So you’re thinking about making pocket holes, are you? Great choice! Pocket holes are the foundation of most DIY furniture, which means learning how to use a Kreg jig is an essential skill in this DIY world. It’s not too complicated, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
In this post we’ll cover more than just how to use a Kreg jig. We’ll also discuss what pocket holes are, when to use them, when not to use them, and a quick note about which screws to use.
- What are Pocket Holes?
- What’s the Purpose of a Kreg Jig?
- Required Tools:
- Parts of a Kreg Jig
- How to Use a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
- Quick Note about Pocket Hole Screws
- When to Use Pocket Holes
- When to NOT Use Pocket Holes
- Continue Learning About Pocket Holes and Kreg Jig Best Practices
- How to Use a Kreg Jig Summary
What are Pocket Holes?
A pocket hole is a hole drilled at an angle that forms a pocket to hide a screw head.
It’s a great way to join two boards together because you can strategically position your pocket holes so that you can’t see the screw at all. If you were to just drill in from the side, you’d be able to see the screw head unless you covered it up.
We love to use pocket holes in our DIY furniture projects because they create strong joints and are very simple to make using a Kreg pocket hole jig.
What’s the Purpose of a Kreg Jig?
The purpose of a Kreg pocket hole jig is to make pocket holes quickly and consistently. Sure, you can try to drill pocket holes without a jig, but it would be more time consuming and a lot more difficult to get the perfect angle every time.
If you haven’t picked out a pocket hole jig yet, be sure to check out our full comparison of different Kreg jig models and which one we recommended.
- Kreg pocket hole jig (any model) – click here for a free cheatsheet on the differences between each of the models.
Parts of a Kreg Jig
Regardless of which model you have, every Kreg Jig has a few of the same key features.
- Drill bit – you’ll use this to drill pocket holes
- Drill bit collar – you’ll adjust the placement of this collar on your drill bit to control how deep you drill into your wood
- Depth gauge/Hex wrench – this helps you loosen and tighten the drill bit collar and also helps you determine which settings to use.
- Square head driver – you’ll use this bit in your drill when driving screws into the pocket hole
- The jig itself, complete with depth settings*
*The Kreg 720 does not have depth settings on the jig itself. Instead, it auto-adjusts based on the thickness of the wood!
The 520PRO and 720 models also have a built-in clamp.
How to Use a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
Now that we know the basic features of a Kreg jig, let’s talk about how to actually use it. Though each model has its own nuances, the basic
Step 1: Measure the Thickness of Your Wood
First, you need to measure the thickness of the wood that you’re drilling into. The actual thickness of the wood is what determines all of the settings you will use on your Kreg jig.
And note that I said actual thickness. Though a 1×2 sounds like it would be 1” thick, it’s actually only ¾” thick, meaning you would use the ¾” settings on your Kreg jig.
So what if you don’t already know how thick your wood is? Grab the depth gauge that came with your Kreg jig and place it against the edge of the wood. Whatever slot the edge of your wood falls in, those are the settings you are going to use.
If your thickness falls in the “i” range, check out this post that details Kreg jig depth settings.
Step 2: Set Drill Bit Collar
Now that we know the thickness of the wood and therefore the settings we’re using, it’s time to set the drill bit collar.
Slide the collar onto the drill bit and move it until it circles the setting that corresponds with your wood thickness. Once circled, use the Hex wrench to tighten the drill bit collar.
Double-check that the drill bit collar is in place and did not slip when you were trying to tighten it.
Pro tip: when drilling pocket holes into ¾” plywood, set your drill bit collar to be slightly off of the ¾” setting, inching a tad bit towards the ½ settings. Why? Plywood isn’t exactly ¾” thick, so by setting the collar slightly shy of the ¾” settings, you are less likely to actually drill all the way through the edge of your plywood.
Step 3: Set Depth Setting on Jig
If you have the Kreg 720, you can skip this step. The jig will automatically adjust the depth settings when you clamp your wood in place.
