Pocket-Hole Pros and Cons

Pocket-Hole Pros and Cons

In Rob’s last editorial, he summoned your feedback about pocket-hole joinery. And lots of you have raised your “virtual” hands with replies to the topic! – Editor

“I am the typical homeowner/DYIer, and I have been using a Kreg pocket hole jig for about 20 years or more. I think in that time I have had one pocket hole fail, and that was on an outdoor project where the wood around the pocket hole rotted away. I think there are times we should use traditional joinery and times we should look for ease and speed. I have made projects with mortise-and-tenons but don’t always see the need for it. Hope this helps answer questions.” – Carlton Smith

“I have used pocket holes for a variety of products. I used them for Baltic birch plywood pantry drawers that have taken a lot of use and abuse. I’ve also used them in other applications, but the drawers with constant use have impressed me the most. For the finer applications, I prefer hand-cut dovetails, despite owning one of those fancy machines. So, my view is that it depends on end use.” – Elaine Duff

“Like most woodworking techniques, there’s a time and place for pocket screws and clearly cases where they’re not appropriate. My two main considerations in making that choice are strength and appearance. Mortise-and-tenon (joints) set the benchmark for strength, but things like cabinet face frames or picture frames don’t demand a lot of strength. On the other hand, pocket screws might be strong enough for cabinet doors, but they just wouldn’t look good when the doors are open. Pocket screws could be okay for securing the apron pieces to the legs for a light bedside table, but not for a big dining table. There’s no always-right answer. Just choose the best tool or technique for the job.” – Henry Burks

“Here are my thoughts on pocket-hole joinery: Places I use it almost all the time are for face frames and cabinet casework where the holes will be hidden. I couldn’t imagine doing mortise-and-tenons for face frames, and while dowels are stronger, the additional strength is not needed and build time is much longer. Another alternative is biscuits, but again time is much longer. Places where I would never use pocket-hole joinery include frame-and-panel assemblies, drawer boxes and places where you need the best mechanical strength, like table or chairs assemblies. They are not cheating any more than using power tools for the many things we do. If you want to be a purist and only use hand-, or foot-powered tools, then by all means knock yourself out. I have loads of respect for the cabinetmakers from 250 years ago, but if you want to get a project done, or in my case make money doing it, then use anything available that meets the needs of the project. If pocket-hole joinery is cheating, what do you call cutting mortise-and-tenons on a CNC?” – Steve Zagame

“The great thing about pocket holes is they let you insert a piece between two parallel pieces without needing access to the outer sides. For example, if I forgot to add a support brace between two rails, I can add it after the rails are already glued in place. I recently added a bunch of cross 2x4s between studs to store clamps. I can do this with pocket holes without having to screw through the studs, and I can put adjacent ‘shelves’ at the same position on adjacent stud cavities. As for furniture joinery, (pocket hole joints) are hard to keep accurate dimensions because they tend to walk some when the screws are tightened.” – Rick Thornton

“I have used pocket-hole joinery. I consider it mostly for utility applications — cabinets in my workshop and other ‘industrial’ uses. There are two instances where I used them in fine furniture projects. The first was a pair of rustic pieces I built for a friend – a bar and a bathroom vanity. The desired look was that of reclaimed barn wood. I actually used some very weathered pine boards. The construction was an adaptation of frame-and-panel construction. At the corners of the casework were two vertical pieces joined at 90 degrees with a butt joint. Clamping would’ve been difficult because the boards weren’t machined exactly square. Also, there were natural edges that would’ve been crushed. Pocket screws to the rescue, pulling the joint together from the inside. The second instance was the first of a pair of chairs I built for the church. The legs are almost 4″ x 4″ and the back legs are 40″ tall and hold the back. The back is a frame-and-panel construction just over 1″ thick. As I went to mount the back, I was fearful of drilling holes through the posts and getting them to line up correctly (and not veer one way or the other and blow out the face). So I used pocket screws to mount the back. (On the second chair, I drilled those holes carefully at the drill press before gluing up the legs, aprons and stretchers. The large plugs for pocket-hole screws are effective but unsightly to me, for most furniture projects.” – Andy Ziny

