If you’re thinking of getting into woodworking this fall, pocket joinery offers a great way to make it less complicated and more fun. It eases the assembly of wooden parts, and simplicity is a big part of the attraction. All pocket joinery systems use similar types of drilling jigs to create steeply angled holes that accept hidden screws to hold joints together. Results are fast, surprisingly strong and require no clamps or glue. Special vise grip-type locking pliers hold the faces of adjoining parts in front-to-back alignment as screws draw parts together with surprising force. If you’re planning to build cabinets, built-ins or even window and door trim at your place, pocket joinery is worth serious consideration.
Kreg is the company that made pocket joinery popular years ago, and no one argues that they make the best jigs for drilling pocket holes today. For about $50 you can get their simplest jig package. For twice that you get a model that efficiently handles limited numbers of architectural details as part of home improvement projects. I use a bench-top pocket hole drilling jig when I’m joining big projects in my shop all the time. Drill holes in one side of the joint, place the pieces together, hold them with the vise-grip tool, then drive the pocket screws home. That’s it. On to the next joint.
So exactly where do pocket joints make sense for you as a DIYer? They’re first-rate for building fireplace mantels, box newels for staircases and other architectural details where one face of the assembly remains permanently hidden. The one drawback of pocket joints is that they don’t look all that nice. You can plug the angled holes with special angled plugs, but the results look too busy to my eye. Better to orient the pocket holes onto hidden faces.
One of my favourite uses for pocket joints involves stain-grade door and window trim. The hardest part of creating perfectly tight door and window trim joints has very little to do with cutting wood accurately, and a lot to do with the unevenness of the wall surfaces you’re working on. Drywall is often uneven enough to throw otherwise tight corner joints out of whack as trim parts come together piece by piece on the wall. Then there’s the perennial problem of window and door frame corners that aren’t quite as square as the joints that come off of your chop saw. All of these problems can be quickly and easily sidestepped by building pre-assembled trim frames, then fastening these frames to wall surfaces as a single unit.
Pocket hole joinery offers the easiest and fastest way to pre-join trim frames and the joints always stay tight. The trick to success is carefully measuring the size of door and window openings you’re trimming out, then precisely building trim frames to suit. Trim frames for windows always have four pieces of trim joined together. Trim frames for doors have three-sided frames. Temporarily fasten a piece of scrap wood to the back of door trim frames to stabilize them, then remove the stabilizing wood just before installation. You can even prefinish trim frames like this before installation to save more time.
The best way to get started is with the simplest, least expensive jig possible. You’ll also need a special, step-shaped drill bit and a drill to drive it with. Pocket joinery also uses special screws sized to match the thickness of the wood you’re joining.
Faster, easier and more efficient options for successful building are everywhere in the DIY world. Pocket joinery may not be as flashy as other woodworking innovations, but it makes a bigger difference than meets the eye.