If you are using the Kreg 310 or 520PRO, you’ll slide the gray tab until the setting you are looking for is selected. It should click into place and lock itself in.
Step 4: Clamp The Wood in Place
If you have the Kreg 720 or 520PRO, your kreg jig comes with a built in clamp. Slide the wood into the jig and then secure the clamp. For the 720, that means pressing down the lever until it locks into place. For the 520PRO, that means squeezing the handle until the wood is secured.
When clamping the wood in place, be sure that the bottom of the wood is flush with the bottom of the jig. If it’s not, your pocket hole will poke through the bottom of the wood and might not be useable.
For the 310, you’ll need your own clamp to secure the jig to the wood. Press the jig up against the edge of the wood so that the gray piece is flush with the wood. Then clamp in place. Clamp tightly to prevent the jig from moving as you drill.
As you’re clamping the 310 in place, be sure to avoid placing the clamp directly over the hole closest to the hole section of the jig. This is where the wood shavings will come out when you drill.
Step 5: Adjust Drill Settings
Now that your jig and drill bit are set, it’s time to adjust settings on your actual drill. These aren’t required, but they will make drilling pocket holes easier and cleaner.
Make sure your drill is on the drill setting and then bump it up to 2. Insert the drill bit into your drill and lock it into place.
Step 6: Drill Pocket Hole
Insert the drill bit into the pocket hole jig. Get the drill up to full speed and then press your drill into the hole until the drill bit collar hits the edge of the jig.
Keep your drill running and pull the drill out of the jig.
Step 7: Drill Additional Pocket Holes if Needed
In 99% of cases, you’ll want to drill at least two pocket holes. Why not just one? One pocket hole will actually create a pivot point. Instead of creating a strong joint, the wood might actually spin around the screw instead.
If you have a jig with multiple holes, you might not need to reposition the jig before drilling your second hole.
If you do need to reposition your jig, make sure that the wood is still touching the bottom of the jig.
Sometimes the wood shavings from drilling pocket holes can fall underneath where your wood should go as you’re repositioning your wood. Wipe off the bottom of the jig to prevent wood shavings from holding up the bottom of your wood.
Before drilling additional pocket holes, you’ll also want to check that your pocket hole did not poke out the bottom of the wood. If it is, double-check your settings. If all your settings are correct, adjust the drill bit collar so that it’s slightly closer towards the next lower setting than it was previously.
The quick “rule” is to drill 2 pocket holes in boards that are 1.5 – 4” wide. For longer pieces, place a pocket hole every 6-8”.
To learn more about perfect pocket hole placement check out Pocket Holes: Explained.
Step 8: Secure the Joint
Once you have all of your pocket holes drilled, it’s time to actually join two pieces of wood together!
Unless you are building something that might need to be disassembled later, I always recommend using wood glue in conjunction with your pocket holes.
Switch your drill bit out with the square head driver. Put your drill back down to 1. If you keep it on 2, you might find that it’s too much power and it’s difficult to control the screw.
Place a little bit of wood glue on your wood and insert the screws into your pocket holes. I like to insert the screws by hand before driving them in because it helps me drill quicker and helps the screws go in at the right angle.
Place your wood together. For most joints, we generally clamp the wood either together or down to the table so that things don’t move around when adding the screws.
Drill the screws into your pocket holes.
Quick Note about Pocket Hole Screws
One of the most common questions I get asked about pocket holes is…do I have to use Kreg screws? Technically no, there are other brands of pocket hole screws out there, but I would highly recommend using a Kreg screw over a normal wood screw.
Kreg screws (or pocket hole screws in general) have a few distinct features that make them ideal for pocket holes:
- The square head prevents the bit from slipping or the screw from stripping. Yes, your drill might still occasionally slip, but it’s less likely than a normal drill bit.
- The flat-bottom head allows the screw to fit firmly in the pocket hole rather than continuing to drive through the hole.
- The clamping shank drawers the wood together for a tight joint.
- Self-tapping tip drills its own hole so no pre-drilling is required, even in hardwoods!
