My Opinion of Pocket Screws

This question comes from Chris. He writes:

Pocket Screw TableHey Marc, I love your show. I watch it religiously and have learned so many good techniques. I wanted to know, what is your position on pocket hole joinery in relation to coffee table assembly. I built my first coffee table using a Kreg pocket hole jig to join the apron and legs together. Kreg states in their owner’s manual that a pocket hole is mechanically stronger than a mortise and tenon joint. Do you think pocket hole joinery is cheap sign of craftsmanship? I would like your feedback on what you think of my coffee table design? I have attached a picture of my coffee table.

And here was my reply:
Hi Chris. First off, let me compliment you on your design and craftsmanship. What a beautiful piece. No matter what the underlying joinery is, that is a fantastic design with great execution. Now, concerning pocket hole screws. Remember, joinery can be just as much about taste and opinion as it is about strength and utility. If you are happy with the final product and you enjoy using pocket screws, all the power to you! Screw away my friend!

Now for my opinion. I have used pocket screws in the past when I could get away with it. The only time I really use them is if they will never be seen. And even then, they are usually the last option I think of. Perhaps its a bit elitist, but I do feel that pocket screws “cheapen” a piece. I would certainly expect Kreg to defend its product and their strength claim may be valid (Im not convinced). But is strength really the only concern to us as woodworkers? If that’s the case, we might want to start using metal to build furniture instead of wood. :) Cant get much stronger than that!

Seriously though, I take pride in the fact that my best work contains little to no metal. But that’s just me. We all have to decide for ourselves where to draw the line. Some folks cant imagine using power tools on their projects. They take pride in the fact that their work is crafted the old-fashioned way. Some folks just want to get ‘er done!

Just remember that we all woodwork for different reasons Heck, some of us do it just so we can collect tools. And still others do it simply because its such a sharp contrast to what we do at the office all day behind our computer screens in the confines of our cubicles. Whatever your reason is, keep it fun. If pocket screws make it fun for you, then keep using them. Your work certainly is not suffering for it. Good luck.

Want to learn a little more about pocket screw joinery? Check out the Pocket Screw Primer!

Category: Tools

Comments

  1. First of all, that is a beautiful coffee table, Chris! I can’t offer a different perspective than Marc on pocket screws, I feel pretty much the same on those. I haven’t used them, though.

    If I were in the business of making and selling furniture and/or built-ins, I might feel differently, though. When time is money, you can’t argue against their use, in my opinion. My personal tastes lean toward featuring jointery, though, so if a customer was willing to pay me for the extra time necessary to make dovetails or through mortise-and-tenon joints, I would rather go that route.

    Where my opinion differs from Marc is on the use of metal in furniture. I love the contrast of copper with a good patina against figured woods, for example, and I usually wind up incorporating metal into – or even featuring metal in my projects. I also have no qualms about adding angle iron or flat stock steel in hidden locations to add strength to a piece. But I tend to overbuild my furniture as well.

    • cliff October 21, 2014

      First, I am not a woodworker. I do have a lot of tools but I use them to repair and build things I need. Right now I am building the cabinets for my basement wet bar. I went shopping for factory cabinets and the prices were over 4000 for the five cabinets I made. I built my front and side bar counters at 42″with the granite installed and since my wife wanted shelves I built two 40 inch tall, 10 inch deep, 22 inch wide cabinets which are part of the counter-open to the inside. I used pocket holes screws for joining the cabinets. Because they came out pretty good- for never having built a cabinet before- and the fact that I wanted 3/4 inch width cabinets versus the 1/2 crap they wanted over $4k for, my wife decided I should build the rest of the cabinets for the back counter. I have built a sink base, lazy Susan corner, trash can drawer base and am finishing a wine rack base so I can keep air flowing to a pressure vent opening behind it. I used pocket screws for the assembly and they are very, very strong. I also used pocket holes for the face frames. You cannot see any of the pocket holes as they are on the rear, sides and bottom of the cabinets. As I said, I have never built cabinets before but the ability to custom build these to the exact measurements I needed really made a big difference. And the savings is incredible. I will have all the cabinets I need, including shaker style doors and drawers covers, lazy susan components and trash can drawer for less than $1000. Of course, I f I didn’t have Marc and his wonderful videos to turn to I never would have attempted it. I built my cross cut sled based on Marc’s video. I will post a pic or two of my bar soon.

