Pocket Hole Jig

Pocket Hole Jigs Ultimate Guide: Best Jigs, Screws & Plugs

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Trying to decide which pocket hole jigs are best for your project?  Or maybe you’re wondering if this type of joinery is for you? While I’ve used both pocket holes and biscuits for cabinetry there are some distinct advantages to using pocket hole jigs.

At it’s simplest a pocket hole jig is nothing more than a guide clamped to a piece of wood that drills an angled hole.

But when used for assembling cabinets and furniture it will make fast work of assembly and minimize need for clamps.

In fact, factoring in the need for fewer clamps, a pocket hole jig can pay for itself.

But where do you start? While a basic jig will do the job a more advanced jig will do it faster and in my experience with higher quality. And, after 20 years as a cabinetmaker I’ve learned being cheap just to upgrade later is a waste. 

So in this article we’ll review jigs at every price, compare features and help you make a decision on the right jig for your immediate and future woodworking needs.

Editors DIY Choice – Price, Ease of Use, Dust Control

Last update on 2020-06-13 at 06:10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Professionals Choice – High Volume, Easy Operation

Last update on 2020-06-11 at 00:51 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Best Value – Just the Basics

Last update on 2020-07-10 at 07:51 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What Is a Pocket Hole Jig

A pocket hole jig is a specialty woodworking tool that allows wood to be connected securely with screws. The pocket hole jig enables this by providing a fixed-angle hole to be drilled using a specialty drill bit. While some jigs include clamps to hold the wood, others do not and rely on an external clamp

Types of Pocket Hole Jigs

At first glance this should be easy because there can’t be more than a few varieties. Right?

Well, during my weeks of research for this article I found over 18 different types of pocket hole jigs that range from single hole jigs for under $20 up to $500 pocket jig workstations that are built for light industrial use.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular, and then we’ll venture into some of the specialty jigs.

Classic Pocket Hole Jig Systems

Classic pocket hole jig kit

There is a lot of blue in the pocket hole jig industry and it’s due to Kreg being a major player in the space. Not only do they have a few jigs, they have all the accessories and screws to go with them.

So what makes for a classic jig? Consider:

  • Integrated toggle clamp to horizontally hold one piece of wood while the other is vertically clamped
  • Quick adjustment
  • Support for multiple holes at one – for example two holes in a 2″ face frame with one jig setting
  • Optional 

Systems:

  • Kreg K4 System
  • Armor Auto-jig System
  • Massca Pro M2 System

Single Pocket-Hole Jigs

Single hole pocket hole jig

A single pocket hole jig is a great, inexpensive way to dabble with this type of joinery.

And an almost must-have for a serious DIY’er that’s building or fixing furniture.

Key features:

  • Small format that allows it to fit almost anywhere you can insert a screw
  • Uses a simple clamp for securing to workpiece
  • And lastly, uses the same drill bit and driver system as a full-size jig.

The Kreg KPHJ310* is a full-size jig – keep reading for a miniature version that uses smaller screws.

Heavy Duty Pocket Jigs

Heavy duty pocket hole jig

Looking for the best pocket hole jig for 2×4″ or similar joints? Then a heavy duty jig* with 1/2″ bore and larger diameter screw will supply a stronger joint than the standard duty jigs.

Building an outdoor project? Then you’ll want to make sure to look at stainless or specialty screws to avoid premature rust and failure of your joint.

Mini Pocket Hole Jigs

Most manufacturers, like the Kreg MJKIT*, offer a miniature version of their single hole jigs. And this compact style of jig allows for use in narrower strips of wood.

The only catch? You’ll need to use a micro-jig drill bit.

Pocket Systems for Face Frames

One of the most common uses for pocket hole jigs is to build face frames for cabinets.

And in a standard face frame with two doors and two drawers there are 14 holes. Which makes for a tedious time when you factor in most kitchens have a dozen or more face frames.

But with a face frame jig like the General Tools Face Frame Jig System* you’ll be able to quickly set, clamp and drill face frames.

Can you do this with a standard jig? Of course. But just not as fast.

Pocket JIgs for Decks

Kreg Deck Jig

This is a jig I wish I knew about before I built my last cedar deck.

So how does it work? By using a combination of a specialized drill and screw guide with a deck spacer boards are kept free of screws.

Steps to using:

  1. Secure the board with a red spacer against the previous board.
  2. Then, drill and screw the outside edge.
  3. With one side of the board secured, remove the red spacer and repeat. 

The only drawback? For securing screws near a wall you’ll need to do free-hand or face nailing. And there are reviews these work best for thicker boards (and to use screws in every joist).

