How to Drill Pocket Holes

by Raymond Archambault
man drilling on the wall

In the last decade, pocket holes have paved the way for many people to craft sturdy and aesthetically pleasing woodworking projects without years of expertise or training. Anyone has free rein to buy a fairly affordable pocket hole drill and kick off the building process.

Besides being an excellent introduction to woodworking, it’s a good technique for seasoned builders. Some people believe using pocket screws is ‘cheating’ and the best way to build something is to spend countless hours practicing and honing skills such as hand-cut mortise, dovetail joints, and tenons.

You can’t deny that spending time honing DIY techniques and skills can be gratifying and delightful. Downtime with your woodworking tools is a healing and centering experience.

On the other hand, some people prefer project-based markers where the endgame is project completion rather than delighting in the shop experience. Whatever the case, this drill guide will explore the right way of how to drill pocket holes.

The Art of Pocket Hole Joinery

It’s great to grasp the direction and good grain to understand how pocket screws work. Every board has 3 surfaces and the crucial thing to remember regardless of whether or not you use pocket screws is screwing into a board’s end grain gives you the weakest connection.

Screwing into the end grain is practical for projects that aren’t subjected to immense stress. However, the better option would be to avoid this, particularly when it comes to pine and other softwoods. Instead, drive the screw in at an angled hole for it to penetrate the edge grain or face grain of every board. Furthermore, this might be stronger compared to screw right into the face grain as this makes sure a longer part of the screw is embedded into the wood.

The Screws and Drill Bit

The stepped drill bit used to make a pocket hole contains a narrow tip. It guides the tip of the screw and has a broader part to bore the hole. A standard screw can blast through a pocket hole. The wide head of the screw sits on the ‘shelf’ crafted by the bit.

Setting up the Jig

While various pocket hole jig brands have littered the market, the Kreg jig K4 and K5 are reputable options. Although they get the job done to perfection, the K5 is easier to adjust and set up. However, it’s pricier than the K4. To kick off the setup process, set the guide of the drill bit to gel with the board thickness. We recommend using ¾-inch lumber if you want to make pocket holes.

The drill includes an adjustable collar with a set screw to secure it in position. You can loosen it using an Allen wrench. Drop the drill bit into a guide hole until you notice the tip coming into contact with the plastic bottom. Next, pull it back just a little to avoid drilling into the plastic. Tighten the set screw if you need to lock the collar, but this is a rare adjustment to have to make. Although unnecessary, we suggest a vacuum attachment. That’s because making pocket holes can create a mess. Vacuuming effectively removes the chips.

How to Drill Pocket Holes

The jig contains 3 holes spaced so that it allows you to bore holes to your preferred distance apart. The best part about drilling pocket holes is you only need to drill one hole per board. You don’t need to drill a hole that matches in the mating piece as you would in a dowel joint. Resultantly, there’s more flexibility for you when positioning the holes. You can place them anywhere on the board.

  • Lock the board in position using the lockdown mechanism.
  • Use your drill at the highest speed and begin drilling.
  • The collar will stop the bit.
  • You can revel in your manually-crafted gorgeous pocket holes.
person holding drill from back

Source: Unsplash

Screwing the Boards

Typically, the jig is used to drill pocket holes in the ends of the boards. Ensure the board into which you’ll drill is the edge grain or face. Use fine thread screws to connect hardwoods and coarse-thread screws for everything else. If you use ¾-inch lumber, 1¼ will be perfect. The trick is to have everything you need on hand.

You have to clamp the boards together before you drill the pocket hole screws in position. Without clamping, twisting the screw results in the boards slipping out of place and the joint will be uneven. Use a face clamp with broad pads designed with this purpose in mind. A long driver bit makes it a breeze to drill square head screws. Once you set the drill to the lowest speed, drill the screws until the boards are drawn together and come to a halt.

Driving too fast or with excessive torque can strip the threads on the joining board. We recommend setting your drill to a low speed for it to stop twisting upon getting to a particular tightness. To connect the boards by their edges, hold them in place using a right-angle clamp or bar clamp.

As you plan which way the screws are headed, remember to insert the screw into the face grain, facing away from the end. Avoid screwing them in with the tips facing outside the end of the board as the screw lacks sufficient wood to secure it in position.

Sealing Pocket Holes

Typically, you won’t have trouble drilling pocket holes on the underside or back of your project where they are inconspicuous. However, you don’t always have an option. Sometimes, they must be placed in a visible location. If that’s the case, plug the hole with a pre-made wood plug or dowel. Seal them into the pocket holes and then sand them flush. Once you paint over them, they’ll become invisible.

The Perks of Pocket Hole Joints

Besides their impressive strength, pocket hole joints usher in the following perks.

Lack of Complex Skills

Pocket hole joints are straightforward butt joints that any beginner can handle confidently.

Lack Fancy Woodworking Equipment

With an affordable driver or drill and a pocket hole jig, you’re good to go.

No Wood Glue Needed

With most projects, a pocket hole joint is strong enough to remain in place without being glued.

Lack of Exposed Joints

Pocket holes can become inconspicuous with pre-made plugs that you can later glue into place to conceal the screws.

Tips on Drilling Better Pocket Holes

Now that you know how to drill pocket holes, let’s discuss a few pointers to make sharp holes.

Set Your Drill To The Highest Speed

Most cordless drills come with two to three-speed settings that you alternate between. These help in striking the perfect balance between the rotational speed, torque, and rotational force. To drill the perfect pocket holes, set your device to the highest speed.

Use Both Hands

While one hand is pressing the trigger to keep the drill straight from one side to another, your other hand should sit on top, slowly penetrating the wood and preventing the rotating bit from bouncing it up and down as it meets the wood. Granted, that’s a non-issue when drilling a 90-degree hole in a two-by-four. However, it can mangle the surface when you drill at an angle into the face grain.

Allow The Drill To Come Full Speed

Always ensure the bit is spinning as quickly as possible before it begins cutting through the wood. Once you’ve set up, position the bit in the guide hole and pull back at least ½ inch. Push the trigger and wait a few seconds for the drill to come up to speed before you push it back into the lumber. That’s particularly crucial when drilling several holes in a row. Always wait for the drill bit to get to the highest speed before you insert it again.

Sanding Might Be Required

There’s no harm with sanding the surface to clean it up. Once you move towards the hole, with the direction of the tear-out to smoothen the process of cutting the fibres in the ideal direction rather than lift them out and cause additional tearing of the surface. You have free rein to push them down into the hold using sandpaper and the edge serving as a cutting edge. As such, you can abrade the fibres where you please.

As you drive the screw, use a driver with a clutch or a cordless drill. The small numbered ring on your drill is your clutch that comes in handy in providing the perfect amount of torque. Therefore, you won’t overdrive your screw. A dedicated driver containing a chuck will slip better.


Pocket hole joints are newcomers in the world of furniture construction. For years, commercial manufacturers have depended on pocket holes for efficient and fast assembly. Now that you know how to drill pocket holes, you can do so right easily.


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