Assembling Cabinets with Pre-Glued Dowels

Here are some tips and cautions on using pre-glued dowels in hand assembly of cabinets. February 18, 2011

We are considering switching from blind dado to dowel construction. We have a horizontal boring machine, but it does not have dowel insertion. Without dowel insertion, are pre-glued dowels an option? Can we use glue bottles to squirt water in the holes and then hammer in the pre-glued dowels, or is that too slow? With white glue we do not want excessive squeeze out or dry joints. Do hand held dowel inserters work well? Without dowel insertion, will this method be any quicker? We plan to try it for a bit and keep track of the hours so we can decide.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor P:
I've been using pre-glued dowels for several years with no problems. I use a squirt bottle to sprits each hole, give the water a second to soak in, shake the excess out, insert the dowels, driving them with a hammer, then assemble. It goes very quickly.

From contributor M:
I tried pre-glued dowels on shutter panels a few years back, which puts a different stress on the joint than cabinetry. For the most part they were okay, but we did have a few panels separate while using these dowels. Whether it was the pre-glued dowels or something else causing the problem I can not honestly say. But the moment I lost confidence in them, we went back to applying the glue ourselves. Part of my situation could have been the hole tolerance in the way we were drilling. Also, we did not see much of a time savings in using pre-glued, but it certainly eliminated the glue squeeze out problems and mess. I believe Excel dowel offers a squeeze bulb for applying the water into the hole prior to dowel insertion.

From contributor L:
I think you may be unhappy with dowel assembly when not equipped for it. Hand inserting is slow. I'm guessing you don't have a case clamp. If that's true, clamping will also be slow and you lose the self squaring function. The pre-glued dowels can be okay, but make sure they are kept clear of dust and humidity. The excess glue squeeze out can be taken care of with a glue injector that puts a measured shot in each hole. A bit expensive, but saves a mess and hydraulic locking. I've used a handheld dowel injector. They work well, but you need a body builder type to use one for very long at a time. They are also slow compared to multi drill and dowel machines, but faster than hand methods. Since we work to AWI standards, we use more dowels per joint than a lot of shops. It will be hard for you to test the system, especially timing, without the full production setup. If you have the sales volume and money to invest, it's a great system.

From contributor J:
I use pre-glued dowels for drawers - works great. I use the small Glu-Bot squeeze bottle from Fastcap. Fill with water, put a small pin hole in the tip, and squeeze water in the hole, then insert dowels. Works pretty good for a manual method.