Best Pocket Hole Jigs

So how do you compare the dozens of jigs available and decide what’s best for you? 

In this section we’ll get specific on what the best pocket hole jig for your needs is.

But first, let’s take a look at what features you should consider:

  1. Multiple drill guide holes for fast drilling of wide boards
  2. Integrated depth stop to allow fast drill depth setting
  3. Toggle clamp for fast clamping and high pressure
  4. Dust collection to remove the wood chips
  5. Imperial and metric measurements
  6. Heavy duty and micro jig support
  7. Easy to clamp to bench (or work surface)
  8. Setup speed

Based on my use and research, here’s my list of the best pocket hole jigs:

1. Kreg K5 Pocket Hole Jig - Best Available Jig

Editor's Rating:
4.6/5
Kreg K5 pocket hole jigs

*Newest Model* The highly popular and well reviewed Kreg K5 checks the box on all the best features of a compact pocket hole jig. Due to fast clamping, dust control, left and right feed support and easy bench mounts you won't need to upgrade later.

Key features:

  • Ratcheting toggle clamp for fast clamping
  • Dual purpose storage wings for storing drill bits and drivers and holding stock
  • Fast indexed stops for setting pocket hole depth
  • Index block for setting drill bit collar 
  • Adjustable work piece stop
  • Dust control
  • Integrated stop block for repeat hole drilling

Drawbacks:

  • Premium price (but features to justify)
  • Plastic/composite construction

2. MASSCA M1 Pocket Hole JIGS System for Serious DIY or Professional Use

Editor's Rating:
4.4/5
Massca pocket hole jigs

If you're looking for a no-frills, solid aluminum block pocket hole jig then the Massca is a best buy. With almost all the features of the Kreg this jig is a great option at a lower price.

Key features:

  • Aluminum block construction
  • Dust control port
  • Fast toggle clamp with large padded grip
  • Fast depth and drill bit collar indexing

Drawbacks:

  • Lack ratchet and side storage of the Kreg K5 (if desired)

3. Kreg Pocket-Hole Jig 320 - Perfect for a DIY'er or Occasional Use

Editor's Rating:
4/5

As an entry-level jig system the Kreg 320 is a great entry point at a reasonable cost for anyone looking to enter into pocket hole joinery.

Key features:

  • Clamp-anywhere size 
  • Ultra portable with carrying case
  • Anti-slip base and clamp adapter included
  • Material-thickness stops for common materials: 1/2″, 3/4″, 1 1/2″
  • Versatile design for indoor and outdoor projects, and household repairs
  • Variable pocket hole spacing with twist apart drill guides and removable spacers

Drawbacks:

  • Longer setup time versus a pocket hole system
  • Requires a clamp (separate, $10-20)

4. Kreg Jig R3 - Ultimate in Portability

Editor's Rating:
3.7/5

The R3 is a jig that's built for occasional use, store-and-go for contractors or as a primary tool for small repairs.

Key features:

  • Top notch repair jig and a a great toolbox addition
  • Simple to use (clamp not included)
  • Great for DIY or novices for one-time use
  • Supports materials 1/2-inch to 1-1/2-inch
  • Metal drill guide
  • Set includes drill bits, drive bit, locking collar and 5 sizes of screws stored in a handy case

Drawbacks:

  • Best for repairs and occasional use.

Pocket Hole Machines

Make cabinets and furniture on a regular basis? Then it’s possible a $100 jig is interesting but you’ve experienced the slowness a place, clamp, drill, clean and reset.

Fortunately there are a few machines in reach of hobbyists and even light duty cabinet shops. 

Let’s take a look at a few alternatives to a jig to speed your joinery projects.

Kreg Foreman Pocket-Hole Machine

Kreg foreman pocket hole machine

As an upgrade to a jig, this pocket hole machine will make quick work of your joinery.

While I’ve used biscuit joinery for years due to the speed of the cuts this machine offers similar speed and faster assembly with less wait-time for glue-up.

Key features:

  • Pull the lever to start the motor, engage the clamp and drill the hole
  • Support for 1/2″ to 1-1/2″ stock
  • Compatible with micro, standard and heavy duty bits
  • 14 x 23-1/2″ table top

How to Use a Pocket Hole Jig

Marking the Joints

After you’ve carefully selected your wood pieces, cut them to length and are ready to drill pocket holes you’ll want to place and mark all joints. 

Due to dozens of pieces moving all over during this joinery step marking will provide:

  • Clear directions on which pieces are connected – both during drilling and later during assembly
  • Clamping clarity for knowing the face and back of the frames

To keep things clear I like to number the joints using a wood crayon or construction pencil. Not only do I know where the joints are during boring, but later during assembly.

