In my Amercian Welsh Stick Chair classes, we start with home center dowels that have been selected for dead-straight grain for the chair’s back spindles and sticks. They work great (wood is wood), but there can be a lot of luck and driving around necessary to get enough sticks for a class of six to 12 students.
In fact, last year, I denuded the Kentucky/Ohio/Indiana Tristate area of straight-grain red oak dowels for my March 2019 class.
For my classes in the coming year, I decided to find a way to reduce my driving and gathering.
After trying many options (too many to list here without wanting to slap myself with a cold, dead mackerel), I settled on the Veritas Dowel Maker. I’ve used it before when making the sticks for Roorkee chairs.
The idea is simple: you spin square stock into the device. Two blades slice it down to size.
The only complication is that the device is a bit complicated to set up. After reading the instructions a few times, I went upstairs to see if the university had taken back my diploma. I simply wasn’t able to follow the instructions in a couple places. I needed a good video to understand what I’m missing here.
Sadly, there aren’t any really excellent videos out there on this tool. There are a lot of OK ones. After watching a few of them I was able to make the appropriate synapses and the device became crystal clear to operate.
With my stupidity set aside (for the time being), I made the blanks for my spindles. This was the joyous part. I could select the straightest, clearest stock to make spindles that were super strong.
After that, you spin the blanks into the device – a drill powers the operation. The surface finish on the dowels was pretty good. A single swipe with a scraper was enough to remove the annular rings. Another plus: I could fine-tune the dowels to come out at exactly the dimension I wanted.
After running 100 or so sticks, I decided to sharpen the blades and see if that improved the surface finish. So I stoned them both up to #8,000 grit on my waterstones (they sharpen just like a plane iron). The improvement in surface finish was minimal – I still need to scrape them.
All in all, I believe the Veritas Dowel Maker will pay for itself with my first class. It saves me a tank of gas, and I can make the sticks for a chair using $10 in wood instead of $24 to $36.
If I made only an occasional chair, I’d make the sticks the old-fashioned way with a spokeshave or block plane. But you need 50 perfect dowels with dead-straight grain, the tool is a nice thing to have.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Of course I paid full price for the Veritas Dowel Maker and the accessories. And the wood. And etc.