Buy a good pocket screw jig
Pocket screw joints are best
described as a screw version of toenailing,
where boards are joined by
angling a fastener through the edge of
one into the other. The
concept is simple, but the precisely
engineered drill guide (the jig), drill
bit and pocket screws are what make
the system so easy and foolproof.
We purchased a standard kit that contained
the Kreg jig shown,
the special clamp and the stepped drill
bit with a stop collar and square driver
Avoid the temptation to buy an
inexpensive jig; you’ll never experience
the real benefits of pocket screws if you’re frustrated by a poorly
designed tool. Less-expensive jigs
lack the self-aligning lip and built-in
clamp found on this and other high-quality
models. You can get higher-priced
pocket hole jigs that have more
elaborate clamping systems and built-in
motors to speed up the operation,
but the end result is essentially the
same. This short tutorial will show you how to use a pocket screw jig.
The joinery system is incomplete
without the specially designed pocket screws. These screws have a narrow
shank with a thread-cutting tip to
avoid splitting hardwoods, and a
strong head with a square recess for
slip-proof driving. The most common
length is 1-1/4 in., the best size for
joining 3/4-in.-thick material. Corrosion-
resistant exterior screws, washer
head screws for joining particleboard,
and hi-lo thread screws for softwood
are also available.
Pros and Cons of Pocket Screws
Pocket screw joints have
many advantages over more
- You can assemble large frames
without needing an arsenal of
expensive clamps because the
screws provide the clamping action
while the glue dries.
- No fancy cutting is required; joints
are simply butted together, saving
time and reducing tool costs.
- The use of an alignment clamp
during assembly ensures flush
joints without any tricky measuring.
Pocket screw joints aren’t
- Every joint leaves behind a long,
oblong hole that looks bad when
it’s prominent, like on cabinet
doors. Luckily, you can order wood
plugs in just about any species to
fill these odd holes—you just glue
them in and sand them flush. Dowels,
biscuits or mortise-and-tenon
joints would be a better choice if
the backside of a joint will be
Building the coat locker
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Photo 1: Butt-joint plywood panels
Clamp the pocket hole jig to the horizontal panel (A)
and workbench. Follow the manufacturer's instructions
for setting the stop collar on the special bit to the correct
depth. Insert the bit into the jig's metal sleeve
before you turn on the drill. Start the drill so the bit is
turning at full speed.
Then bore the clearance and pilot hole in one step by
pushing the bit into the workpiece until the stop collar
contacts the metal sleeve. Bore three holes on
both ends of the eight horizontal panels.
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Photo 2: Attach the horizontal panels
Lay out the horizontal panel (A) locations with
a framing square. Then clamp a straightedge along
the line to hold the panels in position while you drive
in the 1-1/4-in. pocket screws. Attach all eight panels
(A) to the uprights (B1 and B2).
The coat locker we built is constructed
of 3/4-in. birch plywood with
3/4-in. solid-birch boards for the face
frame, drawer sides and front, baseboard
and top edge. The back and
drawer bottoms are 1/4-in. birch plywood.
We purchased the plywood
and boards from a local hardwood
lumber supplier. This is usually the
best source for good-quality hardwood
boards, and you can have them
cut to the right width and planed
smooth on all four edges. You can
also get your materials at home centers
and full-service lumberyards.
Even though this coat locker is
built with simple pocket screw joints,
many of the parts must be cut to precise
dimensions. Use a power miter saw to cut the face frame, edge band,
drawer sides and moldings.
Cut out the plywood parts and drill
pocket holes in the horizontal fixed
shelves (A) and top and bottom
pieces (also A). See Photo 1. For this
project, the pocket holes will either be
hidden from view or filled, so there’s
no need to precisely locate the holes.
Join all of the horizontal panels (A)
to the uprights (B1 and B2) with
pocket screws, making sure to face the
screw holes to the hidden or least
conspicuous side (Photo 2). Check
the cabinet box for square by measuring
diagonally across the corners.
Since screws enter the center
upright panel from opposite sides, be
sure to offset the pocket holes so the
screws don’t collide.
Now you can use the box as a pattern
for cutting out and joining the
Figure A: Coat Locker
A complete Cutting List, Materials List and Shopping List are available in Additional Information below.
Cut the frame and drawers
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Photo 3: Drill the face frame
Clamp the jig to the end of a face
frame board and bore holes for two
pocket screws. Drill the opposite end, and
all other face-frame parts that need pocket screw
holes. Remember that only one half of each joint
needs pocket screw holes. Drill parallel to the grain
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Photo 4: Glue the pieces
Spread wood glue on
both pieces to be joined.
