Pocket Hole Joinery 101, Is It Useful?


Woodworking: Pocket Holes Are A Must

When I decide on a new project to build I don’t put a lot of thought into whether the technique I use is traditional or not.

Instead what I like to do is focus on a more important goal which is finding the best possible balance of appearance, strength, methods of efficiency and overall technique that will successfully complete the job and stand the test of time.

Pocket hole joinery in many circumstances can achieve accuracy and reliability along with efficiency. Some instances where you will find pocket holes are in structural frames and cabinet face frames where two angles are joined together.

At its basic level pocket hole joinery uses screws to mate two surfaces together which provides strength and a nice and neat cosmetic look when used properly because in most cases the holes can be hidden. This is what makes it such a great technique for many applications.

Pocket Hole Joinery Basics

So here’s how it works. A pilot hole is drilled at an angle at the end into the face of one of the pieces of wood to be joined together. The shallow angle of the pilot hole that was just drilled will allow the screw to exit the end of the piece of wood so that it can then be screwed into the end of the other piece of wood that you want to join together.

The key thing to keep in mind when drilling pocket holes is that they need to be drilled at a precise angle. Pocket hole jigs ensure that accuracy and setup for the jig is really simple. Once the holes are drilled into the workpiece it’s just a matter of driving in the screws to hold the pieces together. That’s it, simple, smooth and only takes a few minutes to do.

Why Use Pocket Hole Joinery?

A good pocket hole jig will provide speed along with versatility. Two pieces of wood can be joined together in just as many ways that you can think of. A few examples are end to end, end to face as well as mitered pieces of wood. The pocket hole jig is a wonderful tool for the wood shop.

Pocket hole joinery also makes an immediate bond of two surfaces. If you’re going to be doing this type of joinery you’re going to need some decent clamps to hold the work pieces together when you insert the screws. After the screws are in it’s ok to remove the clamps.

Are Pocket Holes Strong?

Well they’re not the strongest but they’re not the weakest either. The strength is more middle of the line. They’re more or less equal in strength to a biscuit joint or a loose tenon joint. However they’re not as strong as a glued joint or a mortise and tenon.

Drawbacks Of Pocket Holes

The only real disadvantage to pocket holes is that there will always be the visibility of the holes. In many cases they can be hidden by ensuring that the holes will be drilled on a face that won’t be seen. If this isn’t an option for whatever project that’s being done you can disguise the pocket holes with special plugs.

Pocket holes don’t do well with thin pieces of wood. If you mess it up it could ruin the entire project so just be aware of that. Once pocket holes break, they become useless and repairing them is pretty much impossible.

If you do make a mistake when making pocket holes or you just know how to avoid some of the problems there’s a article here that explains that.

The Pocket Hole Jig

As discussed earlier, what makes a good pocket hole possible is the use of a unique jig along with the drill bit that comes with it. For a proper fit, the pocket holes must be drilled at a 15 degree angle. All a pocket hole jig is a guide for the drill bit to ensure the correct angle is drilled. The jig takes all the guess work out of the equation and trying to drill a 15 degree hole free hand isn’t the way to go and it’s hard to keep accurate.

Depending on the type of jig that you purchase, the work piece will either be clamped in the jig or the other type is the jig can be clamped to the piece of wood that requires the pocket holes The jig has a sleeve to keep the bit headed in the right angle while drilling. 

Pocket Hole Drill Bit

The drill bit used to drill the holes isn’t one that you would normally use for drilling. Instead it’s a stepped drill bit specifically used for pocket holes. It does two things, the first being a flat bottomed counter-bore for the head of the screw. The other end has a short pilot hole for the thread part of the screw.

The Screws

Once the hole is drilled it’ll be able to accommodate the screw that’s designed for pocket holes. One way that they differ is they have a washered head built into the screw or molded is a better term to use. The threads are deeper than a regular screw as well. If the holes that are drilled fairly shallow, the screws still have an impressive amount of strength.

There’s several manufacturers that make pocket hole jigs but if you want the best I would go with Kreg Tool. They have a good reputation and the tools that they make are top of the line. Their pocket hole jigs are very easy to use and sturdy. They offer different types so it doesn’t matter what project you’re working on they have the right jig for the job. These jigs are kind of expensive but if you want something that’s going to last a long time this is the one I would go with.

Types of Pocket Hole Jigs

There’s plenty of jigs on the market to suit your needs. Kreg has a nice variety to choose from. The simplest one is a single hole with a guide. The way to use it is you position the jig for one hole drilling that you can clamp to the workpiece.

At the other end of the scale they make a deluxe model that’s a benchtop jig. This type also comes with a clamping system and a three hole guide block. One advantage that this model has is it can work a variety of wood thicknesses and can quickly and easily be adjusted.

How to Make A Pocket Hole

Making pocket holes is a very easy thing to do since there’s only two steps. With the help of a jig you first drill the hole in the wood. The second part of the process is assembling the joints using the screws. A few things do need to be addressed before drilling your holes. 

