Can You Use Dowels In Plywood: The Best Joinery For Every Project

There are times and proper applications for screws and nails, but sometimes, you need a stronger alternative. Can you use dowels in plywood? Dowel joints are solid and durable. Though it seems hard to believe dowel joinery is stronger than metal piece joins. However, you do need to be careful with plywood as it’s prone to breaking. I strongly recommend drilling your holes carefully and not getting overzealous. Otherwise, you could end up with a broken board due to user error. Luckily, once you have your holes, the rest is simple. Using dowels is always a great option. After years of building, I’ve learned my lesson more than once, and now I know better than to default to screws and nails. I’ll share what I learned along the way and save you many trials and expensive errors in the process. Don’t guess when you could know for sure.

Can you use dowels in plywood? You can use dowels in plywood. In fact, you’d be surprised at how versatile a dowel can be. Besides their applications connecting wood, you can use dowels to connect other materials such as plastic and even cement. Don’t limit yourself or your dowels to wood and plywood when they could be doing so much more. 

What Type Of Wood Is Used For Dowels

Before you can use dowels in plywood, it helps to understand a little about the available dowels. There are numerous types of wood that make outstanding dowels. Although most are hardwoods, some softer woods make excellent dowel material as well.

The most well-known wood density test is the Janka hardness scale. While other tests exist, I’m using this one because it is easy to find information on, and more importantly, the Janka scale is widely used. A harder wood often means a firmer but less flexible joint.

Below are the top eight dowel woods. I’ve included their Janka density for reference. Keep in mind that other aspects of the woods affect what makes a good dowel. For example, moisture content, availability, and density all matter as well.

  • Ash- 1320
  • Beech- 1300
  • Birch- 1260
  • Cherry (Caribbean and Patagonian)- 2700 to 2800
  • Mahogany- 800
  • Oak (Red and White)- 1260 and 1360
  • Pine (Heart)- 910
  • Poplar- 2400

The Janka rating measures the force required to embed a .444 inch steel ball into the wood by half its diameter. As odd as that may seem, it is a great way to determine how tough the wood you’re using is. A steel ball, even a small one, can do a lot of damage.

Birch is the most common dowel wood. Not only are birch trees readily available, but they score well on the Janka rating. Finding dowels made from rare woods is possible but uncommon, and it can become costly very quickly.

I recommend Woodpeckers 3mm Baltic Birch Plywood from Amazon to go with your birch dowels. If you want to design by laser or woodburning, or even use a CNC machine to cut out shapes first, these are ideal plywood boards. Better still, you can order packs from four to a hundred sheets to suit any project or budget. Read the stellar reviews when you click here. 

Are Dowels Stronger Than Screws

If you’re looking for the best hold or time, you can use dowels in plywood. Screws have disadvantages that are not shared by simple wooden dowels. For example, you cannot ‘strip’ a dowel. If you need a new hole, you can drill it out instead.

Even when you use wood glue on screws, a good electric screwdriver can move the screw, stripping out all the glue and the hole. Meanwhile, your dowels have more surface in contact with the glue. As a result of this bond, dowels get a much tighter hold.

With correct spacing, a basic dowel is an incredible feat of human ingenuity and engineering. Make sure you space your dowels properly. It’s best if you center them on the board. Moreover, you will want to leave plenty of room around the dowel hole, so the boards don’t crack under pressure.

How Much Weight Can A Dowel Hold

Saying that a dowel is stronger than a screw doesn’t give you a good idea of just how rugged these joints can be. The difference between a screw’s load-bearing capability and that of a dowel is staggering. A dowel will easily hold ten times more weight.

Your typical screw, when properly installed, of course, can hold eighty to a hundred pounds. That’s impressive. A single well-mounted screw could hold a large dog or a small human. It’s more than enough for most of those wall-mounted TVs people worry about.

For those who are wondering about nails, these are the last resort. A good-quality nail at a precise forty-five-degree upward angle in a solid stud is nowhere near as reliable as a basic screw. Usually, nails can hold around twenty pounds.

