Can you make pocket holes without a jig?

Can you make pocket holes without a jig?

Whenever I use my pocket hole jig I get
a few comments asking why do you actually need the jig at all? Can’t you
just drive the screws in at an angle? Yes you most certainly can but to get strong
joints the answer is a bit more involved hi my name is Steve and this is
woodworking for mere mortals the channel dedicated to helping beginning
woodworkers get started on the right foot just a reminder my second more
advanced level online woodworking course Powered Up is now open
full-time if you are curious about the types of skills you’ll learn I’ve got a
benchtop router table I’d like for you to build and it help you decide if this
course is right for you or if the weekend woodworker course is a better fit
download free plans cut lists and get access to the first of seven highly
detailed instructional videos at it’s pretty cool to
see all the amazing router tables that people have been making. First it’s
helpful to understand how pocket whole joinery works and why it creates such a
strong connection some of this I’ve covered before and if you are brand new
to using pocket holes be sure to check out my pocket hole basics video there’s
a link down in the description and so you know this video is not sponsored by
Kreg or anyone else Kreg is just the brand of pocket hole jig that I use
pocket hole joinery is used in places where driving a screw straight on is
impractical or even impossible often this is when you need to join pieces at
a right angle or flat pieces that would require a really long screw for example
it’s tempting to but join these two boards together by drilling a screw in
through the face grain of one board and into the end grain of the other the
problem here is that the end grain of a board has very little holding power the
screw is going into the wood the same direction that the fibers run so I’m not
going to lie and say that this is always a bad idea so that you don’t need a lot
of holding power say on decorative objects and screwing into the ingrain
works just fine but on furniture or other projects that will be subjected to
a lot of weight or handling or movement those screws will eventually loosen up
to the point where they kind of get stripped and you just can’t tighten them
any longer you may run across this on maybe some inexpensive cabinet drawers
that get a lot of used and eventually they just come apart and you just can’t
tighten them up aside from traditional woodworking
joinery techniques such as mortise and Tenon’s dovetails or box joints driving
a screw at an angle face grain into face grain is an easy and effective solution
to avoiding end grain and getting strong connections another common use is when
you need to join two wide boards together say to make a face frame if you
wanted to drive a screw into the end grain of one board it would require a
really long screw and driving it in straight would be challenging a pocket
hole is just a regular hole that’s drilled into a board at an angle but at
its mouth there’s a much wider diameter hole that goes partially through the
wood creating a flat bottom looking at this cross section you can see that it’s
kind of like a flat bottom cylinder with a hole in the bottom it’s this feature
that’s critical to how a pocket hole gets its strength
typically this hole is drilled with a specialized step bit that drills the
narrow part of the hole and the wide part of the hole at the same time it’s
important to note that this hole only bores into one board not the receiving
board but the pocket hole is just one half of the equation the other half is
the pocket screw a pocket screw is a specialty screw that has a wide flat
underside to its head this is the part that sits in that flat bottom pocket
this is critical for the pocket hole joinery to work the head and the flat
shoulder of the hole create a lot of surface area for the screw to pull the
two boards together the other unique component of a pocket screw is its self
tapping point basically the tip of each screw acts
as a drill bit and helps the screw bore into the receiving board and draw the
two pieces tightly together this is important since the pocket hole is only
drilled into the first board no I’ve seen some advocates for simply forgoing
the pocket hole altogether and just driving screws in at an angle this is
called toe nailing even though screws are used in this case this is a common
traditional method for pounding nails into wall studs to attach them to a sole
plate when you’re framing out a wall this is worked well for this kind of
construction because walls are most subjected to a downward force not
side-to-side except in the case of an earthquake of course furniture is a
different story and each connection can be subjected to forces and movement in
many directions to toe nail boards together without any pocket hole jig
just started drilling a hole downward to get it started then tip your drill at an
angle toward the other board you’ll still want to clamp the pieces together
when you drive the screw in place to keep them from slipping apart but there
are a couple of problems here mostly this is a weak connection not much
stronger than simply drilling into the end grain first you have to use a
regular tapered head screw so that the head can sit below the surface and
without that flat shoulder and flat head of a pocket screw to draw the two pieces
together this joint is substantially weaker also the board is more likely to
split since it’s near the end of the board and the screw head
kind of acts as a wedge second it’s difficult to drill angled holes at
consistent angles you might end up with the screw entering the receiving board
hitting into very little material third it’s difficult to know when to stop
driving this screw it’ll never really feel fully tight you might just plow all
the way through in general I don’t recommend toe nailing screws for
woodworking projects you sure can’t make pocket holes without a jig I’ll leave it
to you to decide whether it’s worth it you just need to drill an angled hole
then drill a wider hole start by totaling the small hole just like I
showed before drill straight down then tip the drill at an angle trying to get
the bit to exit as close as possible to the center of the board’s thickness
follow this up with a wider bit to make the pocket and this is the trickiest
part mostly you have to be careful not to drill it too deep or the screw will
go in too far you can now use regular pocket screws but it might not be as
strong since you won’t have that nice flat shoulder in the pocket this method
will take some practice to get it right but it is viable if you only have a
couple of pocket holes to make it might be worth it but this would be very
time-consuming if you had a whole bunch of pocket holes to make another thing
you could try is just to use the specialty stepped bit all by itself just
gonzo style without a jig again this will take some practice to achieve
consistency just make sure you stop drilling as soon as the tip of the drill
bit pokes through probably the best budget solution and a great compromise
is to get one of these mini pocket hole jig this one comes with the drill bit
and it only cost about 20 bucks it takes longer to use because you have to clamp
it in place for each hole but you’ll get clean accurate holes if you only have the occasional pocket
hole to make you might want to save some money and use one of these alternative
methods what a pocket hole jig will give you is accuracy precision and
consistency if I had a lot of pocket holes to make it would really be a
pain to have to make those by hand and it would just be so much more
time-consuming and while I am completely an advocate for saving money and as
hobbyists we’re not usually in any kind of a hurry in our shops this is one of
those instances where I prefer to use a tool that will save me from just that
monotony and tedium worrying about making the proper angle and how deep to
drill on every single hole just seems frustrating but hey ultimately if you
want to avoid mechanical fasteners altogether start exploring the world of
traditional woodworking joinery learning how to cut dovetails or make mortise and
tenon joints is a time-honored pursuit that you actually might enjoy