“Right corner pocket – for the right job! Pocket holes are excellent for a contractor or someone who is in ‘I need the job done so I can move onto the next step’ type of workload. When building custom furniture or cabinetry, take the time. Do it right using mortises and tenons, lap joints and dovetails.” – Andrew Dugas

“I’m an active retiree that enjoys woodworking. I’m personally not fond of pocket screws because it feels like cheating. A few years ago, I made a cedar hope chest for my granddaughter; the only metal in the chest was the screws for hinges to attach the lip. But recently I was contracted to build custom cabinets for a large home, and the thought of building dozens of cabinets with mortise-and-tenon joinery seem like a long journey. I don’t have a problem using a dovetail jig to make dovetailed drawers. Am I cheating because I use this tool to help make better use of my time? To me, it depends on the project I’m building. I’m building new bedroom furniture for my home, and I can assure you, there will not be any pocket screws in these cabinets.” – Dan Larson

“I usually try to bite my tongue. However, I used to love watching Norm and Scott build cool stuff. Big opportunity to learn real craftsmanship. Norm retired, the Tom/Tommy fiasco filled the gap for a while, then only Scott was left on my Saturday PBS lineup. I’ve met Scott at AWFS, super nice guy. But then he started building what should have been heirloom pieces using pocket screws. Broke my heart. If Scott starts doing that on his show, I just turn it off. Why the prejudice?  I built a rolling shop cart for my planer years ago. Softwoods and butt joints reinforced with pocket screws. Suited my needs perfectly. Moving to a new home, the neighbor kid helped me load my shop equipment. My planer cart (sans planer) slipped coming down the truck ramp, hit the bottom and exploded. There was nothing usable but the casters. I’d still have that cart if I had used proper joinery and glue. Kinda put me off those pocket screws for any kind of serious work. I read once about a guy who used pocket screws and glue to assemble some pieces. After the glue set, he removed the screws, claiming they were only good for clamping the piece during assembly. Hmmm. I now use pocket screws only for assembling face frames. Once the frame is attached to the case, they’ve done their job. Maybe next time, I’ll remove the screws and save them for the next round.” – Steve Dragg

“A big thumb’s-up here. I have used (pocket-screw joints) many times.” – Gary Mast

“I love em! I’ve been a woodworker since I married my girl 47 years ago, and in retirement, I build lots of different things for neighbors in our community. Our youngest has taken up building things for himself, and one Christmas I gave him a Kreg jig. I also love glue and my two Domino units from Festool, but that’ll be saved for discussion another day I’m sure!” – Dennis Young

“I’ve made a living woodworking. I have used a number different methods to make cabinet joints, and I much prefer doing pocket screws!” – Ken Koehn

“I have the Kreg pocket-hole joinery tools, and I use then when making cabinets. To me, pocket-hole joinery is a time-saver and looks as good as other joinery methods with hidden connectors.” – Jeffrey Stewart

“I use Kreg pocket-hole joinery along with traditional mortises, Festool Domino, etc. I have a hollow-chisel mortiser, which I use for through tenons. It depends on what I am doing. For example, on ladder bookshelves I have built, I used a combination of slip tenons and Kreg screws to attach the shelves to the legs. I do not think there is a wrong answer as long as it works.” – Thomas Pender

“A strong Yea! I use pocket holes in all my joinery for things like drawers, utility cabinets, almost everything. Would I use it on fine cabinets that I would sell? Probably not. Would I use it in an application that requires a strong joint? No. I rarely do anything that complex, and I never charge for my work. So, yes to pocket holes.” – James P. Cottingham

“Let me start by saying that I think this is a great topic for discussion, and thank you for raising it. When I first began woodworking, pocket screws were my only joinery technique. I knew mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joints existed, but I had no clue how to make them, especially with the very few tools I possessed. Later, I got a biscuit jointer and that, I felt, elevated my skill level. Well now, many years later, I enjoy hand-cut half-blind houndstooth dovetails, and I am finishing a new bench with hand-cut drawbored mortise and tenons. Do I scoff at pocket screws now? Maybe a little, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use them if someone wants me to build something where pocket screws could work, and they don’t want to pay for something better. So while I would never consider using them on pieces I build for myself, or even as a gift for someone else, they are a legitimate means of joining wood. And that definitely qualifies as woodworking. But perhaps most importantly, I can’t imagine how I could have embarked on my woodworking journey without them.” – Doug Johnston

