Dowel-making, that is, taking a piece of wood and making it into a cylinder, is an age-old woodworking concern. Solutions to this problem range from the lathe to the dowel plate. A lathe, of course, is probably the best solution. If you want neat, precise, and accurate cylinders, why the lathe is your friend. But you have to (a) have a lathe (b) set up the piece for turning, and (c) turn the thing. Sometimes you want something simpler than that.
Several alternatives are possible. One is the dowel plate. This is a piece of metal with one or more holes bored through it. You take a piece of wood, hack it to the right size, and pound it through the plate. To get away with this, the plate has to be quite thick, 6mm or more; you have to counterbore the hole to leave a thin edge that actually shaves the dowel. Unless you have a drill press, making a clean hole in metal by hand is a formidable proposition. I have a dowel plate made this way.
Another time-honored method is the rounder plane, or stail engine. Here's my stail engine, newly made a week ago:
It is a piece of birch, about 20 cm long (it could be shorter) with a 1/2" (13mm) hole drilled through it. Tangent to the hole, it is cut away at 45 deg. (on the left) and 30 deg. (right). A blade, taken from a broken block plane, has slots cut into it and is screwed onto the block. To use it, cut your piece of wood so it goes into the hole. Turn the wood (or the plne itself), using the rounder plane/stail engine as a big pencil sharpener. It cuts a reasonably clean dowel; the sharper the blade the better.
With Mr. Stail, I finally got handles on my set of swiss-pattern files:
Well, there's one left; I ran out of branch stock! With this thing, you don't need to run to the hardware store to buy dowels. But you do have to keep a stock of branches to shave down.
Spring is coming, if slowly. That's when I cruise the roads, looking for branches that were cut down by the snowplow crews. Lots of free wood there.