  2. Mike in St. Paul (http://) December 11, 2007

    A couple of thoughts on pocket screws: I agree that they have their place in woodworking. I own a Kreg jig and that it is cool and easy to use.

    That said, I don’t agree they are as strong as m&t joints (just like you Marc). They are very strong in the “pull” direction however I don’t think they are nearly that strong in a twisting moment. Is your joinery going to twist? Probably not, but I think sometimes they make the pocket screw butt joint sound stronger than it is.

    They do work great for face frames, but I think they have their limits too.

  3. Lori December 11, 2007

    I must say that is a strikingly beautiful piece of art. I really like the contrasting woods and the design is wonderful.

    I don’t know much about pocket screws…but I thought that I would show a really cool video on wood joinery testing. This was really interesting and I’m not sure who else has seen it…so I thought I’d pass it on so the rest of you could enjoy it.

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=DhLfb7m9Fug

    Happy Woodworking!!!

  4. Mattias in Durham, NC December 11, 2007

    That’s a really nice coffee table. It makes me want to be in my workshop making one like it.

    Marc, about pocket screws. I think you’re being unfair about pocket screw construction. Just a couple of videos ago, you promoted edge banding, which is a non-wood woodworking shortcut, but now pocket screws are not OK. Maybe there is some finer distinction you’re trying to make that I’m missing –

    Edge banding has its place, and pocket screws too. I agree they both probably “cheapen” a project. I use pocket screws sometimes in non-visible places, whenever it makes sense to me, and I look forward to trying the glue-on edge banding sometime soon. I guess it’s up to each and every one to decide what they want to use. My shop definitely won’t go non-electrical or all-electrical, that’s for sure. I try to stay in the middle.

  5. Jason (cfiiman) (http://) December 11, 2007

    Awesome table man! I love the contrasting walnut and maple? Pocket screw wise, I use them to join table tops to rails, but they are not seen unless the table is upside down, as long as they do not show I say use em’!

  6.  

    Mattias. My man. You are drawing several incorrect conclusions. First, I never said pocket screws were “not OK”. I believe there is a place and time to use them. And I personally feel that pocket screws should not be included in my fine furniture. That is a very personal opinion and its a decision every woodworker has to make for his/herself. I pretty much said the same thing about edge-banding. It has a time and place, but again, my fine furniture is not the place for iron-on edgebanding. I even stated that specifically in the edgebanding video toward the end.
    The odd thing is that your last paragraph above pretty much sums up exactly what I said in both the video and my reply to the question of the week. So if you listen a little more closely to what I say, you will find that we are actually on the same page.

  7. Ryan (http://) December 11, 2007

    Chris, great piece. Very soon I will be making a new coffee table and your creating is causing me some second thoughts on my design.
    I like taking advantage of pocket screws when they won’t be seen. For my last project I needed to build 9 drawers. I used pocket screws on the back of the back piece and again on the front of the drawer. The drawer fronts covered the holes in the front the of drawer subassembly, and unless you take the drawers out, you’ll never see the holes in the back. It’s not dovetails, I can live with that. I have plenty of other examples of dovetail drawers to show off. I did’t have enough clamps to build all 9 drawers at once as would be needed without some mechanical fastener.
    Some of my projects are just too awkward to get good clamping pressure and if I can hide a few pocket screws instead… I feel perfectly justified knowing that the piece will be strong. I am convinced that everytime I have used pocket screws, they resulted in a joint that was strong enough.

  8. Jim Jones December 11, 2007

    I guess I’m more of a pragmatist. I don’t have decent tools for mortise and tenons to attach an apron to a table leg. I have tried dowels (I have a jig) but had some alignment issues and didn’t like them. Only used them twice and put them aside.

