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I am planning to build a custom box to fit in my car's trunk on one side, as tall and long as the trunk and as wide as little as possible. This would hold my tools, emergency gadgets etc.

Since I plan not to invest a whole lot of effort I will avoid box joints and dovetail joints (which I practiced a few times in the past but they seem to have taken too much time and effort) and want to resort to butt-joints reinforced with dowels. I already have a doweling jig from Wolfcraft.

In order to prevent some issues that I had in the past with doweling I am thinking to do things a bit different but that might end up in a disaster so I am asking first here.

How about I glue the pieces of the box first, simple (glued) butt joint (that weak kind of joint) wait for the glue to dry and then drill the holes for the dowels, apply the dowels with glue, trim them flush, apply finish etc.

Would applying the dowels after the first set of glue cured weaken the joints? Or would this have any other downside?

Why would I do this? Clamping simplification. Having a long and atypical form and size would ask for large and specialized clamps that I currently do not own and most importantly don't have space for.

Most videos on the internet (youtube mainly) show doweling as fitting the whole thing in one go not in two stages as I would try so I became curious if such an approach holds a nasty surprise (weak joints or something else).

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    Can't add a formal Answer at the moment Andrei but in theory this is perfectly fine (it's not uncommonly done and I do it myself quite frequently), except that you do really need clamping of some type to hold the piece tightly together during the initial glue-up stage or the joints will be very weak, unless you're using epoxy as your adhesive. – Graphus supports Monica May 9 at 8:06
  • @Graphus: Yes, I would clamp it in the first phase (simple glue-up phase). Thank you! As an off-topic: How come you cannot add an answer?! – Andrei Rînea May 9 at 11:50
  • I couldn't type a lot yesterday morning only because I was on a small laptop with no mouse attached so typing (and even more so editing) a decent volume of text makes me want to pull my hair out :-) – Graphus supports Monica May 10 at 6:46
  • @Graphus: Oh, I see! I thought that you had a restriction from the StackExchange service and that would have been surprising given your stellar record on the site. – Andrei Rînea May 10 at 10:04
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The only downside I can think of is that you'd see the dowels from the outside. But sometimes that can be a desired look, too; it depends on the aesthetic you're going for. It would not weaken the glue joint. In fact, the original joint will not be very strong; gluing to end grain, as with a butt joint, is quite weak.

  • This type of butt joint isn't as weak as commonly supposed (in solid wood at least). If you do it right breakage can result in some tearing of face grain from the mating piece, indicating the glue joint can approach the strength of the wood itself. – Graphus supports Monica May 9 at 7:58
  • @Charlie Kilian: Yes, I forgot to mention that I am aware that the dowels will be visible and have no issue with this aesthetic aspect. Otherwise I would resort to the dowel markers but as I said in the question I had pathetic misalignment issues with them. – Andrei Rînea May 9 at 11:53
  • @Charlie Kilian: but the final joint (after doweling) would acquire a strength comparable to a typically-doweled joint, right? – Andrei Rînea May 9 at 11:58
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    @AndreiRînea Correct. It would not be weaker than if you'd installed the dowels during initial glue-up. – Charlie Kilian May 9 at 13:41
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    @AndreiRînea, just one technique thing to note when you come to tapping the dowels home, be careful bottoming them out. I've once separated a butt joint at one corner being too 'enthusiastic' hammering the dowel home. Ideally dowels are not supposed to reach the bottom of the holes drilled for them anyway. – Graphus supports Monica May 10 at 6:51
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If you can't clamp it up, do your initial assembly with screws and glue. The screws act as clamps. Once the glue has cured, remove the screws, and use those same holes as the pilot holes for drilling your dowel holes.

This method would allow you a 'dry fit' -- screw it together without glue, and make sure it fits in the car.

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