Considering but hesitating on pocket screws...could it lead to woodworking skill stagnation?

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Forum topic by paxorion posted 07-12-2014 03:55 AM 2458 views 0 times favorited 30 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1107 posts in 2073 days

07-12-2014 03:55 AM

Topic tags/keywords: humor jig question

Context: During my short woodworking journey, I have seen the pocket screw craze take a considerable foothold in the online woodworking community. It seems like half of the woodworking build themed YouTube videos that I find features pocket holes as the primary form of joinery. While I in no way question that it is a perfectly valid form of joinery to meet a specific scenario (speed and convenience at the cost of appearance that could be hidden), such as say in a production environment where it can be used to build face frames or drawer boxes with a false front. This speed and convenience is no doubt the reason why hobbyist have adopted pocket screws so profusely.

My Dilemma: Convenience in my mind (and experience), often leads to complacency. I personally have yet to adopt pocket screws because I believe that they may end up becoming a skill building barrier for me. More specifically, I am worried that it will become enough to encourage the procrastinator in me to NOT push myself in upcoming projects. This is exacerbated by the predicament I find myself in, where the number of project I have promised my wife and children are growing faster than my rate of churning them out. Meaning in order to deliver and knock out these projects, I find myself considering (and flip flopping) on pocket screws as a joinery option. Truthfully, I think the only reason I haven’t pulled the trigger, is because I’m too cheap to buy the jig.

My Question: I am curious to hear the opinions and experiences of the LJ community. While I’m fairly sure that I will (eventually) incorporate pocket screws into some of my upcoming projects (so that is not my question), I am curious if others share my sentiment about pocket screws (or any other tools/jigs/solutions that promise convenience). Could it (or has it) become a skill-building road block, and if so, what are some tips and ways to remind myself to not settle for less when it comes to challenging myself to grow as a woodworker (i.e. anyone care to give me a preemptive pep talk ;-))?

-- paxorion

30 replies so far

View Rayne's profile (online now)


913 posts in 1567 days

#1 posted 07-12-2014 04:07 AM

As a beginner, I found Pocket Screws to be an amazingly easy way to ease into woodworking. I built my Media Cabinet and Entertainment center using pocket screws. They were my first real major project and since then I have learned additional skills that pushes me to do more with joinery. My latest project uses 0 pocket screws, which is my custom workbench (although that may change when I start adding drawers). I have no issues using them, but also found ways to push myself to learn new techniques without their use. My 2 cents worth. :)

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Richard H

489 posts in 1708 days

#2 posted 07-12-2014 04:09 AM

There are enough places where pocket hole joinery isn’t ideal that I don’t know if you really have that much to worry about. I would never use them on drawers and door’s for instance or anything that you might see both faces of the joint. Even cabinets with open shelves will show the pockets hole’s in them. Sure they have plugs but by the time you add them with the trimming and making flush how much time over other joinery methods do you really save?

I built two end tables and a dresser with pocket holes as the primary joinery method when I first got my pocket hole jig just to see what it was capable of and since than I haven’t used it a ton. It’s not a bad joinery method although loose tenons especially like the domino machine are probably even more flexible but it’s not a end all be all of joinery either.

I’m getting ready to build a painted pantry cabinet with open shelves and I considered pocket hole’s for the rails and stiles with plugs before painting but I am not sure I want to deal with plugs even on a painted piece. I am worried no matter what I do the outline of them will bleed though the paint. I did find myself considering a domino but luckily that thing is so expensive it gives me a good deal of pause.

View bruc101's profile


1200 posts in 3569 days

#3 posted 07-12-2014 04:11 AM

In our commercial shop we use pocket screws only for face frames and nothing else. All drawers are dovetailed, side panels to face frames mortice and tenon only.

I’ve always thought putting drawers together with pocket screws is a cheap and lazy way out and or lack of woodworking skills to build drawers.

A master cabinet maker told me one time you’re either a woodworker or a box builder.

-- Bruce Free Plans

View DIYaholic's profile


19623 posts in 2702 days

#4 posted 07-12-2014 04:11 AM

1) Use them for shop jigs & fixtures.
2) Use them for utilitarian projects.
3) DON’T use them for heirloom family treasures…. unless truly appropriate.
4) DON’T use them in excess!!!

