While all pocket hole jigs will drill an angled screw hole there are important differences between a cheap clamp on jig and a true pocket hole workstation.
How do I know? Well, I’ve used pocket hole jigs of all types and sizes and have found that this seemingly simple hole is tricky to setup. Which is why my recommendation is to invest in the Kreg 720 Pro as it has all of the features in one complete jig.
All of the other jigs? Well, they just don’t stack up to the dust collection, clamping or depth adjustment that decades of Kreg users have come to expect.
In this guide learn what the best pocket hole jigs, which features matter, and even advanced pocket hole machines like the Kreg Foreman.
Top Pocket Hole Jigs
Best overall (workstation):
Best Kreg alternative:
Best clamp-on jig:
Professional pocket hole machine:
Before deciding what the best pocket hole jig is for your bench its best to understand just how this woodworking joint works:
- First, the workpiece is either clamped into the jig (preferred) or the jig is clamped to the workpiece
- Next an oval, stepped drill bit creates a hole for the screw thread and head
- Then finally the workpiece is clamped next to the wood it will be joined to and screws inserted
Like most tools there are a few primary manufacturers and dozens of imports. The following are leading manufacturers to start with:
- Kreg leads the industry with its pocket hole jig
- Massca is an emerging leader with high quality jigs
- Milescraft produces mid-range jigs in a budget price rangef
There are two types of pocket hole jigs to choose from:
- Workstation jigs allow you to clamp the wood in the jig, support longer work pieces and connect to dust extractors.
- Clamp-on jigs are either dual or single hole and clamp to the work piece
If you haven’t used a pocket hole system before the first surprise is how much clamping you’ll need to do. Every single piece needs to be set, clamped, drilled, released and then (for most projects) clamped again for another set of holes.
Kreg realized that, and with the new lineup of the 720 and 520-pro has greatly simplified this needed task. Not to mention, these kits feature the best instructions, accessories and overall usability.
While my bench has a Kreg K5, the 720 Pro will be my next upgrade.
Compact and Portable
While an avid woodworker needs a more complex system, if your project is small and re-use to-be-determined; a simple clamp on jig is fine.
And Massca is a top woodworking brand with bits and accessories that you can use with some of their more advanced jigs.
There are dozens of reasons to own a larger, fixed based jig and a portable jig. From fixing an existing chair leg to installing trim on a job site a clamp-on style jig is always useful.
The Massca jig features a magnetic quick-adjust system, built-in thickness gauge and is easy to use with no need to compensate for workpiece thickness.
Sometimes simple is best.
While a standard pocket hole jig will work in most cases, if your everyday projects involve a pocket hole then upgrading to a pocket hole machine is a must.
Featuring dust collection, one step clamping and automated power on/off by moving the handle. Aided by clear markings on the table you’ll be able to precisely line-up your holes.
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. And, for different thicknesses of wood, the jig will adjust the hole up or down to allow for a longer screw to be used.
When choosing a pocket hole jig it is worth understand they actually come in many variations:
- Single or double hole jigs clamped to the work surface
- Pocket hole systems that clamp the workpiece
- And, pocket hole machines that are best for high volume production shops that speed through hundreds of holes in no-time
New Pocket Hole JIgs
Shown: KREG 720P POCKET HOLE KIT
In 2021 Kreg released a complete re-design of their popular pocket jigs. Included in this re-design were two jigs:
- Kreg 720P that enhanced clamping to a single action with their trademarked Automaxx system. For current users of the Kreg K4 and K5 this is the #1 feature to justify your next purchase.
- Kreg 520P takes portability of the clamp to a new level with a fully integrated clamp that makes the 520P an off-the-bench must have. Even if you own a current jig.
Kreg 520 vs 720
With the release of two jigs at the same time, Kreg has setup a woodworkers dilemma.
Which is best for my woodworking? While the cost and portability of the 520P is appealing the dust collection with the 720P is equally desirable.
So how do you decide? Well, consider:
- If you have dust collection and won’t be using your jig for plywood or on-the-go then go with the 720.
- However, if you plan to use your jig on portable (off the bench) projects and plywood edges go with the 520.
Of course, if you’re not sure, and have the budget these jigs aren’t meant to be one vs. the other. It’s ok to buy two.
