How to Use Wood Dowels in Stacked Cakes

How to Use Wood Dowels in Stacked Cakes

Even basic stacked cakes require interior supports to prevent tiers from shifting or getting squashed. I recommend using dowels and cardboard for cake infrastructure because it is a reliable and economical method. I am not a big fan of the SPS (single plate separator) system because it’s expensive, the plastic plate is unnecessary (except for cakes with elevated tiers), and the chunky columns displace an awful lot of cake. Bubble tea straws, which can be used in smaller cakes (2, maybe 3 tiers) are inexpensive and easy to cut to size. Personally, I prefer to use wooden dowels because they are trusty.
Items needed

► Every tier of every cake should have a cardboard base beneath it that is the shape/size of the intended result (so a 7” round cake needs a 7” round cardboard). The cardboard should stay with the cake from the first moment the cake is frosted to the point when it gets served; the cake and cardboard naturally fuse together and remain as one.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies
► For wedding cakes and big party cakes that are going to sit on display for long periods of time, it helps to reinforce the cardboard’s edges with white electrical tape, pulling it around each piece tautly to seal in the cut edges. This prevents the corrugated perimeters from getting soggy and droopy. It also makes it much easier, since the cardboard stays sturdy, for the person cutting the cake to disassemble the cake. The white electrical tape also hides the brown cardboard edge from ever showing. This especially applies when dealing with elevated tiers.

How to Make a Car Cake by Wicked Goodies
► In terms of dowels, different sizes are required depending on the project at hand. For smaller 2-tiered cakes like the above body of a police car groom’s cake, plan to use narrow Wilton Dowel Rods. The base tier with the dowels inserted are seen below.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies

Because these cakes are wrapped in modeling chocolate, they are sealed in plastic wrap to keep condensation from forming on the surface of the modeling chocolate.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies
► For the bottom tiers of larger 3+ tier cakes or large sculpted cake structures like the above base tier of a 3-level ferry boat wedding cake, plan to use fatter 1/2″ wood dowels towards the center of the cake to support weight from above. Dowels of various widths can also be found at the hardware store.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies

► Once a cake tier is fully frosted, measure its interior height in order to determine the length of interior support dowels needed. Do this on a cold but not frozen cake by inserting a long skewer dull-side-down and all the way through the cake vertically until it hits the cardboard base. With a pen, mark the skewer at the point where it meets the cake’s surface. Then pull out the skewer and use it to measure the dowels for cutting.

► Use the skewer’s mark minus 1/8” (3 mm) to determine what length to cut dowels. The reason for shaving some length off of the dowels is that cake invariably gets compressed under dowels, which raises them up a hair. Also, it’s better for interior supports to sit just below a cake’s surface. If one or more dowels protruded above the cake’s surface, the next tier won’t sit level, then the entire cake’s structural integrity can get compromised.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies
Large pet nail clippers work great for cutting narrow dowels one by one. To cut a number of dowels to the same length (when a saw is involved), tape them together with electrical tape so that their ends are flush. Then mark and cut them all at once. Always hold cut dowels up side by side to make sure they are all the same length.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies
How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies
► To cut wood quickly, cleanly, and accurately, use a miter saw, which slices in one clean swoop. Neeeooo! It is the best tool for cutting wood dowels.  Before I got a miter saw, I used a reciprocating saw along with a miter box to cut dowels for cakes. A miter box (above far right) is a gadget that holds the wood and has slots for the saw blade to help ensure straight cuts. I find that a reciprocating saw works better and quicker than a traditional hand held saw but my preference is the miter saw.

► When trimming dowels for small, lightweight cakes that don’t require the heft of power tools, I recommend large pet nail clippers. Pet nail clippers…I know it sounds weird. But they work great, especially on the 12″ Wilton Dowel Rods. I have a pair in my tool kit that I use often and exclusively for dowels (never for paws). They are sharp and accurate, their only limitation being their size: they can’t fit wide diameter dowels.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies
► No matter which type of sawing/clipping method you use, always remember to smooth out the rough edges of freshly cut dowels with sand paper. Then stand them on end to compare lengths and make sure they are all level. At this stage, you can sand dowels down as is necessary to even out long or crooked bits.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies
► When adding dowels to a cake, distribute them so that they can most evenly absorb the weight that will be pressed upon them from above.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies
► When adding thicker dowels to a cake, first use an apple corer to remove the narrow cylinder of cake that will be displaced by the wood. The reason for coring is that it helps prevent cracking a cake’s finished surface.