Clamping the Work Pieces

First, this type of joinery creates a moderate amount of force on the wood pieces. 

So a standard trigger clamp is NOT a recommended alternative to a more powerful face clamp. If you’re not sure on options for a woodworking clamp check out our cabinet clamp guide.

Setting Drill Depth & Drilling

With variations in wood thickness you’ll need to adjust the drill bit depth. Fortunately, all jigs provide an easy-to-use drill bit collar that can be set according to the wood thickness.

I like to try out a test scrap first, verify depth is correct and then proceed with drilling the projects holes.

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Pocket Hole Jig Accessories

While the jig is one component of a screw-based wood joinery project, there are other supplies and accessories you’ll want to consider. 

In this section we’ll explore a few accessories you’ll want to at least consider. 

Face Clamp for Clamping Jigs and Leveling Surfaces

Face clamp for pocket hole jigs

If you haven’t purchased a face clamp before then most of the lighter duty pocket hole jigs will drive you to buy one.

But these are a great purchase, regardless, and have many uses in a shop beyond just pocket hole clamping.

Dust Collection Adapters to Keep Work Area Clean and Drill Bits Working Their Best

Unfortunately, the model of Kreg I own doesn’t have a dust collection port. 

And that makes for a messy time drilling as there are an abundance of wood chips generated after 20 or so holes.

The solution? 

Most of the higher end pocket hole systems have a built-in dust collection port. Depending on your dust collection system you can easily hook in and help control not only the dust, but improve your drilling speed and quality. 

And with this port you’ll likely need a few custom adapters to size to your dust system (or shop vacuum).

Pocket Hole Plugs

While pocket holes used in construction of furniture and cabinets are typically hidden there is need to hide the screws at times.

And that’s where pocket hole plugs come into play to cover the hole left by the jig and the installed screw.

When would you want to cover the screw hole? While sometimes necessary if the hole is visible, but at times it’s a craftsman’s choice:

  • Picture frames – while hidden, a plugged hole provides a complete “finish”
  • Table top joints – where they may be felt (especially if close to the edge)
  • Visual contrast where the pocket hole plug is part of the finished surface
Lastly, when pocket hole plugs are seen some applications using contrasting woods like maple and purpleheart to create a design and call attention to the joinery.

Purchasing Pre-made Pocket Hole Plugs

Kreg pocket hole plugs

Kreg offers five varieties* of standard sized pocket plugs that can quickly cover your holes and allow matching species:

  • Oak
  • Maple
  • White
  • Pine
  • Paint-ready

The only issue? If your species isn’t listed or you want a higher quality grain and color match you’ll need to make your own.

Using micro-jigs and need plugs? Well, Kreg has you covered there as well with two packaged plugs for oak and paint-ready.

Making Your Own Pocket Hole Plugs

Since you’re making your own furniture or cabinets why not make the perfect plug yourself? 

And, did you know common woods like red oak have dramatic differences in grain:

  • Midwest red oak is slow growing versus warmer climate – causing variations in color and texture of grain
  • Certain red oak species appear orange while others can be a paler white
  • Old growth wood tends to have a denser grain pattern

So why does that matter? If your goal is to not have the joinery be featured in the finished piece you’ll want to use the same lumber stock for the plugs.

So how much do they cost?

Well, a typical pocket hole plug runs between $30-40. 

Pocket Hole Screws

Once the holes have been drilled and the surfaces clamped a pocket hole screw is used to finish the joinery.

This should be a simple, one-size-fits-all screw right?

Unfortunately it isn’t. Due to variations in wood thickness, hardwoods vs. softwoods, and even indoor vs. outdoor applications there are a variety of screws to choose from.

Choosing The Right Pocket Hole Screws

pocket hole screw kit

While this can be a bit confusing let’s start with the most common application: joining a 1/2″-3/4″ pieces of wood in a “butt joint” or perpendicular. 

And rather than stress about picking the perfect screw the best approach is grabbing a project kit* of screws. By using a kit you’ll have access to various lengths and be able to learn what’s best for your joinery projects.

After that first trial run you’ll be ready to explore more advanced pocket hole screws.

Pocket Hole Screw Material For Indoor and Outdoor Use

While indoor furniture projects may be the traditional use for pocket hole jig joinery the outdoors offers just as many project opportunities.

And this creates a need for pocket hole screws that can be used indoors and out:

  • Zinc Coated – for traditional indoor use in dried woods
  • Stainless – for wet, outdoor projects where the screw will be exposed to consistent moisture
  • Kreg Blue-Kote(tm) – for use in treated lumber with corrosive resistance (typically outdoor)

Obviously cost will go up as you venture from the standard zinc screws. But to prevent your projects from failing a few years down the road the extra spent now is worth it later.

