Meat Powered Bamboo Peg Cutting Machine

The Hillbilly Daiku proudly presents:

The Meat Powered Bamboo Peg Cutting Machine 

While researching tansu I noted that the drawers where typically pegged together.  I little further research turned up a couple of videos, here and here, that showed these pegs being installed.  After a good bit of poking around on the internet I managed to find a couple of suppliers.  One is in Germany and the other is in Australia.  I could order them but the cost of shipping is just too much to make it worth it.  I’m also trying to keep the materials list down to readily available materials.  So on to other options.

My first experiment was to make my own pegs from hardwood.  Whittle a long, thin piece down to 1/8″(3mm) cut it off and do it again and again and again…..  This worked but the results were inconsistent and it was a time consuming process.  Next!

I thought about making a dowel plate and drive pieces of wood thru graduated holes to produce the pegs.  Experience and common sense told me that, because of the peg’s small diameter, I would break as many pegs as I was likely to produce.  Moving on.

I went to the big box store and had a look at their hardwood dowel offerings.  In my area poplar is sold as a hardwood and that is what these 1/8″ dowels were made of.  They were ratty looking, weak and somewhat expensive.  Nope, not the answer either.

Back to searching on the internet for every wording that could pertain to a wooden peg.  That’s when I stumbled upon the idea of using bamboo skewers to manufacture my pegs.  I was able to find 1/8″ x 12″ bamboo skewers at Wal-Mart in the kitchen aisle.  A bag of 100 for $1.00.  Bamboo is a grass, but behaves like wood when its dry.  It has grain and, like wood, can be easily split along its grain.  Across the grain however, bamboo has tremendous shear strength.  Its actually stronger in shear than just about any wood I’m likely to be working with.  After a couple of experiments I decided that this was going to work for me.  I take advantage of the compression factor in the softwood that I’m working with.  The bamboo peg does not compress.  So a bamboo peg driven into softwood compresses the wood as its driven in.  Once in, the wood swells slightly and holds the peg firmly in place.

Cutting the bamboo skewers down to usable lengths was a bit of a PIA.  They were hard to hold and, when the last bit of fiber was severed, the now free peg would go skittering across the bench or worse to the floor and hide in the shavings.  The first pegs I sharpened with a utility knife.  A little slow, but got the job done.  All of this was time consuming, but not so much to discount the option.  What I needed was a more efficient way of rendering the skewers into usable pegs.

I’m not an engineer, I’m a mechanical designer in my day job.  The pertinent difference being that, while I have the skill to over complicate the problem, I still possess enough common sense to find a simple solution.  😉  (Just a little joke.  Engineers please do not send me any nasty grams.)  After sketching several convoluted ways to cut a bamboo skewer into pegs I was able to distill the ideas down to a relatively simple solution.

The Meat Powered Bamboo Peg Cutting Machine

Its simply a box that serves as a length gauge, saw guide and catchment device.  The inside width is the desired length of peg.  The length of the box is long enough to accommodate my small pull saw.  I lowered the far end to make sure the saw clears it.  I added a groove at the other end that will accept the skewer.  I drilled a hole thru the side, in-line with the groove.  This allows me to insert the skewer thru the hole and into the groove.  The saw is kerfed into that corner allowing me to cut the skewer to length.  The hole and the groove provide support during the cut, remember I’m using a pull saw, and minimize any splintering.  I also sloped the bottom edge of the groove.  Once the peg is cut free it simply rolls into the box.  The only remaining issue that needed to be a addressed was how to taper the peg.  A very slight taper is all that is needed to allow easy starting of the peg into a drilled hole.  A $1.00 pencil sharpener was just right for the job.  So the procedure is thus.

Use the pencil sharpener to slightly taper the blunt end of the skewer.  Insert that end of the skewer into the hole in the side of the box until it contacts the opposite side of the box.  Insert the saw into the kerf and cut the peg to length.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Is it super quick?  No, but I can produce a good number of pegs in a short time with a minimum of fuss.  So the plan is to process a few skewers every time I’m in the shop. It shouldn’t take very long to fill the box and have pegs at the ready.

Greg Merritt


This entry was posted in Design, Hillbilly Tansu Joinery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Meat Powered Bamboo Peg Cutting Machine

  1. I like the box catching what is sawn. Do have another one for doing the tapering?
    There are some you tube videos on a Japanese craftsman making abacus where he pulls bamboo through successively smaller holes without breaking. If I find my link again I’ll send it to you. He also makes all of this “pegs” too.

    • gman3555 says:

      Hi Ralph,

      No, I don’t try to taper the length, just the tip so I can drive them in an undersized hole. Luckily the bamboo skewers are already fairly uniform in diameter. I’ve seen that abacus series of videos. The whole process is pretty impressive. I watched the videos again and there is a shot of him chamfering the end of a peg by rolling it in the mouth of his plane against the blade. A simple and effective solution.


  2. António, from Portugal says:

    Hi Greg.
    Peter Follansnbee makes some oak “pegs” in the /woodwrightsshop episode of the paneled chest
    But your “jig” makes it very fast and nice with any dowel available.

  3. Brianj says:

    Meat powered…. Did you have steak before doing this?

  4. Pingback: HB Hobby Tansu #1-Part 8 | GREG MERRITT – BY MY OWN HANDS

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