Antiques have been made with pocket hole joinery….
Use them “sparingly”.... then again, out of sight, out of mind!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View NiteWalker's profile


2737 posts in 2604 days

#5 posted 07-12-2014 04:19 AM

I don’t consider pocket screw joinery “cheating”, but I do understand where you’re coming from.
One of my very first projects some years back was a bookcase made of MDF and assembled with pocket screws (painted light pink for my two daughters). It’s still holding up just fine, but I don’t like it at all. I see every little error and feel I could have done much better.

So while I won’t use pcoket screw joinery for most things, where I do use it now I feel no quarrel with it whatsoever.
Examples; The small cherry spice rack I recently made (in my projects) was assembled with pocket screws. It was small, I don’t consider it “fine” furniture by any means, and I wanted to get it done in a day. So I’m ok with pocket screws in that instance.

Other places I don’t mind pocket hole screws:
- Shop projects or utility builds.
- Attaching nailers to cabinets (one of the instances where pocket hole joinery really shines).
- Face frames, though I don’t use many face frames in my woodworking.
- Prototype projects; I recently built an outdoor sitting bench out of scrap 2×4’s and pocket screws. Now with the dimensions and everything sorted out, I’ll be using the festool domino (more on that in a bit) for the real benches, made of cypress or redwood, or whatever outdoor wood I come across at at the best price.

Drawers, however, I’d not use pocket hole joinery for.
I prefer a tongue and dado joint. For me it just works better.

Now on to what you said about skill building road blocks; there’s no law that says you have to learn every woodworking technique known to man. ;-)
I prefer to be a more efficient woodworker than one that knows absolutely everything there is to know about woodworking. Case in point; pretty soon I’ll be making a cherry chest of drawers for my bedroom. The drawers will be soft maple joined by dovetails at the fronts and a plain dado at the back. While cutting all the dovetails by hand is a possibility, I’d much rather do it with my dovetail jig for the sake of efficiency.

And that brings me to the domino; now that I have one, I’ll probably use it for 95% of my M&T joints. It’s just as strong as traditional M&T joints, but a lot faster. The recipients of the outdoor benches I mentioned earlier won’t care how it’s put together, so long as it doesn’t fall apart in use.

Now, even with all these fancy toys, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming proficient in traditional methods.
I just prefer efficiency.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View TravisH's profile


583 posts in 1963 days

#6 posted 07-12-2014 04:26 AM

I think it just depends on what ones goals are in building something. It is only a skill building road block if one allows it to be. Some guys aren’t necessarily into wood working because they want to learn traditional craftsmanship. For some they can’t master other joinery methods so it allows them to still make things. For some the ease of use trumps anything else. They just like to make things to make the wife or friends happy. Construction methods aren’t important to them as the finished project is the end goal. If it functions as a table, no matter how rudimentary the construction, it fits their goal of building a table.

I received a Kreg kit a few years ago and haven’t used it yet. I think it was over a year before I even opened it. I have no issues with it, just haven’t really built anything I cared to use it for. I wouldn’t use it on something I was trying to build that I considered quality furniture as it just does not fit my perception. I also feel anyone could use a pocket hole jig and have success, that is what makes it so great, but it would be about the least satisfying method for me to use. I plan on building some of those weekend bookcases for the boys rooms and figured it will get broke in on that build.

View emart's profile


445 posts in 2655 days

#7 posted 07-12-2014 04:42 AM

I have used pocket screws in the past when I had access to a pocket hole jig. there are uses for them so long as the screws themselves aren’t really used for structural support as the joints are not very strong. If you want a permanent joint dowels, splines, or biscuit joints are very strong and just as easy to do with jogs and machinery. pocket holes are good for parts that may need to be disassembled at some point since you just have to undo the screws.

-- tools are only as good as the hands that hold them

View Loren's profile


10476 posts in 3675 days

#8 posted 07-12-2014 05:50 AM

You might want to get a good dowel jig. Dowels are
easy to work with and provide dead-on positioning.

Mortise and tenon is seldom an essential joint. It’s
important to use them in seating in my view, but
for most other applications dowels are fine.

Pocket screws leave ugly holes. Of course they have
their uses. You don’t need a jig to drill a pocket screw
hole either. It can be done in a pinch with a 7/16”
spade bit with spurs. The bit is started straight and
then turned once the point is engaged. The holes
are not as consistent as you’d get from a jig, but
the method is just as strong, imo.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5706 posts in 2841 days

#9 posted 07-12-2014 06:03 AM

I wouldn’t worry about it. I use pocket joinery where appropriate, but I still use mortise and tenon, lapped dovetails, half-blind dovetails and finger joints. I wouldn’t build a project entirely with pocket holes (it’s hard to conceal all the holes), but used selectively, pocket holes are great.

