Dowel case assembly

Shop owners sing the praises of dowel case construction. September 6, 2000

We operate a 15-man custom shop, using a tongue-and-groove type of joinery for box construction. It serves us well for assembly, but we are fully aware of faster, more productive methods.

We have an Altendorf slider and Cehisa edgebander, and are looking at the possibility of dowel construction, using a construction boring machine. Any thoughts or suggestions would be helpful. Is the slider accurate enough? We have two employees that have had some bad experiences at previous shops.

Will we need a case clamp as well, or is the "clamp em, beat em" theory really viable?

Try biscuits. I use five or six in a 24-inch case, and three for a 12-incher (per joint). No failures yet.

In response to the post about the possibility of switching to wood dowel construction, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!!!

I also have a 15-man shop, which manufactures custom Architectural casegoods. We recently changed from rabbet-and-dado construction to wood dowel construction, and I would never go back. Why??

First and foremost, it "dummy proofs" your assembly process. The assembler has a gable with six holes in it and a bottom with six dowels in it. So where do you think it goes? Not rocket science. This also allows you to hire less-skilled workers at a considerable savings. We purchased a manual doweling machine, and after six months realized that we had also improved our delivery times and started to take on more work. After another six months we purchased a CNC point-to-point machining center.

Our production capacity has increased by 50 percent, and we didn't hire any more staff. With regards to your panel saw requirements, yes your cutting accuracy must improve. This can be achieved by switching to measuring in metric rather than imperial. We've had several of our "one-offs" go straight from the sliding table saw to the CNC with no problems whatsoever.

I know this is a lot of change but it's worth it (it took us six years to completely change over). Our sales have grown 127 percent over six years since we changed over to 100 percent dowel construction.

We made the switch at the beginning of last year. The stuff over at True 32 is fine, and it is a great system for some parts of the market, but throw in high-volume laminate casework with a lot of finished ends and fixed shelves and partitions (such as locker cubbys) and what do you do? You go with dowel construction.

Dowel construction is unforgiving, it takes extremely accurate part sizes and bore patterns. When you bang it together it is there or it's not, so the ramping-up process does cause a headache or two.