Choosing and Using a Pocket Hole Jig

      Thoughts about what entry-level pocket-hole system to choose, and how to get the best use out of it. March 26, 2008

I am planning on purchasing a pocket hole jig for occasional use. Does anybody have experience with the Kreg and another one that they can compare? I have a small shop, so a table mounted one is out of the question.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
The only comparison I can make is with the el' cheapo store brand jigs and Kreg products. I prefer Kreg. I'd get the K3 system and mount the large jig to a piece of plywood and clamp it to the bench when needed. We did that for years with the older version. We upgraded to a production machine but still keep the jig in our installation trailer and use it more than you'd think on job sites. By the way, there are a couple of the smaller Kreg jigs in that kit that come in very handy in those tight locations where only a pocket screw will do.

From contributor V:
Same here. The Kreg is one of the best non-production pocket hole systems. Great to have in the install truck, or for a small shop. Get a decent air-powered reversible drill to run it, it'll save batteries. Snap-on makes a good air-drill. Go ahead and spend the money at one time, or spend it a little at a time buying cheap ones from Homey Dopey. Porter-Cable made one that uses a router on a swing arm to cut the pocket, then a drill for the screw-hole. Not as handy to have on the install truck (just more stuff to lug). Don't know if they still make it or not. My take: Kreg, unless you find yourself doing very large and/or odd shapes.

From contributor F:
The PC 550 that contributor D mentioned shows up on eBay from time to time. Its main difference is that it cuts a slightly lower angle pocket so that the creep (joint misalignment) is minimized.

From contributor V:
Yep - it's been about ten years since I last used one - I'd forgotten about that. The screw hole is drilled from the front of the piece, so it is parallel with the face of the stock.

From contributor B:
I'll second the air drill recommendation for drilling holes. I read somewhere in Kreg's literature that you should never use a cordless drill to drill pocket holes, as they don't spin fast enough to drill the holes and it is very hard on the bits. They recommend an air drill or at least a corded drill for drilling holes. The bits will last longer if it spins faster. Another thing is Penn State sells a replacement bit for $6.95 and the Kreg bits are $17.95. I've been using the PSI bits for 10 years and have had great luck with them and saved a good bit of money.

From contributor N:
Why use an air drill when you could just as easily use a mains-powered corded drill? Air power is very inefficient, as you need to use electricity to run the compressor, and then you use the output from the compressor to run the machinery, incurring considerable power losses along the way. If you have the option to use electric machinery directly, you should always use it.

From contributor O:
Take some scrap plywood and make an angle jig for your drill press, get one of the bits that have been mentioned and drill away. We used that system for over 10 years. Kreg didn't invent the basic jig; homemade jigs have been around for a very long time. The PC 550 eBay route sounds like the least expensive good solution out there - low angle and all, which works better if you don't have a face frame table.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your great responses. Considering the limited time and energy I have to experiment, sounds like Kreg is good to go.

From contributor R:
Good choice. When ready and able, you might want to check out the Kreg pocket hole machine. The Foreman is about $800 and it is available either pneumatic or electric. I bought the pneumatic several years ago before they offered the electric version. I like it. A great move is to also get a face frame table. Kreg makes one, but so do several other reputable companies like Castle and Ritter. Both the pocket hole machine and face frame table will pay for themselves fairly quickly with time saved.

From contributor J:
Does the framing table really save that much time? I've wanted one for years but have never taken the plunge. I glue my frames, in addition to pocket screwing them. I'm concerned the glue will build in the common spots.

From contributor O:
The framing table makes life much easier. They're all well made. Also getting a low angle pocket hole machine will save you even more time and money. Less slippage, better face frame joints, less time sanding. The angle is a big deal - it's not who makes the best machines, it's simple physics and nothing else. I would at least buy the Porter Cable machine which is under lic. From Castle manufacturing in order to get the low angle, the router noise isn't much fun. The Castle machine and a new face frame machine will start paying for themselves quickly. We built our face framing machine ourselves. If you can work with steel and/or have a friend who's good at welding, you can make your own machine. Other than steel, everything else is off the shelf parts. A good used Castle machine can be had for around $1000. Parts and tech support are great. The older TSM20's are great machines. I had one for over a decade and sold it to buy a new machine. The TSM21 it's a little faster, but I liked the TSM20 better. I should have kept it.

From contributor J:
Thanks. I bought the Kreg floor model machine (DK 1100FE) a couple of years ago. It's a good, reliable machine and works just fine, but if I ever wear it out I think I'll go for the Castle. I like the shallower angle too. As for the table, maybe this year. It's been passed over for higher priority tools the last couple of years.

From contributor R:
I've never tried the lower profile pocket holes, so I might be missing something. But I am not having any trouble with the Kreg's hole angle. The tables and the machines definitely save time and making face frames is not the chore it can be using jigs. I also glue them together and there is some glue buildup on the table that needs cleaning regularly. You just have to be a little careful not to use too much glue.

One point that helps prevent having to sand any face frame too much is to make sure all of the parts are the same thickness. No matter whether you clamp with a clamp or with the pneumatic hold down, if the boards differ in thickness, the clamp can't make them flush. The face frame table is better at making the face flat against the table, but if the thickness varies, the thinner of the two parts can drift apart.

The ultimate way to build face frames is to plane all the boards down to 3/4" or whatever you prefer. It's an extra step in the process but can save time compared to sanding so much. The other way to save time on face frames is to go frameless.

From contributor L:
I have the air Foreman machine and the angle is lower than the handheld pocket jig. I have much less creep with the Foreman than I do with the hand jig. Also if you use a minimal amount of glue in the joint, it will help to prevent creep. The liquid glue is like lubricant and helps the joint to slip. I have also bought another hand clamp and will leave it on for the time it takes to put screws in another. You rotate the clamps and it gives the TiteBond II enough time to set up to prevent after-creep. I find the after-creep is more of the culprit than the instant-creep.

From contributor K:
The Kreg book that I have says all Kreg tools drill at a 15 degree angle including the Foreman and all their automated machines. What is your angle?

From contributor L:
When I use the hand jig I can use a 2" stile and edge drill it and the pocket will not extend to the edge of the piece. When I use the Foreman, I need to use a 2 3/16" piece to not have the pocket extend to the edge. They are both set up the same. With that in mind I made the assumption that the angle was steeper. I also have less movement with the Foreman than I do with the hand jig.

From contributor B:
I'm going out on a limb, but I'm going to say one of them isn't set up right. Kreg has designed their line to all do exactly the same thing. I've used 2" stiles with the Foreman and the K2 and K3. All yield the same results. With the proper clamping technique, whether the Kreg FF table or the hand held clamps, I've never had any problem with creep. There is a knack to the way you clamp the pieces, but I build face frames that require minimal sanding with a ROS and you can't feel the joint. If you don't clamp it right, you'll have trouble. The hand-held clamp must be fairly parallel with the drilled piece. If you put the clamp perpendicular to the drilled piece you'll have trouble every time.

From contributor L:
I use 13/16" stock and both pilot holes are centered. Don't know what to say.

From contributor P:
I've used a Kreg for about fifteen years, when I built face frames, and even now when I do frameless, for all the drawer assembly. It's a simple jig which I mounted on a table permanently and then added the pneumatic clamp. I use a corded drill. I'm more than happy with the tool.

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