    I now use pocket screws and glue and the folks I’ve made tables for have never wondered why.

    And I am not embarrassed to use fake through-tenons or dowels for effect.

    I may decide to buy mortise and tenon tools sometime in the future but right now I am having too much fun doing “almost fine” woodworking using cheap pocket screws. :-) There are so many things I need to improve on that I have no problem using them for a while longer.

    Go for it.

  9. Ron December 11, 2007

    I’ve got the Kreg jig – bought to build some built in cabinetry on the face frame. They are the cats’ meow with face frames. They are like ketchup. You use it on some things and not on others. Doesn’t make them right or wrong, cheap or shortcut unless; like any other joint or fastener; if used improperly can cause dischord.

    For example; pocket screws are a poor choice in Mission Style furniture where exposed joinery is a part of the style.

    Like Mark I prefer to keep the hardware away from my projects – for the most part. But some times they are thee thing to use and I’m not above using them.

    Metal is stronger than wood, just no getting around that. If you compare the pocket screw to a mortise and tenon (like the kreg people did at the wood show) you need to look at all the stresses on the joint (and some just won’t make sense as you won’t load the joint that way) but it’s hard to beat metal in shear. But what about torque, bending, compression or tension? In some cases the screw is going to pull out of the wood long before a wide glue joint gives up the ghost.

    In many cases, like Ryan says, you want something that is plenty good enough. Good design and execution does that more than the joint you decide to use. With some exceptions.

    Nice job – keep it up!

  10. David (runningwood) December 11, 2007

    beautiful table, nicely done. I just have 2 technical questions for you: how is the lower shelf joined to the legs ?

    How did you handle potential issue of wood movement/ expansion with that beautiful top, as it is essentially several pieces in a frame like surrond ?

  11. Vic December 11, 2007

    Chris, I have to gush about your piece, too. It is beautifully designed and executed. I love my Kreg pocket hole set. But I, myself, would only use it on
    “shop” cabinets and furniture. As with everyone else, a matter of personal taste.
    I know the local high school shop teacher loves to use pocket screw joinery and he does a lot of built-ins on the side. For me it is mostly about me being incredibly OCD. I want everything to be perfect, and for me that means more traditional methods of joinery. Keep up the great work!

  12. Mattias in Durham, NC December 12, 2007

    Marc, I suspected all along that I just wasn’t paying enough attention. So your objection to pocket screws in this particular project wasn’t that pocket screws in general are no good. It was because it’s otherwise such a high quality table and, like edge banding, you felt it might stand out and detract from the “fine furniture” impression. I was thinking I would revisit your edge banding video before trying it out sometime, and now I know I have to – and I should probably be taking notes.

  13. Jason Young December 12, 2007

    I just wanted to throw in my two cents worth. First of all, Chris that table is beatiful. It’s actually given me some inspiration for a design issue I’ve struggling with. I have a semi-circular home theatre style leather sofa and I want to make a coffee table that matches the curvature of the sofa. I’m also a big fan of craftsman style furniture and was having some difficulty visualizing how to incorporate the rectilinear style of craftsman with the oval coffee table. I think I’ll do something similar to your top and just round the outside pieces as well as the breadboard ends and keep the insides rectangular. brilliant!.

    Anyway, I know many of struggle with the idea of when to use hardware and /or “traditional” joinery methods. I always think of a friend of mine who bought a beatiful dining room table but it bugs him that there’s veneer on it. As a structural engineer and woodworker I know that using veneer on an MDF substrate makes a lot of sense in terms of stability. At the same time, I’d rather have a solid wood table. It’s like I’m going against common sense or logic for the sake of a historic romanticism involved with using solid wood. We humans can be a weird bunch sometimes! Anyway, that’s a bit off topic, I guess it comes down to personal taste, I think pocket hole joinery is great and just bought a jig. but I won’t use it on what I consider “fine furniture” However I didn’t consider veneer on MDF to be “Fine furniture” until I watched Neil Laymens built his lingerie cabinet over at furnitology. There’s no doubt that that piece is a beatiful piece of craftsmanship and a very worthwhile series of videos to watch.