It may seem counterintuitive, but wood is much stronger than metal. Ditch the sharp, pointless slivers of metal and get some dowels instead. Smooth or ridged, they are all better options.

How much weight can you put on a dowel? Well, according to Perdue, a one-inch dowel can hold roughly one to three thousand pounds. Your dowel has the same load-bearing capacity as many elevators. Considering how thick the cables and beams that support an elevator are, that’s a massive difference, though I wouldn’t recommend hanging an elevator from a dowel.

Keep in mind that dowel joints are short pieces. As a piece of wood, metal or anything gets longer, it is less able to hold up weight in the center.

What Are The Disadvantages Of A Dowel Joint

Since you can use dowels in plywood, you may assume that they’re always the best choice. Regrettably, this is not the case. Please don’t mistake my meaning here. You should not use screws or nails instead because they are never your best option.

There are two downsides to a dowel joint. First, other joints, such as dovetail joints, are even stronger. Some of the intricately carved joints have similar stability and load-bearing capacity. The strongest joint in woodworking is the humble mortise and tenon. Luckily, you can easily accomplish most projects with a basic dowel joint.

The second downside to dowel joints is that they are not as easy to make as it is to drive a screw. For beginners, the need to drill precise, well-centered holes can present a challenge. Still, as downsides go, excellent dowel joints are more like a goal than a problem.

Regardless of the joint you choose, Woodpeckers Store 6mm Baltic Birch Plywood is always smart. This wood is grade B/BB, per the Russian system. The face has a smooth single sheet for an outstanding finished look. Best of al Woodpeckers is a highly respected brand that prides itself on working with business owners, home crafters, and woodwork artisans. You will love the fast, efficient and knowledgeable customer service if you ever have questions or need information. Click here to have Amazon ship Baltic Birch Plywood to your door.

What Size Dowel Is Best For 18mm Plywood

As strong as a wooden dowel joint can be, it’s always important to use the right size in your projects. Especially when you’re working with plywood, which is comprised of layers, using a dowel is a terrific way to keep the project together. However, a too-small dowel won’t live up to your expectations.

Determining the right size dowel for 18m plywood, or any other size is straightforward. It is best to use a dowel that’s diameter is one-third to one-half the thickness of your board. So for eighteen millimeters, you want a six to nine-millimeter dowel.

Most of the time the math for this will be straightforward. Whatever the listed millimeter thickness of the board, divide by three. If no dowels are available in the exact size you need, go up slightly, but don’t exceed one-half the thickness of the board.

Unfortunately, a too-thick dowel isn’t ‘better.’ Without enough of the board around it, pressure on your joints can cause the dowel to crack your plywood over time. Badly measured joints will break.

The depth of your hole and the length of the dowel will vary depending on your project. However, you should always add a sixteenth of an inch to the hole where you plan to insert your dowel. This leaves enough space for the glue to disburse.

The Kitchen Zone’s 18mm Baltic Birch Plywood can handle your dowels with no worries. Baltic birch offers an odd number of plies with uniform grain and smooth texture. As beautiful as it is durable, you’ll appreciate the longevity of this Russian wood. Whether you’re making cabinets or building a home, Baltic Birch is a strong choice. To find out all about it on Amazon, click here.

Final Thoughts

Some people see dowel joinery as quaint and old-fashioned. That’s just because they don’t know any better. Fortunately, you now know why to use dowels in plywood. A stronger and more durable joint will last longer.

Despite their going out of fashion in DIY circles, you need dowels. A simple piece of wood can save you a whole lot of headaches later. Plus, dowels don’t rust or get stripped. Glue them down right, and your dowl joins will be the strongest woodwork you’ve ever done.

Remember to be careful drilling holes in your plywood. Fortunately, high-quality boards are less prone to breakages, so that you can use dowels.

Aron Blake

I am the lead copywriter on Homezesty and the Webmaster. I have a lot of experience in home renovations and the creation of style. I enjoy writing and sharing my tips on how to create the best living environment. My Linkedin Profile, My Twitter Account

Recent Posts