Common pocket hole joinery mistakes


Pocket holes can be a very strong form of joinery. However, many pocket hole joints are not created correctly, thus making them a weaker joint.

In this article, I will go over the 11 most common pocket hole mistakes and how to avoid them. Afterwards, I will go over some tips and tricks to creating a strong pocket hole joint.

11 most common pocket hole mistakes

Many pocket hole joints are not assembled correctly because pocket hole joints are a very simple form of joinery that many woodworkers learn early. Beginner woodworkers also tend make small mistakes that greatly decrease the strength of their pocket hole joints.

The 11 most common pocket hole mistakes are

  1. Drilling pocket holes into end grain
  2. Not clamping the wood
  3. Not using actual wood measurements
  4. Not using wood glue
  5. Not using pocket hole screws
  6. Using incorrect pocket hole screw length
  7. Overtightening
  8. Pocket hole screws in the wrong direction
  9. Dull pocket hole drill bits
  10. Using MDF board
  11. Not using a pocket hole jig

Drilling pocket holes into end grain

End grain wood is the wood at the end of the board while the edge grain is on the sides of the board.

You should never drill pocket holes into end grain wood.

The reason why pocket hole joints are not strong in end grain wood is because the end grain cannot support screws.

Imagine you have twigs that are tightly bound. If you put a stick in the side of the twigs you will have a much harder time twisting the twig out in relation to putting the stick in the in the end of the twigs.

You should always drill pocket holes in the edge or face grain, but never the end grain of wood.

Not clamping the wood

If you do not clamp the wood as you are drilling your pocket hole screws in, you are very likely to have uneven or unaligned wood.

This is because, once the screw touches the other wood piece it marks the spot where the screw will go in.

Even if you try to keep the wood aligned as you are drilling the screw in, the wood will likely shift in the end.

By clamping the wood, you will ensure that the screw will drill in the right location to prevent the wood joint form being unaligned.

Not using actual wood measurements

One of the BIGGEST mistakes that woodworkers do when creating pocket hole joints is not using the actual wood measurements.

I actually made this mistake for 2 years. I just used shorter screws to compensate, which worked for the most part, but my pocket hole joinery was not as strong as it could have been.

The wood you buy is not the same size as advertised. 1×4 wood is actually 3/4 by 3 1/2, 2×2 wood is actually 1 1/2 by 1 1/2, and 2×4 wood is actually 1 1/2 by 2 1/2. For plywood, 1/4-inch-thick wood is actually 7/32 inches, 3/8 is actually 11/32 inches, 1/2″ is actually 15/32 inches, and 3/4″ is actually 23/32 inches.

As a result, you would like to adjust the dial on the drill bit to be slightly shorter. For a 1×4 piece of wood you will adjust the diel to 3/4″ and for 2×4 you will adjust it to 1 1/2 “. For plywood, you will need to adjust the diel to be slightly shorter than 3/4″, but greater than 1/2″.

Not using wood glue

Using wood glue will make a world of difference in your pocket hole joint as with any joinery type.

Well-crafted traditional joinery like mortise and tenon joints may be able to get away with not using wood glue. However, pocket hole joints are just not as strong.

Using wood glue in pocket hole joints can be the difference from a really strong joint and a average one.

Not using pocket hole screws

You have to use pocket hole screws to prevent the pocket hole from splitting.

I know, pocket hole screws are more expensive. But you need at a fully flat head screw when creating pocket hole joints.

Traditional screw heads are angles, so the screw can drill into the wood and not make the joint as strong as it could be.

Additionally, the heads of traditional screws are more likely to break in denser wood types.

Using incorrect pocket hole screw length

Too small pocket hole screws will not drill into the other board far enough and will cause a weak joint.

Too long pocket hole screws will drill through the other side of the wood.

Overtightening

Even though pocket hole screws are not supposed to drill through the pocket hole like traditional wood screws, it is still possible if you over tighten the screws.

Overtightening the screws can result in the screw drilling through the pocket hole and messing up your joint.

Pocket hole screws in the wrong direction

The side of the wood that you put your pocket hole screws are extremely important, for both aesthetics and strength.

Of course, you do not want to make your pocket holes visible. Additionally, you do not want your pocket holes screws angles on the edge on the board.

You drill a pocket hole screws at an angle. You do not want your pocket hole screws to be angled like this.

This is a weak joint because of the orientation of the screws. Instead, you want your pocket hole screws to be angled this way.

Dull pocket hole drill bits

Dull drill bits not only result on jagged wood edges, but it also increases your chances of error. It is harder to drill into and is more likely to split certain wood types.

Using MDF board

Because of the properties of MDF board, it is not suitable for pocket hole joinery.

Drilling into any face for MDF board is equivalent to drilling into the end grain of wood.

Dowels and dados and fasteners are more suitable for MDF board.

Not using a pocket hole jig

Not using a pocket hole jig to create pocket holes is easy to mess up.

For beginners, I recommend getting an inexpensive Kreg pocket hole jig to ensure you make strong pocket holes with screws in the right direction.

This is budget end Kreg pocket hole jig that I used my first year woodworking.

Purchase the budget pocket hole jig: Amazon link

I actually upgraded to this Kreg jig for faster joinery and its ease of use.

Purchase the upgraded pocket hole jig: Amazon link

To learn about the pros and cons to this jig and if it is worth the money, then you should check out my article here.

Bonus: Make strong pocket holes

I went over all of the mistakes that you can avoid to make a correct pocket hole joint. However, there are also tricks that you can use to make exceptionally strong pocket hole joints

Put pocket holes on both sides of wood

In addition to correctly creating a pocket hole joint with wood glue, you can create a very strong pocket hole joint by creating pocket holes on both sides of the wood.

Only do this if you are creating 3 or more pocket holes and it is best to stagger the pocket holes.

This method will be very strong because you will have the screws grabbing the wood in both directions, thus making the joint strong to push and pull force.

Conclusion

In this article we discussed the 11 most common mistakes that woodworkers make when creating pocket holes and some tips and tricks to making stronger pocket hole joints

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!

Rachel

My name is Rachel Blanding and I am a woodworker. I started woodworking at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I mainly create and refurbish furniture and create art. In this site I will share with you the knowledge I have gained over the years, and what worked for me and what didn't.

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