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I took a woodworking course recently in which we learned the screwed butt joint technique.

While it's not the prettiest, it is very fast and relatively easy to get right. It appears the pocket-hole rig is recommended a lot to beginners online. What are some of the trade-offs with pocket hole joints (the rigs are advertised as a magic bullet often)?

  • Hi Daniel, welcome to this SE. You've asked two things here and for future reference a Question should be about one thing as much as possible. As far as tradeoffs go, in short you basically get speed and ease of assembly at the expense of strength and stability. Pocket screws are fine for stuff that doesn't have much in the way of dynamic loading, e.g. casework (where they work excellently and where they were previously employed before the modern 'reinvention'), but a bed needs to withstand quite a bit of movement even if it has just the one occupant. – Graphus May 17 '18 at 22:45
  • As for your second query, that's a bit too broad as there are no details about the size, style or type of bed. Better to edit this Question to remove that, decide on the design of bed you'd like to build and then come back with a new one if you need to ask about some aspect of its construction. – Graphus May 17 '18 at 22:49
  • Not sure I understand what you mean by casework. – Daniel May 17 '18 at 23:24
  • Casework = cabinets, cupboards, things of that nature. – Graphus May 18 '18 at 11:13
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    Related: woodworking.stackexchange.com/questions/4850/… – mmathis May 18 '18 at 12:20
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Graphus mentioned the strength of the joint as being one major issue. If it's strong enough, it's fine, but pocket holes are not for every joint. Casework is a good example of where they shine (especially on shop furniture).

Another problem is similar to downsides of regular butt-joints: alignment. I found alignment to be a larger issue with butt joints than I thought it would be, and wound up having to reglue a few pieces because the joint slipped or wasn't aligned properly. You'll encounter similar issues with pocket hole joints, especially as the first screw is tightened as it tries to rotate the whole workpiece.

There are clamps designed specifically for holding pocket hole joints together during assembly like this one from Kreg:

Kreg clamp

But that means buying another specialized tool (on top of the pocket-hole jig itself).

Finally, aesthetics can be an issue. Pocket hole joints leave unsightly elongated holes in the wood. They make plugs to fill those holes in:

plugs

Or you can make your own. Unless you're painting the piece, though, those plugs will likely still be visible as it will be impossible to get grain continuity. If, however, you can hide the holes on parts of the piece that won't be seen (underside of shelves, inside cabinets, outsides or backs of drawers, etc) then this is a non-issue.


Images and links taken from Kreg's site. Not an endorsement or recommendation.

  • Thanks for the informative answer. It seems that the Kreg product line is very convenient and that it's simply important to account for strength in the design by having sufficient joints and applying correct design principles. – Daniel May 19 '18 at 18:24
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Pocket screws are a popular method because you are fastening long-grain to long-grain. This is the strongest combination possible. If pocket holes don’t fit your needs, the long grain bond can be achieved through a number of more traditional methods like a mortise & tenon, half lap, or even dowels.

A butt joint is extremely weak unless the woodworker somehow creates the long grain to long grain bond. By not doing so, the glue would simply travel through the open pores, resulting in no bond, and fasteners would not have any fiber to grip onto. The joint will fail if it sees any considerable stresses.

This is why pocket holes are so popular. Easy, repeatable, and produce a strong joint.

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