Not every advance in woodworking is tied to a new, groundbreaking development. Sometimes, a blend of ancient techniques and modern, cutting edge materials is all it takes to revolutionize the craft.
There are few examples as clear-cut as pocket hole technology. While boring holes at an angle and screwing pieces together isn’t the newest idea in the world (ancient Egyptians actually developed a method of boring angled holes into wood, inserting glued dowels and cutting them flush), figuring a way to bring an easy, repeatable method of doing so for the average woodworker was the obstacle that needed to be overcome.
And, that’s just what Craig Sommerfield struck on while renovating his kitchen back in 1986. Looking for a hidden way to attach face frames to the cabinets. Having one of those monkey-and-the-monolith moments as seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Craig fashioned the first Craig’s Jig from aluminum and steel. The follow-on development of the self-tapping screw really allowed pocket-hole joinery to hit the mainstream and become one of the most popular methods of joinery today.
I had a chance to speak with Derek Balsley, a marketing and communications specialist with Kreg Tool, who spelled out the advantages of pocket hole joinery in great detail.
- Math is easier: Instead of remembering to add the length of tenons for a project piece, pocket hole joinery requires no additional measurement – cut the piece to size and join.
- Speed is increased: Because the screws act like miniature clamps, there is no need to clamp a piece up and wait for glue to dry. Once an assembly is put together, you can move right to the next step without the lag time.
- It’s half the work: Mortise and tenon. Dovetail pins and tails. Matching half laps. Dowels and biscuits. Most joinery methods require that mating joints be cut in both work pieces which are being assembled. This may require moving a jig or doing a completely new machine set up. With pocket screws, the angled holes are drilled into only one member, eliminating the chances for inaccuracy.
- Fewer commitments: Many woodworkers are hesitant to cut particular types of joints for their projects due to the economic realities of tooling up for certain tasks. Special router bits, hollow chisel mortisers and dovetail jigs all have considerable costs. With a pocket screw jig, woodworkers can build quickly without needing an arsenal of specialized tools and a large supply of clamps.
According to Derek, “The tool has made woodworking a whole lot easier for beginning and advanced woodworkers alike. Sure, there may be some who prefer more traditional joints, but for building fast,strong, and easy, pocket screws are a great choice.”
While pocket hole joinery is a very popular method of joining wood, some questions still linger in woodworkers’ minds. For instance, just how strong are the joints? According to Kreg’s tests, a properly assembled pocket screw joint has the potential for more shear strength than even a mortise and tenon. “Unlike other joinery methods, pocket screw joinery utilizes the mechanical advantage of self-tapping steel screws to maximize your joint-strength over the long haul. You get a fast, strong joint that works very well in lots of different applications.”
The other question is heard as frequently as the well-worn debate of boxers vs. briefs. Should you use glue for your pocket screw joints or not? “Well, let’s just say both methods are ‘right.’ If you plan on building furniture that you will have to knock down for shipping or storage, without glue is the way to go. Just unscrew and pack away. This is something most other joinery techniques can’t match. However, for the strongest joint possible, add some glue. Since the pocket screws provide tremendous clamping pressure inside of the joint, there’s no need to clamp your joints after connecting. Just drill the screws and move on… start sanding or whatever the next step may be.”
The variety of pocket hole cutting jigs offered by Kreg is pretty staggering. There are pneumatic, high-volume set ups for furniture factories all the way to the simplest single hole jigs offered for the handy DIYer. By far, their most popular model is the Kreg Jig Master System (model K3), the system favored by most woodworkers. Complete with set ups for semi-production and portable bases, the Master System is an improvement over the K2000, the former sales leader. “Even something as simple and elementary as moving the clamp handle to the front of the jig was a huge convenience for woodworkers. Now, instead of having to reach around the back of a large panel to secure the work piece, they can do it all from the front.”
Understanding that some specialized tools are also required to make pocket hole assembly easier, Kreg also offers an array of face frame clamps, corner clamps and quick action clamps that attach to workbenches, making holding the pieces that much easier. “Our in-house engineers are really a clever and creative bunch. We have a dedicated new-product team who pours over various opportunities and various customer feedback to try and figure out which products and services would help our customers the most.”
And it’s not only pocket screws when it comes to Kreg. In 2003, the company started building a line of highly accurate (and well reviewed) fences and guides for band saws, router tables, miter saws, table saws and other shop tools. “So far, all of our precision guides, fences and jigs have all been met with broad support, and our customers have been very happy with what we’ve come up with.” Even more recently, Kreg has announced an entire line of Klamp System™ components designed to improve clamping around anyone’s shop and a family of Precision Routing products including the new Precision Router Table which includes a table saw style fence which self squares with the table’s miter slot.
Knowing that the Kreg folks are convinced of the value of the pocket hole joinery, many woodworkers wonder if the company’s employees put any value on more traditional joinery methods. “We absolutely do value the traditional methods. We love them as much as all woodworkers do, and there’s a time and place for everything, especially when considering the needs of hobby woodworkers who have a natural curiosity for all things woodworking. That being said, it’s always been our goal at Kreg to reduce or even eliminate the frustration felt by woodworkers of all levels. What we’ve discovered is that the Kreg Jig and pocket hole joinery removes a lot of fears and gives people the confidence to build things they never would have attempted before. And best of all… it’s a lot of fun!”