I recommend the Kreg Jr. kit to get started.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View EEngineer's profile


1103 posts in 3641 days

#10 posted 07-12-2014 12:17 PM

I don’t own a pocket hole jig and I don’t used pocket screws. I really think they are ugly. And in the places where I see them used, I have always had other choices.

Drawers – oh, hell no! Dadoes and rabbet joints with good glue give the best results. If I have one, I will clamp it and let it dry overnight. If I have a lot of them to do, I will pin the joints with an 18 gauge brad nailer rather than use every clamp in the shop. I have a silverware drawer (always one of the most heavily loaded drawers in the kitchen) that I rebuilt in an afternoon using this simple method and it is still nice and tight after 25 years of hard use. Dovetails are for effetes.

Face frames – I really prefer dowels. A drill press to keep them nice and square and dowel centers to transfer the position to the opposing piece seems to me at least to take less time and setup than pocket screws. Again, good glue will result in a joint that lasts forever. I have used biscuits here successfully but that takes a dedicated expensive tool and I just never saw the need to pop for one.

Shelves – again, hell no! Pocket screws won’t hold up. Dadoes and glue.

Carcass builds – light duty, dadoes and rabbets with glue. Heavy duty, mortise and tenon pinned with dowels and glue.

I really don’t like to depend on screws for structural integrity at all.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

View Redoak49's profile


3287 posts in 2016 days

#11 posted 07-12-2014 12:31 PM

Like others have said, there are places for pocket hole screws and joinery and places not to use them.

I built all of the cabinets in my shop using plywood and pocket hole screws. I even made the drawers with pocket screws. The drawers are very strong and work great and were a time saver. The cabinet boxes were also put together with pocket screws. The drawers and cabinets were made about 4 years ago and heavily loaded and no failures or any problems at all. The cabinet doors were made in a traditional way.

I still use other joinery which is more traditional for furniture.

View hairy's profile


2720 posts in 3560 days

#12 posted 07-12-2014 12:34 PM

Who remembers the pocket hole jig Norm used on the New Yankee Workshop? It was as big as his tablesaw. 2 levers, 1 for the pocket and 1 for the hole.

I watched Scott Phillips build a cabinet with so many pocket holes I thought that it actually weakened it.

-- My reality check bounced...

View stnich's profile


118 posts in 2952 days

#13 posted 07-12-2014 12:44 PM

Obviously pocket screws have there time and place. I use mine regularly. I worked form a trim carpentry
crew a few years ago where we pocket screwed miter joints on casing for windows and doors. absolutely
indestructible, perfect miters every time. The trim was mostly flat stock with a bead on the inside and a back band added on the outside. With the addition of glue to the miters the joint was incredible. I also use them for face frames, jigs and other applications. I make props for studio work and they are great for that too. Personally I wouldn’t be without them with how versatile they are.

View paxorion's profile


1107 posts in 2073 days

#14 posted 07-12-2014 12:49 PM

Sounds like I am not alone in my sentiment. Pocket holes have their “place”, and it looks like there are many opinions as to what is is that “place”. The line that resonates most with me is this…

I think it just depends on what ones goals are in building something. It is only a skill building road block if one allows it to be….

- TravisH

Sounds like the woodworking existential question for me, is whether or not I am going to take on projects by choice and not by request (or maybe one day commission). I know that one is more inclined to push themselves if they feel ownership on the project. For me, that comes if I know I picked the project on my own, or a skill/technique I want to try out and then a project that highlights it), as opposed to a project for someone else.

-- paxorion

View timbertailor's profile


1594 posts in 1452 days

#15 posted 07-12-2014 01:15 PM

I am old school and most of my clients like old school building techniques and are willing to pay for it.

I never use pocket screws in any of my work that is custom.

I only use pocket screws for painted or plywood projects or projects that are for my own personal use, like my router table which I do not consider furniture.

Is the pocket screw strong enough for all sorts of work? I think so.

As others have said, they have their place but I rarely use them. I have a dedicated mortiser that is custom built to make the task much easier. Tenons I do on the tables saw, and more recently, on the router table. Almost always involves a face frame. I also own a biscuit jointer and I use it a lot when strength is needed and when a board needs straightening, usually a cheap piece of plywood for inside a carcass.

-- Brad, Texas,

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