Screw Design Matters to Avoid Breaks and Splinters

One of the biggest concerns I have when using screws in hardwoods is breaking the screw. 

And that fear is a consequence of having it happen more times than I’d care to admit.

So how do you plan for this when choosing  pocket hole screw? Let’s consider two additional factors.

#1 - Thread Design

First, the purpose of the pocket hole jig system is to ensure the screw and it’s path into both pieces of wood are ready for installing a screw.

But, variations in wood require consideration for the thread design to ensure the best fit:

  • Fine thread screws are best for hardwoods like oak and maple.  Since hardwoods require less thread contact for a firm hold look for this style of screw. And since less installation torque will be required the risk of splitting the wood or breaking a screw will be reduced.
  • Course thread screws, on the other hand, are required in softwoods, plywood or MDF applications. So what’s worse than a broken screw? A stripped screw where the threads don’t hold and the joint fails.

#2 - Pocket Hole Screw Head Style

While screw head design isn’t always a first (or even second) thought for woodworking projects it does matter.

First, I’ve found hardware manufacturers suffer from some of the biggest issues with their improper choice of screws. For example, drawer slides should use aggressive thread pan-head screws but some vendors ship fine threads and even flat head screws. 

So what should you consider?

For softwoods most head designs will work. 

But for hardwoods use a flat head so the surface of the head follows the pilot hole shape. Not only will this ensure maximum contact for a firm fit, it will also reduce chances of breaking the screw.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between a pocket hole jig and a pocket hole system?

There are three tiers of pocket hole guides: jigs, systems and machines. First, a pocket hole jig is meant to be clamped to the piece of wood. Second, a pocket hole system clamps the wood inside the jig itself. But lastly, a machine is a higher end professional unit that makes high volumes of pocket holes and is often free-standing like a shaper or industrial planer.

What is the best pocket hole jig?

The best pocket hole jig aligns to your woodworking needs. While one version of best is a high volume, production ready jig it might not be best suited for a DIY’er who will only use the jig 3-4 times a year. Due to that, before deciding which is the best pocket hole jig for you, it’s best to determine HOW you will use it and then match your uses to the features of the jigs.

Will any screw work in a pocket hole?

When determining what types of screws will work in a pocket hole you should consider a few things. First, will the project be indoors or outdoors. Second, hardwoods require a less aggressive thread design while softwoods and MDF require a more aggressive design. Third, the screw head design matters as a hardwood will require the screw head to match the contour of the hole (flat head, typically). And last, but not least, the length of the screw must match the depth of the hole and provide a secure connection without breaking the surface of the wood.

Buying Guide

These are the five best selling pocket hole jigs on the market:

Bestselling Pocket Hole Jigs

Pocket Hole Jigs
Bestseller No. 1 Kreg Pocket-Hole Jig 320 $39.00
SaleBestseller No. 4 Kreg R3 Master System With Classic Clamp $40.43
SaleBestseller No. 5 Milescraft 1321 PocketJig100 Kit $13.49

Last update on 2020-07-10 at 07:51 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pocket Holes for Professionals

If you’re a production shop owner and looking for how to maximize volume then a pocket hole machine is your best bet.

Since these are meant for daily and continuous duty they will feature:

  • Larger motors
  • Floor or bench mounted
  • Fully automated boring hole boring with a step engaged drive
  • Fast drilling and bit simple changes
  • Low decibels for hearing safety

The only downfall? These machines are expensive. But, with savings versus biscuit joinery on glue and clamp time you might be able to justify it.

Alternatives to Pocket Holes - The Biscuit Joiner

Does the thought of aligning, clamping, drilling, re-clamping, and screwing have you nervous?

While I’ve made many projects with pocket hole joinery I have made hundreds of kitchen cabinets with biscuit joinery as well. 

A biscuit joiner has a few advantages, in my mind:

  • No need to worry about depths of holes and screw lengths
  • Fast and easy to cut for high volume jobs
  • Easy to assemble

But the biggest downside? I always let the glue joints rest for 4 hours to un-clamp and a day before I’ll brave sanding them. And that’s where a pocket hole joinery system wins over on asssembly time.

Who Makes Pocket Hole Jigs?

While Kreg and their popular blue-colored jigs is the first name for most there are a number of jig manufacturers:

  1. Kreg Tool
  2. General Tools
  3. Armor Tools
  4. Massca Tools
  5. Milescraft Tools
Which one is best for you? Sometimes it’s a bit of brand preference and location of manufacturing.

Summary

Hopefully this article exposed you to pocket hole joinery and helped answer your questions on your next jig.

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