|If there's a faster, simpler, and stronger joinery method than
pocket holes and screws, we'd like to see it. Using pocket-hole joinery,
glue-ups are virtually clamp-free whether you're edge-joining boards for
a tabletop, assembling a face frame, or building a drawer. (If you're
not familiar with the technique, check out the pocket-hole primer on
So, what about the jigs that make pocket holes possible? We gathered 18 models selling for $10 to $800, put them to the test, and found what characteristics— besides price—separate them. Now, we're prepared to name the Top Tools and Top Values in four price ranges.
What makes a good pocket-hole jig?
Drill guides. These steel tubes guide the drill bit at an angle as you cut the pocket hole, and the constant reaming by a sharp bit can take its toll. Several jigs showed signs of scoring inside the guides after boring about 40 pocket holes, suggesting they'll wear faster than those without scoring. And, although some steel shavings from the guides are acceptable for the first few holes while the bit and guide break in together, the Rockier 21296 (above right) continued to spit out metal well into our tests.
Pocket holes usually are made in pairs, so a jig with two drill guides saves you time if you can drill both pockets with only one setup. For making 1 1/2" face frames, we find 7/8" spacing between the holes to be perfect, and most of the two-guide jigs deliver.
Several jigs are adjustable to increase the spacing for wider workpieces, but only two—the Task Pro Center 06250 and Kreg K2—can go narrower. Of course, for spacing above or below the ranges shown in the chart on page 64, you simply move the jig, and drill the pockets individually. Portability. A less-portable jig isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's merely a question of whether you bring the jig to the workpiece (as you would do for a large or built-in project), or the workpiece to the jig. Low-cost jigs without built-in clamps tend to work better on large projects: They're smaller and easier to clamp in tight spacesthan the more-expensive benchtop jigs. However, most are awkward to use on a benchtop (except for Pock'It, which, with its flat bottom and built-in clamp, is similar to the more-expensive benchtop jigs). When you can bring the work to the jig, most benchtop jigs (priced $70 and up) have built-in clamps that make positioning and securing the workpiece fast and easy. These jigs also typically have a stop to positively locate the workpiece on the jig.
Adjustability for stock thickness.
All of the pocket-hole makers in our test are designed to center the screw-exit hole in 3/4" stock. Can you work thinner or thicker pieces? Sure, within about !/s" or so, but the screw won't be centered in the end or edge of the workpiece—it isn't a problem, but it's not ideal, either.
A few readily adjust to bore centered holes in 1/2" stock, a common thickness for drawer sides. The Kreg Rocket and ProPack come with spacer blocks that change the placement of the holes to accommodate 1/2"- and 1 1/2"-thick stock. They're easy to install, but also easy to misplace. CMT's Pocket Pro (see photo below left) is the only jig with positive stops for ten thicknesses of material from 1/2" to 1 5/8".
"Pluggability." Although most pocket holes will be hidden inside cabinets and beneath tables, there may be times when they show. You can plug them with dowels, and some manufacturers sell specially cut dowel segments, or you can make them yourself.
To help the plugs blend in, you want a pocket hole free of tear-out, and most of the jigs delivered acceptable results when boring with the grain. Cross-grain cuts (such as you might make when edge-joining a panel or tabletop) were a different story, especially for the $20-and-under crowd. The Kreg Mini, shown at lower right, and the Pock'It were the only low-cost jigs that left us with a pluggable pocket across the grain.
Two of the most expensive pocket-hole makers cut unpluggable holes, but for different reasons. Because the Porter-Cable 552 creates a curved pocket (see photos, above right), a dowel won't do the trick. FaceMaker 500 leaves the pocket screw slightly proud of the workpiece, so you can't hide it with a plug.
Top-dollar jigs uniquely suited to production pros
Once you try pocket-hole joinery, you might find yourself addicted to the ease and speed of assembling projects. (Some pocket-hole-obsessed craftsmen actually boast about the number of pocket holes in their projects!) The $330+ jigs are designed for high-productivity shops with budgets to match, but we thought you might like to know about them in case you're ready to take the next step.
Kreg's two entries in this price category bore pockets in the same basic manner as the least expensive jigs, but they automate at least part of the process. The K200 consists of a drill chuck and bit guided by a pair of spring-loaded plunge rods, and a pedal-activated pneumatic clamp. Mount your own power drill to the K200's chuck, position your workpiece on the jig, and step on the pedal to clamp it in place. Then drill the pocket as usual.
The Kreg Foreman, on the other hand, is an automatic, entirely pneumatic pocket-hole machine. Position the workpiece flat on the Foreman's table (two flip stops provide excellent repeatability), and pull the lever forward. In a flash, a clamp secures the workpiece, and the step drill bit bores the pocket from below. The whole process takes less than 2 seconds.
Porter-Cable's 552 takes an unusual two-step tack to pocket holes. After manually clamping the workpiece to its tabletop, you push a lever forward, and then pull it back. Each action creates part of the pocket hole, as shown above.
Expect longer bit life from the automated and semi-automated jigs from Kreg and P-C. Machine-guided bits drill straighter and with less stress on the cutting flutes than human-guided bits.
FaceMaker, designed specifically for face-frame construction, is more an assembly jig than a true pocket-hole jig. Insert two frame pieces to be joined, and self-centering clamps position them for drilling. After drilling the pocket holes, you drive the screws right through the guide holes without unclamping the assembly. The process works well, but seems antiquated by the standards of other pocket-hole jigs in this price range.
|The guides on Rockler's 21296 didn't hold up well in our test. Even after boring more than 50 pocket holes, we still found steel shavings among the wood chips.||Porter-Cable's 552 swings a straight router bit up into the workpiece to create an arch-shaped pocket (top). Then, a drill bit plunges into the end to create the screw pilot hole (bottom).|
|Whether you're making pocket holes in 1/2"-thiñk drawer sides (right), 1 5/8"-thick bed rails (left), or something in between, the Pocket Pro easily adjusts to any 1/8" increment within that range.|
Our picks of the pocket makers in four price ranges
Sometimes, the original is still the best, and Kreg Tools pulled off an amazing, unprecedented sweep of our top recommendations in all four price categories.
|■ $ 10—$40 . The Kreg
Mini cut the cleanest pocket holes and comes with a step drill bit and a
lifetime replacement warranty on the guide, so we named it the Top
Value. Nothing else comes close in this price range.
||■ $65—$80. The Kreg Rocket combines the portability of lower-priced jigs with the capacity and performance of more expensive models to earn Top Tool honors in this price category.|
|■ $ 100—$ 150. Got a little more money in the budget? The Kreg ProPack earned high marks in our test, and comes with everything you need to put a pocket hole almost anywhere (including the Mini, Rocket, and K200 benchtop model). So, the ProPack is our Top Tool in this price range.||■ $330—$800. Of the
high-dollar models, we'd take the Kreg Foreman, which couldn't be easier
to use. This Top Tool, however,
is also at the top of the price range, and requires an air compressor that can deliver
I 5.3 cfm at 90 psi.
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