When to Use Pocket Holes
There are so many potential use cases for pocket holes. We’ll cover the most common instances where we use them, but know there are so many more opportunities.
Panels and Table Tops
Pocket holes are a great way to get tight seams and even to create a seamless look with multiple boards. We will join multiple boards together to make side panels or table tops.
Because the pocket holes will restrict natural wood movement, what we recommend doing is using these pocket holes as “clamps” while the glue dries. Use an ample amount of glue and then pocket hole your boards together.
The pocket holes will create tight seams and help you keep the wood pieces flush all the way across. Once the glue dries, remove the pocket hole screws.
If applied properly, the glue will create a bond that is stronger than the wood itself, so you don’t really need the screws anymore.
Removing the screws saves you money because you can reuse the screws on another project and it will allow natural wood movement.
Keeping the pocket hole screws and allowing the natural wood movement can cause cracking down the line. I will say though, I have never personally experienced cracking on the projects where I have left the pocket hole screws in place.
Face frames are one of the original applications for pocket holes. Before pocket holes became mainstream in DIY furniture, this was the primary use for them.
Yes, you really can use pocket holes to make a mitered joint! The one thing to consider is that depending on the width of the boards, the placement of the pocket holes can be a little tricky due to the angle.
Ever wanted to build a cabinet or a drawer box? Both are great examples of box joints. Box joints are pretty much what they sound like: building a box.
Aside from using edge banding, another great way to finish plywood edges (or cover them up) is by attaching a board to the edge of the plywood. We’ve used this technique for shelves (bonus: the extra boards also adds strength to resist bowing) and to frame out table tops.
In most of these instances, glue and nails should be enough for these edge boards, but sometimes it’s nice to have the assurance of even more additional strength. Or maybe you are working with some really warped wood. Pocket holes can really help line them up and hold them in place with more strength than nails.
When to NOT Use Pocket Holes
Though there are a lot of use cases for pocket holes, there are just a few instances where they should not be used.
Pocket holes should NOT be used to combine two boards in an attempt to make them longer. Drilling into an end grain does not create a strong joint.
Pocket holes should also not be used when trying to join two bevel cut boards. Why? There’s not enough room in the second board, so your pocket hole screw would likely poke right out!
Continue Learning About Pocket Holes and Kreg Jig Best Practices
Now that we’ve covered the foundation of how to use a Kreg Jig and when to use pocket holes, you might be itching for even more nuances.
Maybe you’re wondering what to do when you want to join boards that are two different thicknesses.
Maybe you want cheatsheets for things like pocket hole best practices and which Kreg screw to use for your project.
Maybe you’re wondering exactly how many pocket holes you need and how far to space them out.
Or maybe you just want to see a video of setting up your particular jig.
Learn all the ins and outs of pocket holes in our mini-course Pocket Holes: Explained. You’ll become a pocket hole pro faster than you’ve ever imagined. With step-by-step video walkthroughs, you won’t be wondering what settings to use or exactly how to set them up.
How to Use a Kreg Jig Summary
There are several use cases for pocket holes as they join together two pieces of wood with a very strong joint. To make a pocket hole, you’ll need a pocket hole jig. By far the most common brand for pocket holes in Kreg Tool, which is why pocket hole jigs are commonly referred to as Kreg Jigs. It’s like tissues being called Kleenex!
To use a Kreg jig, you’ll measure the thickness of the wood you’re drilling into and then set the drill bit collar and depth of the Kreg jig accordingly. Insert your wood into the Kreg jig and clamp to secure it in place.
Place your drill into the Kreg jig hole, get your drill up to full speed and then drill until the drill bit collar hits the wood. Pull the drill out and remove the wood.
To learn all the ins and outs of pocket holes, including what to do in sticky situations like drilling into angled cuts or how to determine settings when two pieces of wood are different thicknesses, check out Pocket Holes: Explained. It’s the video course that helps you become a pocket hole pro in less than an hour.
If you’re new to woodworking, check out this woodworking for beginners post. We share how to get started and 7 things we wish we would’ve known when starting out! No need to make the same mistakes we did.