Wooden Dowels – An Invisible Piece of History

What is a wood dowel you ask? It might look like a simple wooden peg, and to be quite honest – it is. But, like many other tools that appear to be altogether insignificant on the surface, dowel rods have undeniably changed history.

Today, they are used to hold everything from boats to bookshelves together, but they also lay claim to a much deeper historical significance. The wooden dowel has been used for centuries to hold our things together, and for better or for worse – it’s the things we’re surrounded with that have carried us as a people throughout history. Read on to learn more about the wooden dowel and how an altogether invisible and seemingly innocuous tool is more significance than we think.

A Piece of Wood, a Piece of History

The word dowel comes from the Middle English equivalent of doule, meaning “part of a wheel” which also seems to have its origin in the Middle Low German for dovel, for “plug.” Despite being an arguably mundane tool, wood dowels have been used in a variety of ways throughout history – earning them a place in the metaphorical “hall of fame” when it comes to tools and technologies that have continued to remain useful throughout the centuries.

690 AD: A traveler visits a famous shrine in at Ise in Japan and recounts the tradition of building shrines every 20 years according to specific ancient beliefs calling for use of dowel pegs and interlocking joints instead of nails.

1000: Leif Ericson rowed and sailed across the North Atlantic, from Norway to Newfoundland in a Viking ship that was sturdily constructed with overlapping planks held together with wooden dowels and iron nails.

1394: Master mason Henry Yevele rebuilds Westminster Hall, including a 660 Ton hammerbeam roof. This roof was unsupported from below, and was held aloft solely through the industrious use of wooden dowels.

1509: Reports reach the west about ships from Southeast Asia that are constructed of tropical wood and wood dowels with the capability of sailing as far as the eastern tip of Africa – enabling the trade of the “Ming Dynasty” vases and glassware we hear about today.

1641: When a Dutch fleet was sunk in the Sargasso Sea, the survivors created lifeboats using wooden dowels, and recounted how their capsized ships failed when the wooden nails and spikes holding them together disintegrated. After this, the Dutch King built a ship that was made entirely out of wood, fully incorporating hardwood dowels.

1954: A ship was discovered in Egypt held together entirely by dowel rods – indicating the use of dowels throughout history.

As you can see, dowels have been used throughout history to hold our world together. Take a look around. How do you take advantage of this piece of history every day?