Simple Alternatives to Pocket Holes?

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Forum topic by Dave Rutan posted 06-19-2015 11:18 AM 9361 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Dave Rutan

1754 posts in 2428 days

06-19-2015 11:18 AM

Topic tags/keywords: pocket hole joinery alternatives question

Before the pocket hole jig was invented, what was the method used to securely butt join two boards? Dowels? Biscuits? I see a lot of video woodworkers using pocket hole joinery. While these same woodworkers happily tell you that a jig saw can be used instead of a band saw, they never mention an alternative to pocket holes. How was it routinely done the day before Pocket hole jigs came on the market?

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

11 replies so far

View jdh122's profile


1059 posts in 3058 days

#1 posted 06-19-2015 11:28 AM

Mortise and tenon. Then dowels.
But people have been using pocket screws (although without jigs that are as easy to use as the ones we have) for quite a long time. My uncle has a dining table that is over 100 years old and the top is attached to the rails using pocket screws.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View hotbyte's profile


991 posts in 3215 days

#2 posted 06-19-2015 11:33 AM

I’ve seen what amounts to pocket holes on very old antique furniture. The screws are just regular slot head wood screws and the holes were more bullet shaped than oval with the flat area being closest to the joint. The screw did not set deep into the hole but right at the base of the pocket’s flat area. I’m not sure if these are called pocket holes or technically fall into being a pocket hole joint but they sure seemed to work the same way.

View Oldtool's profile


2747 posts in 2431 days

#3 posted 06-19-2015 11:52 AM

I agree with the above comments, that most butt joints were such as rails to stiles were mortise and tenon, but pocket holes also had their place. I have a book by Kerry Pierce about antique Shaker furniture, and it shows where pockets were drilled in a table apron to secure top with screws. Drilling at an angle using an auger bit will produce the bullet shape that hotbyte describes.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

1754 posts in 2428 days

#4 posted 06-19-2015 12:02 PM

OK. So they’re not a ‘new thing’ Only the commercially available jig is new. I have a not so old woodworking tips book that tells how to make a small jig for drilling consistent, angled holes. I’ve also seen Izzy Swan free hand pocket holes.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

View jeffswildwood's profile


3673 posts in 2217 days

#5 posted 06-19-2015 12:31 PM

I have a coffee table from the early 1960’s that has pocket holes. Many time if I don’t use pocket holes I use screws and glue, sink the screws and then plug over with a dowel to hide the screws. I think it gives it a nice appearance with the “dot” where the screws are hidden. I have tried dowel joinery but without a jig they seem to never line up perfect. M and T works great for me and I have used tongue and groove with good results.

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View alittleoff's profile


541 posts in 1516 days

#6 posted 06-19-2015 12:42 PM

Guess I’m like Jeff. I just finished a project where I used a lot of pocket holes. Even though I’ve got a brand new pocket hole kit already set up on a sheet of plywood, I used a drill to drill the holes, screwed them in and plugged them. I’ve yet to use the new kreg jig. I’ve got to come up with something to build where I can use it. I’m kind of a tool nut and seem to want any new tool that comes out, even though a lot of them go unused.

View bondogaposis's profile


5154 posts in 2591 days

#7 posted 06-19-2015 12:57 PM

Pocket screws are a pretty old idea, much older than the Kreg jig. But generally mortise and tenon joints is the joint that it is a substitute for.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View johnstoneb's profile


3072 posts in 2413 days

#8 posted 06-19-2015 12:57 PM

Pocket holes have been around for ages so have jigs for pocket holes. Kreg just developed an easy to use and setup drill bit with stop so evrything could be done in one setup. No longer have to change bits and depth guages.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View Woodknack's profile


12468 posts in 2620 days

#9 posted 06-19-2015 04:51 PM

Pocket holes were around but they were only used in production furniture.

Dowels were regarded as hallmarks of disposable furniture until a few years ago when they started raising in popularity. They were not common among hobbyists since about the early 80’s.

Before pocket screws were common, people often just drilled screws into the end grain and plugged the hole. Biscuits were popular for a decade or so. Pocket screws weren’t really substitutes for m&t, they don’t travel in the same circles, so to speak.

-- Rick M,

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Richard H

489 posts in 1920 days

#10 posted 06-19-2015 04:56 PM

Shannon Rogers did a blog on this where he shows doing it with gimlet bits.

View RobinDobbie's profile


147 posts in 1975 days

#11 posted 06-20-2015 06:37 AM

To parrot posts I’ve read over and over again:

Fast – Strong – Cheap
Pick two.

Fast and Cheap you have nails, screws/pocket holes, biscuit joiners.
Fast and Strong you have Domino joiners.
Strong and Cheap you have dowels, mortise and tenon, lap joints, and several moderately-priced but fiddly jigs that also may require a drill or router.(probably forgetting a couple dozen, here)

So, how was it routinely done? All of the ways(except biscuit joiners, router jigs, Dominoes, Kreg jigs).

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