Building Cabinets with Pocket-Hole Joinery

Building Cabinets with Pocket-Hole Joinery


Many production shops use pocket-hole joinery to build cabinets because it’s fast, easy, and efficient. You don’t need an armload of pipe clamps. There are no unsightly face-frame nail holes to fill. And you don’t have to wait for glue to dry before you move on to the next step.

All these advantages are a boon to the small home shop, too. In addition, pocket-hole joinery doesn’t require large, stationary machinery. Everything you need can be stored in a drawer.

Pocket holes are amazingly simple to make. All you need is a drill, a drilling jig and a special stepped drill bit. I’ll also share some techniques that make pocket-hole joinery easier than ever.

What is a Pocket Hole?

A pocket hole runs at a 15-degree angle. It’s created by a stepped drill bit guided by a jig (see Tip 1). The bit’s leading end makes a pilot hole; the rest of the bit enlarges the pilot hole to accept the screw’s head, forming a counterbore.

Pocket-hole joinery uses specialized screws. They’re hardened to prevent the screw from snapping and the head from stripping out. They have self-tapping ends, so you don’t have to drill another pilot hole into the mating piece. Screws with fine threads are designed for hardwoods. Screws with coarse threads are designed for softwoods, plywood, particleboard, and MDF. A combination thread is also available for general-purpose use. Pocket screws’ heads have a large, flat bottom to help pull the parts together.

Drill Holes Faster

My favorite new pocket-hole jig has a slick attachment for a vacuum hose. I can just hear you saying, “Who cares about a little drilling dust?” Well, I was skeptical, too, until I tried it. I can drill much faster with the vacuum attached because I don’t have to remove the bit to clear chips. In addition, the bit never clogs, and there’s no mess to clean up.

Use a Bench Clamp

Here’s a way to hold parts perfectly even and flat while you screw them together. It’s a locking-jaw clamp that fits into its own special plate. You can surface-mount the plate on a benchtop or a separate board. This device provides that third hand you’ve always wished for when trying to hold pieces in place and screw them together at the same time. The edges of the plate help you keep the pieces aligned as you screw them together.

Clamp Near the Screw

When parts have to fit just so—for example, when you’re attaching a hardwood fip to a shelf, as shown here—it’s best to clamp as close to the screw as you can. In these situations, I drill two holes side by side. I put a specialized Kreg Right Angle Clamp in one hole and drive the screw in the other. This locking clamp has one round jaw that fits right into a pocket hole.

Assemble an Entire Cabinet

You can use pocket screws when you r4 fasten and glue all the parts of a plywood cabinet, even the top rails. You don’t have to fumble with pipe clamps or protect the cabinet’s sides from clamp dents. The only trick is to figure out—in advance—where the holes will go so they won’t show.
34 I How to Make Kitchen Cabinets

Assemble Drawers in Minutes

Drawer boxes are quickly and easily assembled using pocket holes. Drill the holes on the front and back pieces of the box. Then cover the holes with an attached front.

Use 1-in.-long pan-head screws for 1/2- to 5/8-in.-thick sides. These short screws have small heads, which dig in an extra 1/16 in. when you drive them. Set the drilling depth 1/16 in. shallower than you would for longer screws.

Attach a Face Frame

When you’re using clamps, face frames are a pain in the neck to glue on a cabinet—you’ll wish you had three arms! Pocket holes make the job a lot easier, because the screws do the clamping. For easier alignment, it sure helps to use a Right Angle Clamp.

Because this side won’t show when I install the cabinet, I’m putting the pocket holes on the outside. On a finished side, drill the holes inside the cabinet.

Assemble a Tricky Corner

Slanted corners look great on plywood cabinets, but they are a real bear to assemble. Where do you put the clamps? It’s much easier to let pocket screws do the work by drawing the pieces together without clamps.

This method uses a strip of hardwood, rather than just the plywood panels, to form the corner. Using a hardwood strip offers two benefits. First, a solid piece of hardwood is much more durable than plywood veneer. Second, aligning the parts isn’t as fussy. You plane, rout, or sand the strip’s overhanging point after the joint is assembled (see photo, right). You can’t do that with plywood.

To make this joint, rip an angled edge on a hardwood strip. The strip must be at least 1 in. wide for a 135-degree corner. Fasten the strip to panel A with 1-in.-long pocket screws. Drill pocket holes in panel B and assemble the corner. Trim the point flush.

Install Bottoms and Shelves

You don’t have to fuss with dadoes or rabbets when you use pocket screws to join bottoms and shelves. Drill holes on the underside to keep them out of sight. I use two Right Angle Clamps and drill the outer holes in pairs. During assembly, I work from the outside in. I align the shelf by putting clamps in the innermost side-by-side holes, and then put screws in the other holes.

If You Can’t Hide ‘Em, Plug ‘Ern

No doubt about it, a cabinet full of pocket-screw holes doesn’t look attractive. If the holes will show, you sure won’t want to drill them on the cabinet’s outside. They should go inside instead, where you can fill them with plugs. Premade tapered plugs are available in seven different wood species. Glue them in the holes and sand them flush. For melamine cabinets, use plastic plugs. Their caps cover the holes so sanding is unnecessary. You can also use plastic ‘Mugs in wood cabinets.

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