Round Dogs or Square?

by | Jan 30, 2013 | 23 comments

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Both round and square bench dogs will hold effectively.
After a short time of working with both shapes though I must say that I soon came to favour the round ones. Many, many bench builds later and that opinion still stands.

As someone who’s pleasure comes from working wood by hand I have to see the workbench as the absolute epicentre of my workshop so my case for round dogs is built from a purely functional point of view.
All dogs have a flat face for clamping against and whether they’re round or square you can add a slight angle to this to aid clamping. The way I see it is there’s nothing a square dog can do that a round dog can’t, but there’s plenty a round dog can do that a square dog can’t.

Ability to rotate.
This is really the key point for me as I’ve found a big difference in the ability to clamp out of square boards with round and square bench dogs.

A square dog’s face is set square to the bench top which will suit most situations when making furniture but in practice I often rely on my dogs rotating to be able to hold work securely. If I’m preparing rough timber by hand then the ends are usually somewhat out of square from where I’ve quickly cut the boards by hand without marking. When clamping boards like this to flatten their faces my round dogs will adjust themselves to hold secure as I tighten the vice, with square dogs and heavy planing the work would slip out.
There are many more times where I’ve had to clamp slightly angled or even curved work as part of a build and square dogs are much less practical for this.

Round bench dogs are great for angled boards

I was unable to hold this angled cut securely between square dogs.

Multiple hole Use.
I find this point important because I use holdfasts a lot when I work. By using round bench dogs I can make sure that every hole is also suitable for a holdfast  making the bench top versatile without littering it with all manner of holes.
I also like to use dogs and holdfasts along the front face of my bench whether its in a deep apron, board jack or the leg and I feel these areas lend themselves to round holes rather than square.

Ease of creating the holes.
In my experience round dog holes are easier to create than square ones. These can be done on a pillar drill or hand held drill using a guide – see this post. Square holes take a lot more effort either through brute force or in setting up a means to rout them. The routing depends on having a laminated top and making the cuts before gluing up, which can then be prone to a weaker glue line and fussy glue up.
If retrofitting a vice in to an existing bench then round holes are much easier to add in my opinion.

After saying all that I’m keen to add that these benefits are based on my personal way of working and may be less relevant for yourself. I can see that for someone using their tail vice mainly towards the later end of a project for smoothing perfectly square parts then square dogs may be preferable. I know a lot of people also prefer the look of a square dog so there’s certainly no clear cut answer only personal preference – it’s a bit like saying that tea is better than coffee or bitter better than lager!

And lets not forget that for many woodworkers a tail vice isn’t even considered necessary, so it’s best not to lose too much sleep over this one…

Wood Vs Metal Bench Dogs

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Ken

    Nice post Richard, I’m not at the dog hole stage yet, but it will be round dogs for me. Nothing more than personal preference, but I agree I think round dogs/ holes, are much more versatile.

    This was a good read, I enjoy reading them all, but as I will be adding dog holes soon it was even more Interesting,

    Nice job buddy 😉

    • Richard

      Cheers Ken, after seeing photos of your bench in progress I’m now looking forward to seeing it finished! I’m pleased this was of interest.

  2. douglas

    totally agree – round dogs have tricks that square ones don’t. Just like a fully flush front has no downside and massive gains (IMHO). Round is king, and if on a budget it is really easy to make them too (3/4 dowel etc). Worth readers referring back to Richard’s neat trick re boring the 3/4 holes vertical, and in the right place. (On this blog somewhere). Nice work Richard.

    • Richard

      It’s good to hear from you Douglas. That’s a great point about making them out of dowel, I think either shape is easy enough to make out of wood if budget was the key player.
      Thanks, Richard

  3. Mark

    I have been enjoying your posts for a while, great stuff. Today I feel the need to respond to your musings. While I agree that the choice of dog is down to personal preference. Whether based on experience or asthetics, or both, is immaterial. We have to make up our own minds. However, it is nothing like the choice between bitter or larger! The best (polite) description I have heard for larger is ‘good water, spoiled’.
    Up until now I had thought you to be a man of culture. Please tell me the man capable of saving those wonderful belt driven machines is not a larger swilling ne’r do well in disguise.!!!!!!!!!!!
    Looking forward to the next installment. Great work.