Laying Out The Pocket Holes

Before doing any drilling I would advise putting some thought into how you want the pocket holes drilled. Do they need to be hidden or does it matter? Most  of the time the screws exit the end grain of a piece of wood and enter the face grain of another. What this does is provides the strongest joint possible. 

If the workpieces that’s being worked on is wide enough, it’s a good idea to install two screws. This helps keep the alignment straight. By positioning the holes no less than one half inch from the edges will prevent splitting. When following the half inch rule you pretty much eliminate any chance of your pieces twisting out of alignment.

If the boards are 3” or wider it’s a good idea to put additional screws between the ones one the edges of the boards. Just make sure that they are evenly spaced out for maximum strength across the boards.

How To Set Up The Pocket Hole Jig

To get the results you’re looking for the pocket holes need to be drilled so the pilot section of the bit stops short of the surface and the screw exits near the middle. That’s why it’s important to get the jig and drill bit set up in the right way.

In almost all cases the thickness of the  wood that you’ll be working with will be at least ¾” . Most of the jigs on the market are designed around this fact. However if you find yourself in the situation that you have to use wood that’s either thicker or thinner, some of the types of jigs can be adjusted so the hole that’s drilled will meet the desired requirements of the angle of the pocket hole.

 If the stock that you’re working with is thicker or thinner than ¾” of an inch you will need to keep in mind that the holes will either need to be closer to the edge or further away. The newer jigs these days make it easy to accommodate different thicknesses of wood.

Making sure that your holes are positioned in the right way is only half the battle. The hole depth is the second part of a successful pocket hole. With the help of a stop collar on the drill bit takes all of the guesswork out of it.

You can measure up the drill bit starting with the pointy end to the desired depth and set the stop collar at the desired measurement. Another and maybe an easier way is to use the set-up gauge that comes with the jig and lock down the collar on the bit.

Once you have all that set up drilling is a piece of cake you just need to drill the full length of where you have the stop collar set.

Shop Tip: Pocket Hole Assembly Table

The table will make installing the screws easier because if built correctly you can use it to clamp your pieces down so they won’t move when driving in the screws. It also forces the pieces together at a ninety degree angle. The third benefit is it’s faster when putting pieces together. 

It really doesn’t take much to build one of these. The platform itself is made from plywood with two fences joined together at a ninety degree angle.

Assembling The Pieces

This is the fun part because once it’s all done you’re done. Pocket holes do away with the need of gluing and clamping pieces together. Which is a huge time saver.

You will need to use clamps since pocket holes won’t align by themselves until the screws are put in place. Since there’s no way to connect the pieces mechanically the clamps are needed to hold the pieces down so they shift when driving in the screws.

The way that you keep pieces aligned depends a lot on what type of joint you’re assembling. Take a simple picture frame for example. The surfaces of the pieces need to be flush while also the side to side positioning needs to be correct. So the simple solution for this type of joint is to use clamps.  

In some cases one clamp can be used by clamping across both faces to hold them in place. Locking face clamps do this nicely because they were designed to do just that. If you don’t have these types of clamps, the standard ones will do just fine by clamping each face to a flat surface will ensure alignment.

Clamps can also be used across two pieces to pull them together when you install the screws. This technique prevents the screws from bridging the pieces. It also keeps them aligned so that they won’t shift on you.

Installing The Pocket Screws

Now that you have the pieces securely clamped down and aligned, it’s time to drive in the screws. But before you do that make sure that you have the correct length. You don’t want to short of a screw because it won’t give you a tight bond. You also don’t want too long of a screw as that would probably blow out the side of your work piece.

Pocket screws have a different design than the run of the mill screws or even wood screws you would use for building a deck. One thing to notice is that they are self tapping. The second is the design of the deep threads. The threads drive through the wood aggressively to provide a tight hold.

Instead of a philips or a flat head the pocket screws are made to be used with a square bit. What’s nice about these types of screws is it doesn’t take much to drive one in.

The best and most efficient way to drive screws in is with a drill that has a clutch system. What I would do is start the drill on the lowest setting on the clutch and work your way up until you find that the screws are snugly seated.

Pocket holes are a great way to get awesome results with a minimum amount of effort. I think if given a chance you won’t be disappointed.

Hiding Pocket Holes

Sometimes you will run into situations with wood projects that it’s impossible to hide pocket holes. When these situations come up, the only answer to the problem is to use plugs so that the holes won’t be as noticeable. 

There’s a pretty good variety of natural wood plugs that can be bought that matches the project. Contrasting wood is another option that you use. You just glue them into the holes and trim flush to the wood.

Then there’s the plastic plug option that comes in five colors. This type is simple to use, they just snap into the hole.

If you don’t like the plugs or the contrasting wood I have another option. When I was putting the hardware on my oak cabinets, I drilled a hole in the wrong place. So I did some research on how to disguise the mis-drilled hole. Well what i found out is if you mix some of the sawdust from the project and some wood glue to form a paste you’ll

Find out that the color and texture is pretty close to the look of the wood itself. Once dried, you just sand it smooth.