life of the product is, and when you quoted the job, did you allow adequate time to M&T them?

If the tables are not expected to last more than 5-10 years, you would probably be okay (but definitely follow contributor J's advice and use corner blocks, too). However, if they are higher quality (higher priced), I would stick with M&T.

One other option to consider: loose tenons. They are considerably quicker to produce, especially for multiples. You could set up a couple of simple jigs with a router if you don't have a slot mortiser. You can then mill your tenon stock to width/thickness, and simply CC to length. Quick, easy, and strong.

From contributor D:
Furniture repair is a large part of my business, and over the years I've repaired hundreds of pieces with failed dowel joints, but I can't recall ever having had to repair a joint that was joined with mortise and tenon.

From contributor B:
The glue surface from a dowel into a hole is only along the long grain of the hole. This is such a small part of the hole. There is no bonding to the end grain. This is why dowels do not hold well. Also, one good kick to a table leg, or pushing a chair into the leg, can snap off a dowel. Do it right, use tenons.

From contributor L:
If you use corner blocks to pull your legs into the ends of your aprons, the dowels don't do much more than align the joint. Tenons would be stronger, but dowels should not be a problem. Make a test piece, especially if you are building many, and kick it to breaking to be sure.

Would you like to add information to this article?
Interested in writing or submitting an article?
Have a question about this article?

Have you reviewed the related Knowledge Base areas below?
  • KnowledgeBase: Knowledge Base

  • KnowledgeBase: Furniture

  • KnowledgeBase: Furniture: Furniture Manufacturing

    Would you like to add information to this article? ... Click Here

    If you have a question regarding a Knowledge Base article, your best chance at uncovering an answer is to search the entire Knowledge Base for related articles or to post your question at the appropriate WOODWEB Forum. Before posting your message, be sure to
    review our Forum Guidelines.

    Questions entered in the Knowledge Base Article comment form will not generate responses! A list of WOODWEB Forums can be found at WOODWEB's Site Map.

    When you post your question at the Forum, be sure to include references to the Knowledge Base article that inspired your question. The more information you provide with your question, the better your chances are of receiving responses.

    Return to beginning of article.

    Refer a Friend || Read This Important Information || Site Map || Privacy Policy || Site User Agreement

    Letters, questions or comments? E-Mail us and let us know what you think. Be sure to review our Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Contact us to discuss advertising or to report problems with this site.

    To report a problem, send an e-mail to our Webmaster

    Copyright © 1996-2018 - WOODWEB ® Inc.
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the Editor.
    Review WOODWEB's Copyright Policy.

    The editors, writers, and staff at WOODWEB try to promote safe practices. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Readers should undertake the use of materials and methods discussed at WOODWEB after considerate evaluation, and at their own risk.

    WOODWEB, Inc.
    335 Bedell Road
    Montrose, PA 18801

    Contact WOODWEB

  • WOODWEB - the leading resource for professional woodworkers

      Home » Knowledge Base » Knowledge Base Article