Blue Ombre Bling Cake

► Once the wooden support dowels are all in, it helps to add a piece of parchment paper between cake tiers that is the same size as the tier above. This helps guide the placement of the next tier. It also helps prevent the frosting from the lower tier from getting stuck to the cardboard above. This way, each tier’s frosting remains better intact.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies

► For stacked tiers that get moved or transported, it’s important to push one or two narrow sharpened dowels through multiple tiers. These Wilton Dowel Rods work great for this purpose. The purpose of these longer dowels is to prevent the tiers from sliding or shifting side to side.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies

► The best tool for sharpening this type of support dowel is a pencil sharpener. Don’t sharpen the dowels to a point though. Make sure they are slightly rounded at the tip (sand them a little if you have to) because you don’t want a sharp tip of wood breaking off inside the cake.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies

► When inserting long pointed dowels through tiers, press slowly but firmly with two thumbs. Once you hit the cardboard, tap the tip of the dowel lightly with a hammer to help it pass through the cardboard cake base. It helps to insert dowel infrastructure into a cake when it’s not too cold (right after frosting is a good time) because a cold cake is more prone to cracking.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies

Push the long sharpened dowels (marked by the arrows above) down to the same level as the support dowels. It’s better to leave them visible for the person whose job it is to find and remove them later on.

Ferry Boat Cake by Wicked Goodies

► To remove dowels from within a cake because they are the wrong length or because it’s time to serve the cake, use needle nose pliers to grab and pull them out.

► When dropping off stacked cakes at weddings or catered events, try to find the person who is supposed to cut the cake so you can describe to them how it’s built, where the dowels are located, how many people it is meant to serve, etc.

How to Use Wooden Dowels in Stacked Cakes by Wicked Goodies

Here is a blueprint of the infrastructure that went into an ancient monument cake. More on this cake is in the Advanced Engineering section of the book, Cake Decorating with Modeling Chocolate.

Sculpted 3D cake that looks like ancient monuments: the Colosseum, the Parthenon, and the Alexandria Lighthouse

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How to Use Wood Dowels in Stacked Cakes — 19 Comments

  1. Great tutorials, No mention is ever made about dowels or piping on how to clean them before using them. I’m assuming they should be sanitized in some way before use.

    • Judy,
      I’m not sure if sanitizing dowels is a necessary step. Although you bring up a good point here, I have never worked at a bakery that sanitizes dowels before use except in cases when a piece of infrastructure gets used more than once. Wood is naturally anti-bacterial so it is resistant to transmitting the types of harmful food-borne pathogens that you might be thinking of. Plastic is more worrisome as unlike wood, bacteria can multiply on its surface. So when using plastic infrastructure, always sanitize.

      It does help to wash dowels after sanding them down to get rid of any loose wooden particles that may be clinging to the surface.

  2. Wow…this was extremely helpful. I have to do a two tier cake and I did not have a clue on how to stack it or how to use dowels. 2 thumbs up for Wicked goodies

  3. Hi, I’m hoping you can help me with a question. I’ll be working on the largest cake I’ve ever made. It’s an 11×15 sheet cake, two-layers per layer, with a rice crispy treat roof (it’s the shape of a house I’m making) what sort of dowels should I use for each layer and should I have one or more dowels going through the whole cake? I’m really nervous that the cake is going to collapse onto itself. Any recommendations are greatly appreciated.

    • Sorry, the cake is going to be 4 double layers tall with about 4 more layers of crispy treat roof on top and fondant on the very top of the cake.

      • Hi,
        Yes it would make sense to use wood dowels in that case. For an 11″ x 15″ house cake, I would put 6 dowels in 2 rows of 3, at least 2″ away from the sides all around, as the majority of the weight of that roof will be in the middle. Make sure to put a cardboard on the bottom of the rice treats as it will be heavy including the fondant. If the cake is being transported, I would also suggest inserting 2 pointed dowels through the roof into the cake to prevent the roof from sliding.

  4. Hi, I love your site. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. Your tutorial are so helpful. I have a question, when doweling a topsy turvy cake should the dowels be cut at an angle ?

  5. Hi, I just stumbled upon your website researching info about modeling chocolate. I am so impressed, and I must buy your book! :) I had a question, I cannot seem to find it anywhere on the internet.. I am considering covering my entire cake in modeling chocolate, however it will be outside in a hangar (military ceremony) for a couple of hours…. We are in CA in the high desert area and do you think the chocolate will hold up to heat, the weather here is so iffy I mean today it rained and snowed… who knows what it will be like next week. lol Thanks so much!

    • As long as the inside of the cake is stable, it should hold up in the heat. Just make sure it is kept in the fridge up until delivery and not displayed in direct sunlight. Good luck!

  6. Hi, I love your site and thank you so much for sharing all this information. Just wanted to let you know the Amazon link for the Woodsies dowels pack state they are “Birch wood, non food safe”. Many thanks! Can’t wait for your book to come out! xoxo

  7. Actually stumbled on your site, while searching for info on modeling chocolate. Your tutorials are simply amazing :- details, pictures and the “converted handy cake tools”. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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