More of a DIY than Improvement question, but here goes anyway.

We're building a shoe box with slatted sides and base and were thinking of joining the slats to the corner uprights with dowel (excuse the bad art):

alt text

The problem we have is getting the dowel hole in the cross piece straight. The hole in the upright isn't a problem as we can use one of these:

pillar drill

(something I've wanted an excuse to buy for years!).

However, the one's we've looked at don't seem to be suitable as there's not enough clearance to insert the cross piece vertically (it's about 18"-24" long), and they don't seem to rotate on the pillar (I assume for safely reasons).

I could use a hand drill, but there'll be 4 cross pieces per side and across the base which with 2 pieces of dowel per piece per end is 160 holes - which is a lot to guarantee getting perfectly straight.

So what can I use to drill the holes in the cross pieces?

  • I'd be happy if someone were to tell me that the head of the drill press does swing round - if not this model then some other one.
    – ChrisF
    Nov 6, 2010 at 21:12
  • I'd be the first one to suggest a new power tool ! but my wife glares at me when I suggest a new power tool so I won't risk the ire of yours LOL
    – user45
    Nov 6, 2010 at 21:46
  • @Scott: My wife actually finds deals on power tools and tells me I should buy them! :D (Of course, they always come with a project she wants me to do.)
    – Doresoom
    Nov 7, 2010 at 6:35
  • @Doresoom a lucky gentleman you are !!!!! :)
    – user45
    Nov 7, 2010 at 9:53
  • @Scott - the shoe box is actually a project my wife wants to do and given the amount of drilling involved is happy to buy a suitable tool.
    – ChrisF
    Nov 7, 2010 at 11:23

5 Answers 5


Buy a self centering dowel drilling jig. Lee Valley has them, as will virtually all wood working supply sources, Rockler, for example.

enter image description here

The jig clamps to the end of your board, and then you drill through a hardened drill guide into the board, using a hand drill. These dowel jigs used to be much more common in the days before biscuits, pocket screws, etc.

  • This looks like the very thing we need. Just got to find one in the UK :)
    – ChrisF
    Nov 7, 2010 at 11:25
  • 1
    Found an tutorial on using one of these which shows the exact thing we want to do - onlinetoolreviews.com/reviews/dowelmax.htm
    – ChrisF
    Nov 7, 2010 at 11:34
  • Went with this - joint-genie.com - in the end. It was a little bit cheaper and is UK based.
    – ChrisF
    Dec 8, 2010 at 0:21
  • I'll add that when I used a jig like that to bore dowel holes in some 1x2s I made up a wood jig to hold the wood straight and properly centered relative to the dowel jig. It only took 10 or 15 minutes to put it together, using a scrap of plywood for a base and several pieces of scrap wood.
    – Hot Licks
    May 8, 2020 at 18:16

Maybe a 2 phase approach would work. Buying a drill press attachment for your hand drill ... much like this one and then building a jig where you could insert a dowel and attach the drill press attachment. That way you have the freedom of the hand drill and the jig will give you precision and ease of use for 160 drillings. A bit more complex than the drill press bur probably a bit cheaper. I'd wager that any drill press that has a swinging attachment would cost a pretty penny more than your average drill press.

  • I don't think I'll take your bet :)
    – ChrisF
    Nov 7, 2010 at 11:33
  • I was going to suggest this too, but the doweling jig is a better answer. Just watched someone build a butcher block type top using one of these and then bolting through all the pieces. Nov 8, 2010 at 12:43

Are you absolutely committed to the idea of using dowels for this? If so, in addition to a doweling jig you might want to pick up a set of transfer plugs to mark the hole locations on your upright. (You might not need these if the doweling jig can be used on a board face -- hard to tell from the photo on the Lee Valley site.)

If you have no special attachment to using dowels, the standard way of making a joint like this is to use a dado cut so the shelf is slotted into the upright:

alt text

This type of joint gives you a lot more rigidity than the dowel joint will. If you don't already have one you'll get to buy a table saw and a stacked dado head instead of the drill press, but I think a table saw is a more versatile thing to have anyway.

  • It's not a shelving project - we're making a shoe box.
    – ChrisF
    Nov 8, 2010 at 9:09
  • I wasn't actually assuming it was a shelving project. I don't know what your box will look like, but the joint shown in your drawing would be much stronger as a dado than as a doweled butt joint. Nov 8, 2010 at 14:42

although this post was written some time ago, you could have used the wickes pillar drill by clamping your work piece upright to the edge of the swviel table to drill your dowel holes.

  • 2
    That would have been the plan, but the dowel jig was cheaper and a lot smaller!
    – ChrisF
    Jun 15, 2012 at 9:24

Matthias Wandel has a few tricks-of-the-trade on his website for doing this:

1) Adjust an ordinary Drill Press: place it on a workbench so it's facing away from you, then loosen the setscrews that hold the head assembly to the column and turn the whole head assembly 180 Degrees back towards you. Then pull the drill press towards you and lean it over the edge of the workbench. You can now drill pieces as long as it is far to the floor.

See: http://woodgears.ca/shop-tricks/drilling-big.html

2) Build a horizontal drilling jig.

See: http://woodgears.ca/horizontal_boring/jig.html


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