Types of Pocket Hole Jigs
At first glance this should be easy because there can’t be more than a few varieties. Right?
Well, based on my use and research I have found over 18 different variations of pocket hole jigs that range from single hole jigs for under $20 up to $500 pocket jig workstations that are built for 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
Shown: KREG K4 POCKET SYSTEM 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
- Kreg K4 System
- Armor Auto-jig System
- Massca Pro M2 System
Single Pocket-Hole Jigs
Shown: KREG 310 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.
- 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 only downside? This jig is best for just a few holes. Any larger project will quickly make your realize a jig like the K5 is best.
Heavy Duty Pocket Hole Jigs
Looking for the best pocket hole jig for 2×4″ or similar joints? Well, there’s a jig for that. With a heavy duty jig you’ll be able to bore for a larger diameter screws and achieve 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.
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 (a Kreg jig alternative) 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
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:
- Secure the board with a red spacer against the previous board.
- Then, drill and screw the outside edge.
- Lastly, 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 the best pocket hole jig for your needs.
But first, let’s take a look at what features you should consider:
- Multiple drill guide holes for fast drilling of wide boards
- Integrated depth stop to allow fast drill depth setting
- Toggle clamp for fast clamping and high pressure
- Dust collection to remove the wood chips
- Imperial and metric measurements
- Heavy duty and micro jig support
- Easy to clamp to bench (or work surface)
- And of course, setup speed
Kreg 720-Pro [Best Overall]
- 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
- Lastly, an integrated stop block for repeat hole drilling
- Premium price (but features to justify)
- Plastic/composite construction
MASSCA M1 Pocket Hole Jig
- Aluminum block construction
- Dust control port
- Fast toggle clamp with large padded grip
- And, fast depth and drill bit collar indexing
- Lack ratchet and side storage of the Kreg 720-Pro (if desired)
Kreg Pocket-Hole Jig 320 - Best Pocket Hole Jig on a Budget
- 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
- Longer setup time versus a pocket hole system
- Requires a clamp (separate, $10-20)
Kreg Jig R3 - Best Portable Jig
- 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
- Lastly, this set includes drill bits, drive bit, locking collar and 5 sizes of screws stored in a handy case
- 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 (Professional)
- Premium Home Improvement: This 20-pound pocket-hole machine is portable and…
- Accurate Woodworking Tools: This pocket-hole jig has a tool-free adjustable…
- Versatile Carpentry tool: This angled-hole tool has 3 joint sizes that can…
- Convenient Workshop Accessories: The table hinges open for a hidden storage…
Last update on 2022-12-06 at 03:53 / Images from Amazon
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.
- 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
- And, for control of your workpiece a 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.
As you can guess, a standard trigger clamp is NOT a recommended alternative to a more powerful face clamp. With that, 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.
Which is why I like to try out a test scrap first, verify depth is correct and then proceed with drilling the projects holes.
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.
So, in this section we’ll explore a few accessories you’ll want to at least consider.
Face Clamp for Clamping Jigs and Leveling Surfaces
- Metal swivel pads to ensure no marring on your work piece
- 2in jaw capacity with 2.25in throat depth
- Thumb screw allows for quick and easy adjustment of jaw capacity
- Clamp on a variety of material thicknesses up to 2-1/4in (57mm)
Last update on 2022-12-06 at 11:23 / Images from Amazon
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 during drilling and screwing. In fact, most cabinet hardware jigs, concealed hinge jigs and drawer slide jigs make use of a face clamp.
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.
You guessed it. Most of the higher end pocket hole systems have a built-in dust collection port. And, 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.
Lastly, 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
Purchasing Pre-made Pocket Hole Plugs
Kreg offers five varieties of standard sized pocket plugs that can quickly cover your holes and allow matching species:
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.
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
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.
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 assembly time.
For more wood joint alternatives, be sure to check out the Festool DOMINO joint and alternatives.
Kreg Jig Alternative: Who Else Makes Pocket Hole Jigs?
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.
While budget and your projects will ultimately determine the best pocket hole jigs for your workshop, its best to also plan ahead in case your part time ambitions grow.
- About the Author
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.