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I don't like to use dowels very much. Without expensive jigs like the Dowel Max it is difficult to drill precisely spaced and aligned holes for multiple dowel joints in a home shop. It is much easier to use them in a factory environment with production machinery that is designed to drill multiple dowel holes at the same time.
You need to not only drill a perfectly aligned dowel hole, but multiple dowel holes must be perfectly spaced to each other to make multiple dowel joints, and this becomes a problem for the simpler, less expensive dowel jigs. A fairly good dowel jig which is considerably less expensive than the Dowel Max is the Dowl-It jig and I do own one of these. It is self centering on the stock, which is great for most joints, but if you want your dowels off center you must shim the clamp to get the result that you want. Replaceable drill bushings in the deluxe model allow for drilling different diameter dowel holes and you can drill these holes on several standard spacings. To drill the mating holes in the second piece requires the use of Dowel Center Transfer Plugs and careful alignment of the Dowl-It jig to get good results. If the second piece is wider and you want the dowel holes to be off center on the piece the Dowl-It becomes difficult to use as shims are required to move it to the off center location. Although I own a Dowl-It jig, I don't use dowels very much because of these difficulties in using them.
I prefer instead to use biscuits, mortise and tenon joints or floating tenon joints. Biscuits are easy to align, fast to install, and very forgiving when it comes to positioning. For tenon jigs there are several low cost jigs available that are easy to use. The Deluxe Beadlock floating tenon system lets you install floating tenon mortises using only the jig, a clamp, and a powered hand drill with the correct bit. The only real downside to them is that you must purchase the fluted tenon stock from Beadlock or buy an expensive fluting router bit to make your own fluted tenon stock. The Mortise Pal is another jig that allows you to make mortises for floating tenons using a router equipped with a collar bushing and a straight bit. Floating tenon stock can easily be made for this on the table saw. Although the router leaves rounded ends in the mortises, square tenons that will fit properly in the mortises leaving the 1/2 round ends of the mortises open work very well. These 1/2 round spaces are great to contain and hold any excess glue.