    • Richard

      Hi Mark, as a first comment that’s got to be the best yet!
      I like to keep open minded but if you drink in my local taverns you quickly learn to keep these sort of opinions to yourself, it normally ends in stools being thrown!
      You’ll be pleased to know when it comes to larger I avoid it like the plague… and coffee too for that matter 😉

  4. Mark

    Good man. I knew I could trust my instincts.

  5. Matthew Groves

    There is surely something that a square version can do that a round one cannot, though it is a minute and rarely needed advantage.

    Resist rotation.

    • Richard

      Thanks Matthew, Good point… I haven’t needed that one yet 😉

  6. Alex

    Great timing, I am in the process of planning my new workbench, and have been considering which way to go with the dog holes. I was leaning towards square ones, mainly because I like the idea of wooden dogs, as I thought they were less likely to damage cutting edges in the case of a slip. After reading what you have written, I can really see that the round ones are a lot more adaptable, and therefore useful. At the end of your post, you mentioned wood versus metal for dogs, may be a good subject for a future post? The idea of using dowel is interesting, is it strong enough? I suppose it’s cheap enough to replace if it breaks. Do you ever damage cutting edges on a brass dog?

    • Richard

      Hi Alex, either shape can be made out of wood if that’s your preference but these are more prone to damage though the beauty is they’re a doddle to make and cheap as chips to replace. In my whole woodworking life I’ve yet to hit a dog with a plane, wooden or metal, maybe I’ve just got lucky?
      Like you say this warrants a post of its own so I’ll try and get something on shortly.

  7. Martin

    Very useful and convincing post, Richard, which has stopped my indecision about the dogs for my bench build. Where did they get their name from? I mean, they don’t look like dogs.

    • Richard

      Good question Martin, it’s difficult to see the resemblance! It’s a very old term and is used in other trades as well such as blacksmithing and metalwork. I’m not certain where it comes from though, I’ll stew on this one.

      • Martin

        When I think about it I have seen the odd dog that resembles a round bench dog but never a square one.

    • Ken

      In engineering a dog is a tool that prevents movement or imparts movement by offering physical obstruction or engagement of some kind. It may hold another object in place by blocking it, clamping it, or otherwise obstructing its movement.

      • Richard

        There’s also a tool called a pinch dog that will hold edge joints together without using clamps, they look like giant staples.

      • Jim Spiri

        My regular dog does that (the obstruction thing) when I go to the loo at night! (I’m American I used ‘loo’ to fit in- I like ‘bog’ too)

  8. Alex

    Very interesting Martin, I have also wondered where the name came from, the other strangely named tool that springs to mind is the “plasterers hawk”, which I believe is also a very old term.

    • Martin

      Also rabbets and squirrel planes (:

      • Richard

        Sliding Dead Man’s another good one.. I’ve always prefered to call it a board jack

  9. Chris Buckingham

    Alex, I am sure the “Plasterers Hawk” derives from the fact that it sits on the fist as does a Hawk,or Falcon. This is also where the term “Cadge” comes from,this also was a device for carrying the Hawk,or Falcon into the field for a days sport,the carrier of the Cadge having a nice little number and being called a “Cadger”.
    Martin,I think the name Rabet Plane probably is a derivetive of “Rebate” the job for which is is normally used.

  10. David

    Hi Guys,
    How about the best of both worlds – a square dog that can rotate?
    I use these all the time, basically they are a 12mm (1/2″) high block tapered a couple of degrees top to bottom and are about 45mm (1 3/4″) square. They have a short piece (70mm long) of 19mm (3/4″) dowel drilled in and glued.
    Having a ‘head’, there is no worry about them dropping through the dog hole. Being made of wood they don’t damage tools. Storage is simple – just drill holes in the sides of the legs and pop them in.


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