If you’re getting into woodworking, you’ll quickly need to learn the best ways to join two pieces of wood together. One popular method is pocket hole joinery, and that’s because it’s strong, inexpensive, and easy to learn. Even beginners can use pocket holes to make everything from desk drawers to cabinets. All you need is a good pocket hole jig.
What is Pocket Hole Joinery
The most common things you can build in woodworking involve three basic (and related) shapes: the square, the T, and the box. Whether it’s desk drawers, cabinets, picture frames, bookcases, or a tv stand, chances are you’re going to join together your wood in a square shape, a T shape, a box shape, or often, all of the above.
But those shapes lead to an issue. If you don’t connect the wood pieces correctly, you’ll end up with a weak joint (that’s the spot where the two boards meet), and it will fail under a load—not good for a bookcase or other furniture. To understand why it helps to know some anatomy of wood.
A wood board is composed of three faces: the end grain, the edge grain, and the face grain. When you build a square, the easy idea might be to line up the end of one board with the edge of another and then screw together. But that won’t work.
Imagine your wood board was made up of many toothpicks, all stacked and facing the same direction. The pointing parts are the “end grain” of the board. If you try to drive a screw into that end, you’ll encounter too many gaps to get a strong connection between the screw and wood.
The same is true of actual boards; the fibers in the end grain will spread out as the screw drives in, giving you a less secure hold. You can get around this with advanced techniques like a mortise and tenon, but that takes time and well-developed skills. The answer then is to drill holes at an angle from one board to the other, so you move from face grain to edge grain.
And that’s what pocket hole joinery does. You drill a large oversized hole (the pocket) into one board nearly to its edge. Then you clamp the two boards together and drive a screw through the pocket and into the other board, drawing them tightly together.
A Pocket Hole Jig Makes the Process Fast and Easy
The main advantage of pocket hole joinery over more advanced methods is ease and speed. You could guestimate a good angle and try to drill out pocket holes on your own, but a pocket hole jig guides your drill bit to the right angle, and can quickly be moved from spot to spot for repeated cuts. All you need is the jig, a drill (that can also act as a driver), and pocket hole screws.
Every pocket hole jig contains at least a few essential components. A drilling guide, a stepped drill bit and depth collar, and a long drive bit. The drilling guide typically has two or more holes so you can create two pocket holes in wide boards. You place it against your wood piece and then size it for the thickness of the wood. You then use the depth collar to size the provided drill bit and drill to create the pocket hole. The drill bit is stepped: that is, it’s narrower at the tip and wider further up the bit, which causes it to cut the hole in two sizes.
Deeper down (at the tip of the bit), it creates a small hole for the screw’s body. Closer to the surface, it creates a wider hole for the screw’s head to catch too. That latter part prevents the screw from blowing all the way through, and it provides a sturdy base for the screw head to grip. Pocket hole screws feature a large head to “catch” the edge of the drilled hole, and a self-tapping tip to boar into the other wood piece.
Using a pocket hole jig, you can quickly drill and attach all the joints you need in a third of the time it would take to use more advanced methods. The pocket hole joint itself is stronger than merely gluing two boards together with an edge butting to end grain. And if you can drill a hole, you can use a pocket hole jig. More advanced pocket hole jigs include clamps to hold your wood piece, dust extraction, and other features.
The main drawbacks of pocket hole joinery versus other techniques are the need for specialized screws and the unsightly holes left behind by the process. To get around the latter problem, you can either plan ahead so the holes won’t be visible (such as on the inside of a desk or cabinet), or fill the holes with plugs and then paint or stain to make the plugs match the rest of the wood.
Our Favorite Pocket Hole Jigs
Pocket hole jigs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and prices. And naturally, the less you spend, the less you get. At the very minimum, any pocket hole jig should include the drill guide, a stepped drill bit and depth collar, and a long drive bit to drive the screws into your wood pieces.
Spending more gets you convenient storage, built-in clamping, and measurement systems. Typically you’ll need to provide the drill and screws. You may also need a clamp or vise to hold your project in place while drilling and screwing. If you spend enough, though, all you’ll need is the screws. Here are three great pocket hole jigs for any budget:
The Budget Pick: Kreg Jig R3 Pocket Hole System
If you’re just getting started with pocket holes, the Kreg’s R3 system is a good first purchase. You get all the essentials: the drilling guide, the stepped drill bit and depth collar, and the driver bit for the pocket screws.
It takes a little more work, though, as you’ll need to clamp down your wood pieces and guide, so they don’t shift while you’re drilling. And thanks to its size, it’s easier to fit in tight spaces.
Kreg R3 Jr. Pocket Hole Jig System (Jig System)
For first-time pocket hole joinery, the R3 Jig is a good starting place. It costs less than other more full-featured joinery systems, and it's portable and versatile. The small size also makes it easy to stow away.
The Best Overall: Armor Auto-Jig Pocket Hole System
If you find yourself frequently making pocket holes, the Armor Auto-Jig system will drastically cut down your set up time. When you create pocket holes, you need to adjust the drill guide to your wood’s thickness, then adjust the drill bit to match, and then determine what size screw to use. If you frequently change board thickness, the process is tedious.
But Armor’s pocket hole system does all that for you and clamps your wood in place. As you close the clamp, that automatically measures the thickness of your wood and adjusts both the drill bit and the drill guide to match. It then shows a handy guide for which screws to use. If you buy Armor’s pocket hole screws, they’re color-coded to the screw guide (but you can use any pocket hole screws). It takes the tediousness out of the pocket hole system. The kit even comes with a starter set of screws.
Armor Tool Auto-Jig Pocket Hole System
Armor's pocket hole system takes the tedious part of pocket hole joinery and makes it easier. Just clamp your wood piece, and it automatically sizes your drill guide and drill bit. The dust port also cuts down on sawdust if you attach a vacuum.
The Premium Pick: Kreg DB210 Foreman Pocket-Hole Machine
Unless you’re using your hobby as a side hustle, or woodworking is your job, you probably don’t need Kreg’s Pocket-Hole Machine. But if you can afford it, it’s hard to find anything nicer, more accurate, or more convenient for repeated pocket hole cuts.
The machine includes a built-in powerful drill, and a stop block system. If you know you need to create a pocket hole on multiple boards in the same location, you can place a stop block in position, slide the board to it and drill.
The machine also includes a dust extraction system (you provide the vacuum) and handy storage. Once you have it set up, you can drill pocket holes faster and cleaner than with any other method. But you will pay a premium for all that convenience.
Although expensive, this is one of the most convenient and fastest pocket systems you can buy. It includes a drill, stop blocks, storage, and a dust extraction system. Just squeeze the trigger, pull down the handle, and you'll have pocket holes in no time.