I don’t do very much fine woodworking but I’ve been working on a furniture project for a couple months that required some form of floating-tenon joint and found myself needing to buy a tool for this. Budget was a large concern of mine, a Domino would have been fantastic but there was no way I could justify the spend given how little I expect I would use it. I try and avoid the knockoff Amazon products as much as possible and so ended up deciding to go with the Dowelmax. I purchased the “Classic” set in 3/8in, and over the last couple months I finished my project using somewhere around 130 dowels, so here are my thoughts.
Build quality and precision. The Dowelmax is easily a 10/10. It feels like a high end precision measuring instrument. The machining quality is very good and the attention to detail is high. For example, the various threaded rods used to assemble and clamp the jig are actually cut rather than being rolled like 99.99% of fasteners out there. The thread tolerances are very tight, the parts don’t wobble around. The clamping nuts and knobs are thick and have some of the best knurling I’ve seen. These parts appear to be all made custom, they aren’t just buying off the shelf all-thread and nuts in bulk. The round holes in the brackets are very tightly sized to the threaded studs. They are clearly taking precision seriously, and I say this as someone who has owned and operated a machine shop.
Flexibility. You can do a lot of different kinds of joinery with the Dowelmax. I used it to edge-join long boards flat and also at 45 and 30 degree angles. I did miter joints of various angles, and 90-degree face joints. Doing the angled edge joints required making some simple wedges out of scrap material but otherwise no other items were required. The set comes with an assortment of various thickness spacers so you can quickly set it up for standard dimensional lumber or do multiple rows of dowels for large joints.
Speed. This is really the only area where the Dowelmax is less than ideal. It takes a while to use compared to things like a Domino or a Biscuit jointer where you can visually align with a pencil mark and then just push the tool in by hand. With the Dowelmax you have to clamp it in place and then grab your drill to make the holes. If this is a large joint then you have to unclamp, use the included indexing pin or distance gauge to align the Dowelmax for the next location, clamp it again, repeat. This takes much more time by comparison.
Strength of joints. Dowelmax claims their method is stronger than biscuits or dominoes. I don’t have any method of comparing the three but I abused several test joints in scrap material before committing to my final project design and I can say that it makes extremely strong joints.
Overall? It worked great for me and I only had to buy one tool. I was able to use it for all the joints on my project except for one. Precision was excellent, all my joints fit together very well. Quality is top-notch. It can be slow depending on what kind of joints you are doing. That’s OK with me for occasional hobby projects or as a problem-solver, though I would want something faster for professional work. I absolutely would buy it again, no question.