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How to Use Pocket Screws

Even a novice can build nice cabinets. Make tight, strong wood joints quickly and easily with pockets screws. No clamps, no dowels. We show you how to do it in two steps.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

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

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.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Drill/driver, cordless
    • Combination square
    • One-handed bar clamps

Pocket screw kit

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Pocket screws
    • Glue

Comments from DIY Community Members

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1 - 4 of 4 comments
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July 29, 12:25 PM [GMT -5]

I love my Kreg jig. I have the step- up from this one that I paid $39 for. I have two suggestions for first time users in reference to photo 3. First, clamp your stock to your bench. More importantly, clamp 2 pieces of scrap wood along the sides of the jig to keep it from rotating when the bit grabs the wood.

The person In the picture is squeezing the jig w/ his hand to keep the jig from rotating. This could be potentially dangerous if you have to collar on the bit set to drill too deep. You risk having your fingers under the board gouged if the bit goes too far.

If regret not buying the $99 kit. It has more versatility and easier set up. The jig is wider and has 4 holes. With this jig, you have to unclamp and reclamp on each hole when using wider stock.

December 02, 8:41 AM [GMT -5]

I made a rolling kitchen island using my Kreg jig and it came out fantastic. I used 3/4" poplar for the framing and 2x2" for the legs and mounted rubber casters for smooth movement. the counter top is a peice of 4x 2.5' butcher block. If you are even thinking about buying a Kreg jig I would strongly reccomend that you get it, it is fantastic!

August 16, 7:13 PM [GMT -5]

Pocket screws are the easiest way to do projects that are going to be painted as I buy the cheap pine plugs to put in the pocket screw holes, sand and paint; no one is wiser.

May 16, 10:12 PM [GMT -5]

I have purchased the Kreg system and its the best! I just purchased the Deck Jig and I have to say awesome!!!

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