“(Pocket-hole joints) are great for a quick build where they are practically invisible, especially for cabinet work. However, for REALLY nice furniture made with expensive wood, I prefer mortise-and-tenon joints, just for the ‘craftsman’ approach.” – Mike Rosenstock

“A definite yes on using pocket holes and screws for face frame assembly. Much faster and easier than mortise-and-tenon joinery. I am less inclined to use pocket hole joints to assemble carcasses and plywood boxes. I always use glue with pocket holes to hold the joint together.” – Jim Hilson

“Love (pocket-hole joints), but not for everything. It’s a strong, useful joinery method for out-of-sight joints. I like that I can glue, pocket screw and move on without clamping, in many cases. I also use dowels, biscuits and occasionally mortise-and-tenon joints. Pocket-screw joinery is accessible to a lot of people with varying skill levels. Don’t let wood snobs dampen the enthusiasm of those who do not have the time, experience or the desire to hand cut dovetails. Not every woodworking project is ‘fine furniture.’ Pocket screws are no more of a cheat than a Domino, biscuit joiner or a dovetail jig for a router.” – John Weeder

“It depends on the piece. I recently made a spalted maple cabinet with drawers, and I used pocket screws in the drawer supports. Why not? Just a bunch of internal parts no one sees and a super-easy way to make solid assemblies. But I just finished my second folding step stool/ladder and there, I used mortise-and-tenon joints all the way. Those rails have to support me and a board or two in the shop, so no pocket screws there!” – Steve Kendall

“I’m all for (pocket hole joinery), though I do not use it for all joinery. I still use my biscuits, beehive, dowels, etc. It just depends on the application. But I am all for them.” – Kevin D. Harris

“I use this method frequently and find it easy, strong and when properly done, nearly invisible. I used pocket screws to reinforce the joints between vertical and horizontal frame pieces (rails and stiles, if you will) on a pair of garden gates I made, and it improved joint strength considerably.” – Art Abrahamson

“I think pocket-hole joinery is fantastic. I do try to put the holes where they won’t be seen. I have some flexible driver things for places that are hard to get at with the full length of the driver tip plus the drill. Sure, mortise-and-tenon joints and dovetails are cool. For some really decorative thing, I may use dovetails to ‘show off,’ but for everything else, I try pocket holes.” – Paul Glanville

“I use pocket-hole joinery when I need to assemble a project on the fly. Currently, my goal is to learn, then use mortises and tenons, dovetails and so many other strong and beautiful methods of jointing wood.” – Denny Lawson

“It’s a matter of using the appropriate technique to accomplish the task at hand. I like to use pocket screws for invisible joints, such as cross braces on a table apron, corner blocks on frames for art work, webbing for dressers, etc. I prefer not to use pocket screws anywhere they will be visible, even if I can fill the pocket with a plug. They do make a piece look a bit too thrown together for my taste for major joinery where dovetails or other interlocking joints would serve better aesthetically.” – Gene Reilly

“I use dowels, mortise-and-tenon joints, biscuits and pocket screws. Pocket screws are just another technique that helps us create strong, durable joints. If your thing is authentic reproductions of a historic style, be true to the joinery that was used during that period. Be sure and use hide glue as well! On the other hand, if you want to build a piece that compliments a particular style, use whatever techniques you are skilled at and ignore the trash-talking critics. Woodworking should be fun!” – James Eames

“I have built several cornhole games for family and friends. I used pocket holes on the 2×4 sides and for attaching the top to the frame. It was much easier and, I think, a better look than mortise and tenon joints. I also did not use wood screws to attach the top. Again, I thought it made a better visual result. I was happy with the results, as were the receivers.” – Ken Steed

“I use (pocket-hole joinery) for in-the-wall blocking that I do to make cabinet-hanging easier. It is also nice for something you need to knock out fast but want to also not have screw heads sticking out of/visible. It’s just another tool in the tool box, like dovetails, finger joints and half-lap joints.” – Mike Michaelson

