How strong is a dowel joint?

Dowel joints are fast, easy and flexible to make, but how strong are they? We put this popular joint through some tests to figure out if they are as good as they seem.

The woodworker has many options when it comes to selecting ways of joining solid wood. Some joints are easy to machine but don’t offer much strength. Some are difficult but when made well last a long time. Most joints fall somewhere in the middle. The dowel joint, whether made with the help of an aftermarket jig, dowel center or other hole-location method, is easy to make and offers a lot of flexibility. To find out if the dowel joint could stand up to a beating, I selected two other methods of solid wood joinery and tested them all to failure: the biscuit joint is commonly used for its ease of machining, and mor­tise and tenon – although more difficult to make, and known traditionally for its great strength – is the other joint in the test. I believe these three commonly used joints will provide a fair cross-section of strength results.

Dowel Joint
Dowel joint testing
Steve used this machine to test the strength of all the different joints