The pocket screw system and the key tools
Don't be put off by projects that call for tight joints or simple cabinet building. The pocket screw system is so easy to use that even a novice woodworker can make strong, tight joints on the first try. It works like this: You clamp the pocket hole jig onto your workpiece and drill angled holes with the special stepped drill bit. Then you simply align the two pieces to be joined and drive a pocket screw at an angle into the pocket to connect your pieces. The result is a tight joint that's as strong as a doweled or mortise-and-tenon joint but takes a fraction of the time to assemble.
In this article, we'll show you how to set up the jig and assemble joints using pocket screws. We'll show you techniques for assembling a face frame and a table leg and apron and for attaching shelf nosing. Refer to the instructions that came with your jig for ideas for other types of joints.
Buy a top-quality jig. Less-expensive jigs that lack built-in clamps or alignment guides aren't worth messing with. The Kreg Rocket jig is a great mid-priced tool. The kit includes everything you'll need to get started: a pocket hole jig, a special stepped drill bit and stop collar, a 6-in. driver bit, a locking pliers–type clamp and a handful of pocket screws. Buy Kreg jigs at woodworking stores or on-line, or shop for a high-quality pocket hole jig with similar features.
Video: How to Use a Pocket Screw Jig in Woodworking Projects
Pocket screws are a good way to put woodworking projects together. Jeff Gorton, an editor at The Family Handyman, shows you how to use a $40 pocket screw jig (Kreig jig) that makes using pocket screws to assemble woodworking projects very easy.
Step 1: Drill the pocket screw hole
Pocket screw jigs are ready to go right from the package. All you have to do is slide the stop collar over the bit, adjust the bit depth and tighten the collar (Photo 1). The jig is initially set up for joining 3/4-in. material with 1-1/4 in. screws. Add the plastic spacer included with the Kreg Rocket and use 2-1/2 in. long pocket screws to join 1-1/2 in. thick material like 2x4s. To join 1/2-in. thick material, reverse the stop on the front of the jig (refer to the instructions included with the jig) and use 1-in. long screws.
Photo 3 shows how to mount the jig and drill holes. Put the bit in the guide before you start the drill. Let the bit come to full speed before you push it into the wood. Withdraw the bit once or twice to eject shavings. It keeps the bit cooler and makes hole drilling easier.
Step 2: Drive the screw
Photo 5: Cabinet box technique
Assemble cabinet boxes with pocket screws by using the jig and drilling pocket holes every 8 to 12 in. along the edge of the plywood. Then glue, align and clamp the parts and screw them together. For a neater appearance, buy custom-shaped wood plugs to fill the pocket holes.
Photo 7: Shelf nosing technique
Drill pockets along the edge of the plywood shelf. Clamp shelf nosing to a perfectly flat surface like the table saw top shown here. Spread a thin layer of glue along the edge of the plywood and screw the plywood to the shelf nosing. The pocket screws will draw the plywood down, resulting in a flush joint when you flip the shelf over.
Pocket hole Screws (Photo 4A) cost a little more, but they have three features that make them uniquely suited for pocket hole joinery: First, the self-drilling tips will easily penetrate even the hardest wood. Second, the heads are extra strong and have a square recess for slip-proof driving. For hardwood lumber, use fine-thread screws; for softer woods like pine, choose coarse-thread screws. And third, the washer head helps prevent overdriving the screws when you're joining particleboard or plywood.
There are a variety of screws available for specific applications. To check out the various types, order an assortment from the Kreg Co.
Hold the faces flush, then screw them together
Other than making sure your cuts are perfectly square, the only trick to getting flush, tight-fitting joints is keeping the faces lined up as you drive the screws. I've had great success using the locking pliers–type clamp included with the Kreg Rocket (Photo 4). Put the large round metal pad against the visible side of the joint and clamp the pieces together. The clamp holds the pieces in alignment while the screws pull the joint tight. Other pocket hole jig users I've talked to prefer to clamp both pieces down to a flat surface. Try it both ways and decide for yourself.
Even though it's not necessary for a strong joint, it's good insurance to spread a thin layer of wood glue over both surfaces before screwing them together.
Pocket screws have some limitations
Most people are amazed at how easy it is to assemble strong, tight-fitting joints with pocket screws. But because the pocket holes are apparent even when they're filled, pocket screws aren't the best choice for assembling cabinet doors or other projects where both sides of the joint show. Despite this limitation, you'll find plenty of uses for a pocket hole jig around your home shop.