“I mainly use pocket-hole joints in cabinets I build for my shop or special cabinets built on site if you can’t see them. I also use biscuits and dowels for other joints where it’s not critical. If the joint is going be display, I used dovetails, box joints, half laps or any other woodworking joints that are needed for the effect.” – George Fusek

“A consideration is corrosion of the screws. If the joint is already glued with loose tenons or biscuits, pocket-hole fastening is a nice quick way to clamp up, though. Having said that, I love the Kreg screws for repairing unimportant things (like my bed platform made from discarded hollow-core doors).” Paul James Wozniak

“Count me among the ‘pro’ pocket-hole crowd. I don’t use pocket-hole joinery exclusively, but it was what brought me back to woodworking and a good hobby in retirement. I blame Kreg Tool, Jeff Devlin and my wife. She saw one of those late-night infomercials with the earlier Kreg pocket hole jig and ordered one for my birthday, probably eight years ago. After receiving it and watching the infomercial myself, I was hooked. Then after watching Jeff Devlin’s video on how to build a workbench with the Kreg jig, I built a workbench, miter saw station and router station. It’s been used for upper cabinets in our laundry room, closet organizers in our closets and an outdoor deck box. I have moved on to more traditional methods of joining wood and more traditional tools purchased from Rockler. However, I now find myself in a whole new and dark side of woodworking. About a year and a half ago, I bought the basic Excelsior wood lathe. I’m now hooked on that. And the article attached to this week’s newsletter about segmented bowl turning has my heart all a flutter. It all started with the simple Kreg jig.” – Dick Vaughan

“Pocket-hole joinery has its place. Shop cabinets, shelves and fixtures come to mind. I would not use them for fine furniture, but they sure come in handy for quick run-of-the-mill projects. I’m sure you will get a 50/50 mix of opinions. Almost brings back the hand tools vs. power tools debate.” – Denny J.

“A project I recently have been using pocket-hole joinery for is custom window screen frames for our cabin. They’re quick and easy and provide plenty of strength for the non-stress application. Some may say that no glue is necessary, but I always add the ‘insurance’ of a water-resistant glue.” – Jayme Johnson

“I do not consider (pocket-hole joinery) cheating, but I personally do not use it. I would rather use a stopped dovetail, dado or locking miter joint where the typical pocket hole is used. I just don’t feel pocket-hole joinery is strong enough.” – Vince Campagna

“I’m strictly a hobbyist. Pocket-hole joints are quick, strong and easy. They’re also ugly. Joints made with pocket holes are also very hard to align perfectly. I much prefer dovetails or interlocking mortise-and-tenon joinery.” – Jack Binder

“I’m an old woodworker/furniture maker ( made my first mahogany table in 1972). I love and use traditional joinery in my furniture. But while I would never use a pocket hole in place of a mortise-and-tenon joint, I would never make a chair without pocket holes and screws. For me, it’s a matter of using the best techniques for the particular job.” – Mike Curry

“I am a pretty new woodworker, but my first experience with pocket holes was disappointing. So I bought a Festool Domino. For face frames, i think (pocket-hole joints) are okay. For a 90-degree joint between two panels and drawers, I do not like them. The main issue I think is the plethora of cheaper style jigs. To be strong on a corner, you must come from the outside inward to accommodate that 15-degree or so angle. That is very ugly. They tear and fuzz terribly on plywood and do not create a proper pilot by default. Castle USA alleviates both of these issues a lot by using a router, reducing the angle to 3 degrees (I think) and providing a proper pilot-hole system. Unfortunately, marketing focuses way too much on lower cost, and I did not find out about the higher-end options when I went to my local retailers and wasted some money. We kinda need a ‘pro’ section in the retail store that highlights the higher-end products and why, like the old car stereo shops of my youth.” – Jeff Shanab

“I don’t feel like pocket hole-joinery makes heirloom furniture the same as traditional techniques. Do I use it? Sure, for something I’m knocking together. I dressed out my metal frame router table with shelves and drawers and used pocket-hole joints. But at the other end of the spectrum, I’ve made William and Mary-style furniture and wouldn’t consider using pocket screws for assembly.” – Lee Thompson