100 Replies to “Can you make pocket holes without a jig?”

  1. Thanks Steve. Great expanation as always. I have done all of the non-jig methods you mention plus one that I use for attaching small table tops on occassion. That's making the pocket with a gouge and chisel on the back of a stringer, pre-drilling, then driving the screw into the top. Tedious, but effective. I bought a Kreig jig today after I decided to replace my 40 year old hodge-podge of shop cabinets. The thought of that many dados and rabbets was just too much for a shop project. You've been a great resource and to me ….. even though I've been a weekend woodworker for 40 years. Thanks again.

  2. Hi Steve! Great vid! I started off with one of those Kreg minis and at the time was amazed at what I could do with it. However, it quickly became tedious because of all the clamping as well as having to remember and measure the setbacks you would need to clamp the jig for different wood thicknesses. Not having a proper face clamp didn't help either. Eventually I got a face clamp which gave a boost in enthusiasm. However, the absolute best for me was when I finally bought a K4 system. With the K4 it really makes woodworking fun again. I can't recommend the K4 enough. Also, I finally got a corner clamp that has the pin end to fit in the pocket hole. So now I'm all set with my jig, clamps and the last thing that really made a marked improvement, using actual pocket screws!
    Thanks again for all your vids!

  3. Hope you're recovering from whatever you've done to your left wrist, it looks really sore in the video. Btw I was at the UK Maker Central [ getting spray painted by 'that' Diresta guy ] however, I picked up a Triton double-hole mini pocket-hole jig and lots of pocket screws too. I've been totally amazed at the holding power, as I was always suspicius of the claims, but now I'm sold. I think, like you, I shall always feel the need to add a drop of woodglue too, but I can recommend this type of fixing and lets not fart about – buy a jig – if only the mini one, its worth it!

  4. I’ll never understand the allure of pocket holes and fasteners. I’m a millennial, but call me old school when it comes to woodworking. I’m a purist and tend to not use any metal hardware in my joinery. I prefer to use the tried and true biscuit and clamp method.

  5. Can we use a metal washer (of the same size as the pocket) under a normal screw instead of the speciality pocket screw? Would it give a proper hold?

  6. Your tips on pocket holes have help a lot just made a large book shelf with pocket holes in to the 4×4 post

  7. You know I'm so glad I use the Kreg Pocket Jole Jigs at school because those are so much easier to do than the toenailing and plus toenailing takes much longer to make so that's why I ain't doing it ever in my life.

  8. Ok. Ok freaking out. I just did this today- using my kreg bit to make pocket holes because the jig wouldn't fit for the remodeling built in that i was working in. 2out of3 didn't work, so this makes sense. But they did, just more epoxy filler. Point being- i just did this today- and this comes up in my feed. ….what?The?f?

  9. I’m a beginner, and have seen these jigs in the store and thought “what an expensive waste of money”. There is no way I will learn traditional joinery just yet, as I’ve got too many other crafts on the go, so your video has helped me to understand the pros & cons of these jigs. And judging by the comment section, nobody regrets buying one of these “expensive” (nope) great value pieces of kit! Cheers!

