Are Dowels Necessary in Cabinet Door Joints?

Dowels add strength to a cope-and-stick joint, but it's typically overkill. May 27, 2014

(WOODWEB Member):
We make our doors in house. Run the profile and cope and then drill for dowels. I have built many a door without dowels and never had a failure I know of. Granted they do help for alignment when clamping but other than that, not sure how much they add. Curious what others are doing.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
I'm going to assume we're talking about cabinet doors here, correct? If so most cabinet doors are built with just the profile as the joint. I've built all my cabinet doors that way for years without a failure that I know of.

I think the dowels will add strength, don't think there's much question of that. Whether or not you need them is something you can debate. I for one would not criticize someone for overbuilding something though.

From contributor D:
The dowels pretty much make your doors bulletproof. Could be overkill in some cases but stout to resist a joint splitting. Seems like drilling for dowels before profiling would be the way to go?

From contributor E:

Not necessary, but definitely stronger. You would be hard pressed to find a cabinetmaker or door maker who uses dowels in their door construction. That said, a cope and stick joined door will fail if dropped or slammed just right. If you use some kind of spring loaded or soft closing hinge you should never have an issue.

From contributor A:
How do you drill for the dowels? I use a hand doweling jig but would like one of those machines Delta and Grizzly sell with the pneumatic clamp that drills two holes at once. I have two doors in my kitchen that I made that have come apart. At the time I made them I did not use dowels. The panels swelled in summer. We don't have central air. Factory doors are hard to beat and they don't use dowels but almost every time I order a whole kitchen, 1 or 2 doors are warped. When I bang them together with those dowels I feel I really have a good product going out the door, plus less clamping time.

From the original questioner:
I am also trying to talk company owners into purchasing a 2-3 hole horizontal borer as you describe. Currently we drill just one hole dowels. This is done on a modified Delta plate (biscuit) jointer (I don't think they manufacture these anymore). We disassembled it and permanently attached a router to it and a handle that pivots which moves the router in and out. Sort of like the same principle as a Kregg manual pocket machine, only the router is horizontal rather than angled. A shop made fence and stop system complete the setup.

From contributor O:
Typically not necessary. I did recently build a set of shaker type doors that had a beveled stile and rail joint, making it exceptionally weak, so I ran dowels. Yes, drill before profiles, just be sure to drill deeper for the profiles. I have an old single head Rayco horizontal boring machine.

From contributor B:
I dowel my doors rebated for glass, cope and stick using Freeborn cutters, so rebate is created at the time of shaping. There just isn't anything to hold them together without the dowels. Standard doors, no dowels.