  14. Dave December 12, 2007

    Chris the table is absolutely gorgeous and to me that is what matters.

    Joinery is a matter of taste as Marc says. My son,who is a much better woodworker than me, uses pocket screws on everything. There must be 1000s in the face frames of his new kitchen cabinets. He did dovetails on the drawers. If you are not a great woodworker pocket screws sure line things up easier, but some things just ought to be mortise and tenon. I sure do like the $49 Kreg jig that adjusts to the thickness of the wood. I don’t see the point of the more expensive ones.

    Since I’m not a real good woodworker I prefer power tools over hand tools. As I try to get better I do get frustrated when my mortise and tenons aren’t perfect and cause me alignment problems. If I had done a piece as good as Chris’s table I wouldn’t care what the elitist snobs thought.

  15. tom hunt December 12, 2007

    I used pocket screws recently as clamps (on the bottom) to secure a but joint on a long board. I removed the screws after the joint set.

  16. Jeff December 12, 2007

    Marc, i use pocket screws on faceframes,holding down small table topsand the occasional simple drawer. That said I am presently on a hand tools kick and would like to know where you stand on blending your woodworking styles between power and hand tools and wonder why hand tools are not in the relm of the average woodworker is it the cost, sharpening and tuning or speed of either the hand tools or power tools which determine peoples choices?

  17. BarryO December 12, 2007

    Marc, I’m with you on this one. To me, pocket screws signify mass-produced, large volume, commodity factory furniture. Some of that may look quite nice, but I wouldn’t use pocket screws on anything I would want to consider fine furniture. Kitchen cabinets? Sure. A quick, more utilitarian-type project? Absolutely. But a future heirloom? Nope.

    Like you, I like to use as few metal fasteners as possible. Ideally, I just use screws for fasntening hinges, knobs, and other hardware. And no Norm-like brads as clamp substitutes!

    And I’m surprised that Kreg claims they are stronger than M&T.

  18.  

    Real good question Jeff. Who knows…We can only speculate really. I suppose the vast majority of woodworkers are tool freaks. I am a self-confessed tool freak myself but I really do try to balance it with learning proper hand tool techniques and incorporating them into my routines. I honestly believe that my love of the craft exceeds my love of power tools. For some though, that is not the case. Their hobby is tools. How many guys do you know who love fixing up a car but never get it to the point that they can drive it? I remember when I was building my home theater I was amazed at how many people in the forums were so focused on the building of the damn thing, that watching movies was actually secondary.
    Its the nature of the beast I suppose. Also, think about the average homeowner. At some point he/she decides they want to do some woodworking. If they didnt have a relative or shop class in their past to introduce them to hand tools, chances are all they know is what they see on TV. How many hand tools do you see in action on HGTV, DIY, and in commercials? So the fist thing they think they need is powertools. Hand tools seem antiquated to them.

  19. Shotspot December 12, 2007

    Chris, you should take pride in that table. It looks great. The pocket hole question is a good one. Everybody on the board knows that it is a very strong joint, but the question forces woodworkers that do not want to use them to acknowledge a bit of eliteism. Personally, a couple of my early projects have pocket hole screws. When starting with woodworking, the pocket hole screws allowed me the gratification of completing a project in a reasonable time without having to confront the challenges of joinery. Now, I am still fairly new to woodworking, but I would not use the pocket hole screws on a fine project. As I begin each new project, I try to incorporate a skill that I have not previously used. For me, I think that joinery is one of the first skills to be developed. I would feel like I cut corners to save time with pocket hole screws.

    I think that 9 out of 10 people will look at a nice piece of custom furniture and compliment it, and move on. The 10th person is the woodworking dork that will get on his hands an knees and look at how you did something. This is not a move by the dork to criticize, but to appreciate the work that you did. Every person looking at the picture of your table can appreciate the attention to detail that you put into your piece. Congrats.

    Tom Hunt… I would put the screws back. You already have the holes. You might just as well as have the strong joint that goes with them.