  10. Screws at an angle are not pocket holes. Pocket holes are fake and gay.

    -This post made my Mathias Wandel gang

  11. Great channel Steve!! You have sparked the fire for my enjoyment of woodworking. Starting off with the Folding Saw Horses!!! Just grabbed a used Table saw from my neighbor and building a cross cut JIG this weekend. Thanks for the videos!! Cheers!!

  12. Lol perfect timing.. I tried to do it yesterday. But the drill wouldn’t even go through the wood 🙄

  13. This is the second most scariest video I have seen this week the other one was on tested keep up the good work we all depend on you

  14. Another way of making the pocket holes is to chisel an agled groove into the wood. I found this when salvaging the wood from an old wardrobe: they had edge jointed two boards to make the wide panels and had used pocket hole joinery to do so, and it was all hand chiselled (and then the pockets were filled with putty).

  15. As a wood worker it's important to understand when and where pocket holes are a better option than other means of joinery. For those who want to follow tradition and not use metal fasteners dowel jigs, dove tales, biscuits and of course the mortis and tennon joinery are all great skills to learn. In some cases the alternative to a pocket hole can be quite expensive when it comes to things like the the Festul domino, and the complexity of tools like the panter router might scare a would be wood worker away from ever starting a project. Wood workers are problem solvers and pocket holes are just another tool in the bag of tricks to get things done, even at the expense of "tradition". If breaking tradition wasn't a thing we would all still mowing our lawns with a scythe and using stairs vs elevators.

  16. or skip this altogether, drill a bigger hole (than for a screw) and ram a dowel in there. Sometimes, I don't even use glue as it'd make the fit too tight.

  17. Before I started to watching woodworking videos I never heard of pocket holes. They seem to be very "American". Just like air guns.

  18. If you're going to use the freehand method, it's safer to drill the pilot hole from the center of the edge of the board rather than the face. The position of the hole in the face is less critical.

  19. I got the mini kreg jig. Works great and I love it for pocket holes.
    Also the screw design makes a big difference. The wide flat bottom of the screw head on kreg pocket hole screws has a lot more holding power then the tapered self counter sinking screw heads on the deck screws. The self counter sinking is great except when you need holding power. The head was made to bore into wood and that’s what it does under load. Even when you don’t necessarily want it to.

  20. For the pocket holes without a jig maybe start the small bit from the end grain side so you can easily make sure it was centered

  21. Before I bought my Kreg I made my own jig, just a small piece of pipe put into a block of wood at an angle then I used two regular bits I started with the big bit then drilled the smaller hole in the middle of those bigger holes, worked like a charm. Oh and if you are very careful, you can get away with drywall screws, I don't suggest this method but in a pinch you can get by with them.

  22. When I first became aware of the pocket hole jig I decided to save money and build my own. I had never used this method before and didn't think I'd use it much so I couldn't justify the cost of the Kreg jig. The key is the stepped bit, so I knew I had to buy that. At the store I was surprised to see that the kreg mini jig came with the bit and only cost $10 more than the bit alone. After only one project I was sold on pocket holes (in the right situations). I gave up my plan to build one when I saw the Harbor Freight version was less than the parts I needed. I'm sold.

  23. Great video Steve! Thanks! You inspired me to by my first pocket hole jig, and i chose one from Kreg Tools. Later i've tried the Armor Tool jigs, and now I prefer their Pocket hole jigs. 😉 Looking forward to more vids from you Steve!! Best regards from Norway!

  24. For those of you that wondered if you could pocket hold freehand, it's probably because you don't want to spend $100 on a Kreg jig (understandable). Harbor Freight has one that, if you use a 25% off coupon, you can get for $48.

  25. Another good reason to buy a pocket hole jig–you might snap the drill bit if you drill straight down and then try to angle the bit. You would probably spend more money replacing bits than if you would have just bought a jig in the first place.

  26. I used to hate the thought of pocket screws but as my life has become busier and my time in the shop less, pocket screws have become my friend when the application calls for it. Yeah I’d love to spend all day setting up tools for joints but when I can do it in the fraction of a fraction of the time the pocket hole is the way to go.

  27. how can I put a screw through a pocket hole in a fisher plug
    in wall for example Thanks I follow you Steve

  28. Hi. I am planning to make a sim racing cockpit out of 3/4 inch plywood and the only tools I have are a circular saw and a drill. I also have a very limited budget. I was wondering if normal butt joints through the plywood would be strong enough or do I really need to get a pocket hole jig? Thanks

  29. I started with the Kreg minijig when I first got started making pocket holes. Once I graduated to larger projects that required 30-40 pocketholes, I invested in the larger stationary one. The minijig was an excellent inexpensive starting point, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to get started with pocket holes but doesn't want to splurge on a stationary jig.