“When it comes to pocket-hole joinery, it really depends on what you are trying to achieve. I use it a lot for face frames on cabinets where it will not be seen and time is of the essence. I have even used it on cabinet doors in my shop. When you are bi-vocational, you use shortcuts where it will not make a difference and will not be seen. If it is seen and/or is on finer pieces of work, then I use the joinery method that would be best for the job.” – Joe Thompson

“Pocket-hole joining is great. It is solid and strong. Most people do not even know what it is. If you make some wood item for family or a friend, chances are they have no idea how long it took you to fabricate it and make it. And they don’t really care.” – bfdpwhite

“As with all methods of joining two pieces of wood, you take into consideration the application. Is the article an antique, an heirloom or an article that will see heavy use? From there, the method that works best is probably the one to use. Looking back, methods of joining have changed over time. Not knowing the timeline of the different techniques, there are dowels, mortise-and-tenon joints, dovetails, nails, screws and on and on. So, cheating or not remaining true to woodworking norms is pretty subjective. What works best for the job at hand is the way to go.” – John Matthews

“When stability really counts, like cabinetry that will bear a lot of weight, I combine the use of dado and rabbet joints with pocket-hole joinery as a force multiplier. In addition to my Marine Corps motto of Semper Fidelis, my other motto is: ‘You can never make it too sturdy!'” – Mike Rudolph

“I do not dislike pocket-hole joinery, but for me, it has its place. I own a Kreg jig and quickly found that their customer service is a world beyond other manufacturers. I probably would not use pocket holes in a piece of furniture for my home, but for hundreds of other projects, yes, I would and do regularly. I don’t see pocket holes replacing mortise-and-tenon joinery.” – Tony Newman

“I have friends who swear by their Kreg pocket-hole joinery jigs. I have one but rarely use it. This tool seems to be more suitable for the home handyman who doesn’t know how to do mortise-and-tenon joints.” – Jim Glaser

“I use pocket-hole joinery on most projects. I have the drill bit to cut the plugs, so most holes are concealed. I came to woodworking after retirement and have found this is the best for me rather than perfecting other techniques. I am still unsure of myself to learn mortise-and-tenon joinery. I am to the point where I am seriously thinking of trying mortise-and-tenon joinery using a router and table saw.” – Glen Perry

“I am mostly a weekend warrior but started years ago with mortise-and-tenon joints and dowels, graduating to a biscuit joiner and pocket hole. I still go ‘old school’ when the need arises. I love the versatility of pocket-hole joinery. Recently, I made a pilot console for my party barge where many angles were required. I found the pocket screws met the bill extremely well. Also built a shoe rack that Tom Silva presented using pocket screws. It came out very sturdy, even using pine.” – Bill Fields

“I consider pocket-hole joinery perfectly legitimate. I’ve seen examples of ‘sittin’ room’ furniture built in the early 1800s that used the pocket-hole method of that day. That being said, if they’re used in a location with a lot of visual ‘traffic,’ there is no reasonable way to pretty them up. But used in the appropriate locations, they’re difficult to beat for many builds.” – Gregory Harmon

“I can’t claim to be an expert, but I have an opinion. In my experience of restoring antique furniture (and repairing the non-antique kind), a pocket-screw joint should be solid for a couple of decades, while a dowel joint should be solid for a couple of lifetimes, if both are being made properly. If used for static construction, there’s probably no practical difference.” – Lance Fromme

“Do I use pocket holes on fine furniture? No. But I help build crude but functional tables to donate to people coming out of homelessness. Our group made 1,100 tables in 2022, and we go through about 5,000 screws a month connecting aprons to the tops. We’re on track to do 1,500 to 1,600 this year. As a retired furniture repair tech, I would occasionally use pocket-hole joints to repair open joints inside upholstered furniture where there was often only one surface accessible, and taking the joint apart to repair it would not be feasible with all the fabric, padding and springs. Never had a call-back. As far as strength, if it’s strong enough for its intended use, it’s strong enough.” – Keith Mealy

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