How to Drill Out Wood Plugs or Dowels

Sometimes during the repair of furniture, the wood plugs suffer from damage. Then replacing them with new ones is the need of the hour. However, drilling out a wood plug is not quite easy for a beginner.

To drill out wood plugs requires you to select and adjust an appropriate countersink, mount it to a wired or cordless drill, and drill a pilot hole. Once you are done with a pilot hole, make a simple jig with cardboard. Now Place the jig on the top of the wood and drill out a plug using a drill-mounted plug cutter. Remove the plugs with a screwdriver or chisel.

Wood plugs are mainly drilled through a drill press rather than a conventional wired or cordless drill, but still, we can use our own DIY tools rather than opting for an expensive purchase.

I have written this article to guide you on removing a wood plug safely and how to drill out a new one if that’s not possible.

Why Wood Plugs?

Wood plugs, also known as wood dowels, are round pegs installed to keep different furniture pieces in place. They are the preferred cover for screw heads, providing them with better stability and aesthetics than their counterpart wood fillers.

In old times people used plugs to fasten different furniture pieces together due to the lack of conventional steel screws.

They are essentially glued in place, keeping the plug grains in configuration and alignment with the recipient’s furniture pieces.

Wood plugs drilling out

Removing Wood Plugs or Dowels

Wood plugs are not easy to remove because they usually sustain a damage at removal, however there a few tricks down the sleeve that will help you at removing them easily

Items Needed for Removing Wood Dowels

Below is the list of items that are needed to safely remove wood plugs

  1. Wired or cordless drill (Recommend cordless drill)
  2. Conventional twist drill bit (Check a full set here)
  3. Steel screw (Get them here)
  4. Screwdriver (A good set I often always keep in my toolbox)
  5. Pliers

Method is pretty simple

  • Step 1: Mount a right-sized bit on the drill. The bit size should be enough only to accommodate a screw.
  • Step 2: Drill a hole in the wood plug’s center, keeping the depth to a minimum.
  • Step 3: Using a conventional screwdriver or a cordless drill. Drive the screw inside the hole and keep rotating it till the plug is loosened.
  • Step 4: Pull out the screw head with hand, and if not possible, then with a plier.

Note: If the above procedure fails to remove wood plugs, then the salvage procedure is the only solution. For that, use a Forstner drill bit to drill out the whole piece altogether.

Drilling Out New Wood Plugs or Dowels

Many times, it’s not easy to remove wood plugs without damaging them. Therefore drilling out new wood plugs is necessary to replace them. Below is the article. I will be sharing a complete guide on how to drill out new plugs.

Items Needed

  1. Self-made wooden Jig
  2. Plug cutter
  3. Chisel
  4. Masking tape
  5. A Cordless drill (Check out my recommendations for cordless drills)

Before drilling out wood plugs, we need to make a wooden jig to keep the plug cutter in place, or else it will wander around, failing to cut out any wood.

Making a Wooden Jig

To make out a wooden jig, you need a piece of flat cardboard and a 2 inches thick wood block, screws, and a spade bit. The hole’s diameter is drilled into the jig should roughly match the hole’s diameter where the plug is to be installed. Steps are simple

  1. Select an appropriate sized spade bit about the plug cutter
  2. Using a spade bit mounted to a drill, cut out a hole in the cardboard piece.
  3. Screw the 2 inches thick wood block to the trim of the cardboard. This will prevent the cardboard from rotating with the spin of the drill.

Drilling Wood Dowels

Once you are done with making a wooden jig, now is the time to start drilling wood plugs. Before I list down the steps, select an appropriate wood type that will serve as the donor wood. Selecting an appropriate wood is important because the plug’s grains should match the grains on the furniture. steps are as follows

  • Step 1: Take a thick piece of wood and place a wooden jig over it.
  • Step 2: Mount the plug cutter onto the drill.
  • Step 3: Pass the plug cutter bit inside the holes on the jig and start drilling.
  • Step 5: Once you are done with drilling the desired number of plugs, remove the jig.
  • Step 6: Using a screwdriver or a bit, detach the plugs from the bottom by moving them to and fro

Note: During the drill, some wood plugs may be left inside the cutter; this is normal when drilling with a cordless drill. Remove the pieces, clean the plug cutter and start again.

Installing Wood Plugs

Once you are done with fixing your furniture, Installing back wood plugs should always be considered. Before installing the plugs, make sure to measure the hole’s depth where the plug is to be installed.

Items Needed to install wood dowels

  1. Drill
  2. Chisel
  3. Countersink drill bit
  4. Glue
  5. Sandpaper
Installing wood plugs

Pre-drilled holes

For Pre drilled holes:

  • Sand the wood plugs carefully,
  • Align the grains of the plugs with the furniture.
  • Apply the glue into the holes where the plug is to be fitted.
  • Hammer the plugs into the hole with the back of a chisel or a wooden hammer.
  • Cut out the excessive plug with a chisel.
  • smooth out the surface with sandpaper.

For New Drilling Holes

Although the major procedure is the same for both of the predrilled and new holes, in this, we have to drill out new holes, also referred to as “pilot holes” for the screw for that:

  • Select an appropriate countersink bit. The dia should be based on the size of the screw head being used. To learn more about wood plug specifications, check this site.
  • Adjust the desired length of the countersink bit with the help of adjusting-key. This length determines the depth of the screw that is being inserted.
  • Mount the countersink bit onto the drilling machine.
  • Insert the countersink bit into the jig. This will prevent the drill from vibrating.
  • Drill into the wood deep so that the countersink penetrates enough.
  • Now insert the screw and fasten them.
  • Pour glue into the holes and plug them, keeping the grains aligned.
  • Cut out the excessive plug with a chisel and polish the surface with sandpaper.

How Far Into the Wood should the Screw Go?

It mainly depends on two factors 1) The thickness of wood 2) The joining force required. As a general rule, the screw should ideally cover half the thickness of the wood lying below for best results.

Moreover, the thicker the screw, the lesser it needs to go further. This is because thicker screws have more friction to hold on the pieces together.

How do you cover up wood screws?

Wood screws can be covered with a wood plug or a paint filler. Wood surfaces are either painted, polished, or left untreated.

Painted Surfaces:

Screws on painted surfaces are covered with wood fillers or wood puffers. Wood filler is made from sawdust by mixing it with pop. Preformed fillers or puffers are also easily available. Once the screws are covered, try to smooth out them with fine sandpaper.

Polished Surfaces

They are preferably covered with wood plugs. I have discussed that in details In the topics above.

Can You Drill Wood Fillers?

Yes! You can drill the majority of the wood fillers, but not all. Based on the consistency and chemistry of wood filler, Some are soft, and some are hard.

Softwood fillers cannot be drilled because they break upon impact. At the same time, epoxy-based fillers can be drilled quite easily.

Can You Drill Wet wood?

Yes! You can drill wet wood pretty easily because the moisture act as a lubricant to guide the bit inside.

We have one major problem with wet wood drilling, and that is hole shrinkage upon wood getting dry. This must be kept in mind when drilling through wet wood. Therefore I usually do not recommend wet wood drilling when working on fine projects.