  30. Long construction screws can reduce the chances of screws pulling out. Just understand you're compensating for the end grain by increasing the surface area of the screw. Also construction screws are still technically cheaper than pocket hole screws.

  31. I use that single Kreg pocket jig more than I want. It's so handy to put in tight places where you may have not had the foresight to see the need for a pocket hole before something got assembled.

    Micro jig no more? I looked them up. Pretty spendy for a push block. For $20 it would be worth it imo.

  32. I know Steve likes the Kreg jig, but I bought the one from Harbor Freight and it is very nice and about half the price, especially if you use one of the 20% off coupons.

  33. cuting a piece of wood and glue it perpendicular to the receiving piece, so you can have two face grain to hold these wood together. Those pocket jigs kits are very expensive

  34. Hey steve I visited your website and I am also sceptical about those 15000+ plans bundles…buuut I saw one on your site 👀 I trust my elders… is it just a bogus ad?

  35. i almost bought the kreg 4 whilst in the USA bought was talked out of it. however should have watched this first and would have changed my mind

  36. I just use GRK Multi Purpose screws of equivalent size. Works just as well and its less screw types taking up space.

  37. If you're searching for a practical substitute for a pocket hole jig, do yourself a favor and don't. Invest in one, and I promise you won't regret it. The time, convenience, and consistency will speak for itself.

  38. @Steve Ramsey I've been watching your older videos, as I'm fairly new to WWMM and woodworking in general. I am sorry to remind you of this video but I have just watched "My left ear" after passing over it more than once not knowing what it was about. I would like to say that you are a massive inspiration to me, as I know you are to many and after seeing that video I am only further inspired by and thankful for the videos you share. Thank you. Dom.

  39. I go the pocket hole jig every time. It was one of my first purchases as a novice woodworker and I have not regretted it. Great video Steve 👍😎🇦🇺

  40. Have you ever heard of a mortise and tenon joint, "NO" l suggest you go and find out all about then…here in England guess what , we've been successfully using them for more than two thousand yrs….with not a piece of metal in sight , sheer fucking laziness

    English Mik.

  41. I have used the Kreg steped drill bit to free hand pocket holes. It has the advantage of leaving the flat bottomed hole. I have also used it just counter sink screws.

  42. Well, I ended up with you popping up on my computer as videos were changing. You are not only very educational, but very easy to follow. My kid wanted me to play more of your videos because she enjoyed listening to you, too. Great job!

  43. I agree entirely with your overall conclusion, but disagree on the best way to drill pocket holes without a jig. Drill the small diameter hole starting from the end where the screw will emerge. It's easier to start in the right spot, and to control the angle. Drill the pocket either as you show, or with a larger bit (forstner?) At a right angle to the first.

  44. I'm a novice and new to woodworking, i love you videos, so well explained and you make things make sense. please keep doing these.

  45. Question: Both the Ridgid RS45171 and the Kobalt KT1015 are $199 this week. The kobalt has a stand. Any thoughts on which is the better saw for a DIY homeowner? Thanks in advance.

  46. before i knew pocket screwing, i did a toenailing, without even know what i was doing. it came out perfect, and then i discovered pocket screwing, and from that time i ket seeing people incapable of doing toenailing. i'm not going to show myself out, but i feel proud of my hand i though able only to do pubg

  47. Hi Steve do you remember what size ( wide ) the dado blade you used on the jig for finger joints? It looked like 1/4'' wide.

  48. Start with a 3/8 speedbore about 1inch away from the joint. Start the drill at 90 degrees then rock it back to around 45 degrees while it is spinning. We used this method long before there were any jigs available. We use Kreg and Castle pocket holes now, but we did it the old way for many, many years.

  49. Hey Steve I’m wondering if you could help me out niece is going through intense physio sessions to try to walk again after a spine operation I made two hand rails for her to walk/lean on although I’m struggling to find a strong fix to make them stand strong enough that they don’t sway or fall over as she’s not got very much strength to keep upright..a way to have the rails stand but also be able to pull apart & store? Hopefully you see this I’m stuck 😩 thank you.

  50. Quick question for you. I am redoing my front door. I watched your finishing video.

    We were looking at teak oil as a finish because it is superior to UV? We want to keep a wood look so we figured an oil based finish would be best.

    Any opinions? Thank you

  51. Steve you have such a good channel, but it is a real pity it is let down by poor audio. Could you perhaps at least think about getting a microphone closer to your mouth? A lot of the time you are doing a talking head style of delivery, where a cabled lapel mic would no inconvenience. When moving around, you could maybe hang a lavalier or similar from the ceiling. With so many subscribers and views, you could invest in a mid range radio mic. Just something to think about. I've just watched a longish old video of yours, and it got painful by the end. 🙁

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