  20. Vic December 12, 2007

    The best way I’ve heard the explanation for using power tools was this(I don’t remember the source, but it was a big name and that’s why I remember)”Back in the old days, furniture makers had apprentices to do the grunt work.” One might be learning to perfect dovetails, so he’d work on drawers, another might be at the stage of making mortise and tenons, etc. Imagine the time it takes to joint and plane a board by hand! So, we come to the present age. The power tools helps take up the slack of the missing apprentice. A good woodworker still must attend to the finer points by hand. He’ll get the majority of a mortise with a router and fine tune with his chisels. Anyway, you get point. Power tools are our extra laborers, but they don’t dictate whether a piece is fine furniture. That is dictated by the attention to detail by the craftsman.

  21. Jeff December 13, 2007

    Hey Marc,Thanks for answering….I think the real question is for whom are we building ,,,,is it ourselves,our customer,or other woodworkers,or is it for future generations…right know I am building colonial furniture copies using as many hand tools as I can including cut nails which are more fun than brads! But I could not afford a shop completely outfitted with hand and power tools. ..and the sharpening alone is an art itself. but I could not continue my woodworking education without at least trying all techniques old and new..

  22. Robert May 5, 2009

    I like the design of this table. It is very simple and is very nice to put in your living room

  23. John June 9, 2009

    Mark, I’m building a loft bed for my daughter and would like to use my Kreg Jig for some of the joinery. However, I’m concerned about the pocket-screw joint strength in this application. I’ve read about the “independent testing” proving the joints stability to 700 lbs shear stress, but I’m leery of this vague claim. I’m not an engineer, nor do I have sufficient wood skills (yet) to accurately chop the 14+ m/t joints. This is my first big project and while it’s not fine construction I’d like to build a reasonably attractive structure without the persistent fear of collapse. After reading several books on design and joinery I am still at a loss for determining the required joint. Would you lend some advise to a novice.

    •  
      thewoodwhisperer June 10, 2009

      Hey John. First off, I can only speculate as you did based on the information we have access to. And those independent tests usually have questionable results and usually do little more than appeal to a bit of academic curiosity. Furthermore they tend to be inconsistent from test to test. But here’s the way I see. Most of these joints are more than strong enough to carry a standard load. So lets do a little calculation. For argument’s sake, let’s low ball that 700lb shear stress figure and say the joint can only hold 500lbs. Well the entire wait of the piece is not laying on that one joint. If it were a frame with four sides, there would be two joints for each frame piece, making a total of 8 joints. And if each joint is capable of holding 500lbs, that means the whole thing should hold a distributed load of 4000 lbs. Now of course the wood might break and other things may fail at that point. But it illustrates how the strength of multiple joints will work together to keep the whole thing sturdy.

      So while I would prefer using some sort of wood on wood glue joint for that application, I really thing pocket screws (used properly) should give you enough strength. Just one more opinion for you to consider. :) Good luck!

  24. Ray October 9, 2009

    Mark,
    Hope you are not going the way of pocket screws in your future projects. You may call me a purist, but I believe there is no room in furniture making for pocket screws. They are fine for a construction project or the like, but I see no need in cabinetmaking. You might just as well get your gun out and load your brads and finish nails and go to it. I know of a show which takes this route. Load up and fire away, reminds me of shingling a roof.

    •  
      thewoodwhisperer October 9, 2009

      Hey Ray. Not sure what about my comment above makes you think I might be moving toward pocket screw construction. Only occasionally do I find a need or desire for them in my work. That said, I would never criticize someone for using them. I suppose I am what you would call the anti-purist (a live and let live kind of guy). And I won’t hesitate to show how to use them on the show, simply because I do feel a lot of people would benefit from understanding what they are and how they work. And they can decide for themselves if its good enough for their projects. So you may see pocket screws show up now and then (like the last part of the Low Entertainment Center episode).

  25. Rick Gentry April 11, 2011

    Personally I do not make much furniture, but everything I have made had Pocket Screws in it. I used the Kreg jig with Pocket Screws supplied from quickscrews. I used the wood plugs to totally hide the holes which I thought looked great.

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