Clamp the joint together to hold the
faces flush, and drive in the 1-1/4-in.
pocket screws. We used a special
locking pliers-type clamp provided
by the jig manufacturer.
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Photo 5: Attach the frame
Attach the face frame to the box.
First bore pocket screw holes every
16 in. along the inside front edge of
the box, placing them in concealed locations
when possible. After checking the
alignment of the frame to the box,
spread an even layer of wood glue on
the edge of the plywood and use a clamp
to hold the frame in position while you
attach it to the box with pocket screws.
Remove excess glue with a damp rag.
When the glue is dry, sand the outside
edge of the face frame flush with the
box, being careful not to sand through
the thin veneer on the plywood.
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Photo 6: Build the drawer
Cut 1x6 boards to form a box that is 13 in. long and
exactly 1 in. narrower than the drawer opening in the
face frame. Bore pocket holes on the end drawer pieces (Q)
as shown and screw the box together. Use a framing square
to square up the drawer. Then nail on the 1/4-in. plywood
bottom with 1-in. paneling nails. Attach the 12-in. epoxy-coated
slides to the drawer with the screws provided, aligning
the front (the end without the wheel) of the slide with the
front of the drawer box.
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Photo 7: Attach drawer slides
Shim the sides of the drawer compartments
flush to the face frame with scraps of plywood
and shims ripped to the proper thickness. Then
attach the other half of the drawer slides, holding
the front edge of the slide even with the front edge
of the face frame. (Check the manufacturer's specifications
for exact placement.) Use a spacer to hold
the drawer slide parallel to the cabinet bottom while
you screw it in.
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Photo 8: Pocket-screw edges
Band the edge of the plywood
top with 1-1/2-in.
strips of birch (K1 and K2),
mitered to fit. Spread wood
glue on both edges and secure
the 1x2 band to the plywood (C)
with pocket screws as shown.
Wipe off the excess glue with a
damp rag. Use an orbital sander
to sand the 1x2 flush with the
plywood. Position the top on the
cabinet so that an equal amount
hangs over both sides and the
front. Hold the top in place with a
clamp while you attach it
through the top of the cabinet
box with 1-1/4-in. drywall screws.
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Photo 9: Finish the details
Mark, miter and
nail on the 2-in. cove
(N1 and N2), the 3/4-in. x
3-in. base (L1, L2) and the
1-5/8 in. base cap (M1
and M2). Use 6d finish
nails for the base, and
1-in. brads to attach the
moldings. Drill pilot
holes for the nails to
avoid splitting the moldings.
Attach the hook
strips with pocket
screws. Then cut a piece
of 1/4-in. plywood (D) to
fit the back and attach it
with 1-in. paneling nails.
Draw lines to indicate
dividers to help in placing
the nails accurately.
Cut the 3/4-in. solid-birch face
frame parts to length using a power
miter saw. For tight-fitting joints, the
edges of the boards must be square to
the face and the end joints cut perfectly
square. Bore the pocket screw
holes (Photo 3). Now assemble the
frame without glue and set it onto the
box to check the fit. Take the frame
apart, adjust the size if necessary,
reassemble it using glue, and attach it
to the box (Photos 4 and 5).
Photos 6 and 7 show how to
assemble the drawer box and attach
the slides. We used the inexpensive
epoxy-coated drawer slides shown,
but for better access to the drawer
interior, you could install full-extension
slides instead. Use whatever
shimming material you have around
to build out the sides of the drawer
compartments flush with the edge of
the face frame. Then you can mount
the slide as shown in Photo 7.
Attaching the drawer front (T) so
it’s perfectly aligned is a little tricky.
Start by drilling four 5/16-in. holes in
the front of the drawer box. Place the drawer in the opening. Use double-faced
carpet tape or hot-melt glue to
temporarily secure the drawer front to
the drawer box. Gently open the
drawer and clamp the front to the
box. Attach it with four No. 8 x 1-1/4-
in. pan head screws with No. 10 finish
washers under the heads. Snug the
screws but don’t tighten them. The
extra-large holes will allow you to tap
the drawer front into exact alignment
before you fully tighten the screws.
Construct the cabinet top by
attaching edging strips (K1 and K2) to
the plywood (C) with pocket screws
(Photo 8). Use this same procedure for
edge-gluing boards for a tabletop or
attaching wood nosing to a counter.
Complete the cabinet as shown in
Photo 9. Glue wood plugs, available
from the Kreg Company, into the
exposed pocket holes on the cabinet
interior and sand them flush.
Now you know how to use pocket
screws in some of the more common
cabinetmaking applications, but don’t
ignore other possibilities. Once you
get the pocket screw joining bug, I’m
sure you’ll come up with your own
innovative uses for this ingenious little connector.