Pocket Screws: The Mightiest Little Clamp
I don’t have enough elitism in my bloodstream to poop on pocket screws too much.
For starters, they are incredibly ingenious and allow people to build things with only a handful of tools and almost no clamps. And they have been around for a long time – I’ve seen pocket screws in many piece of 19th-century furniture, including Shaker stuff.
But when the joinery is exposed, it’s quite ugly. And so I avoid using them for what they were intended to do: make boxes and face frames.
Instead, I use them as clamps. And at clamping, pocket screws have few equals.
Sometimes I’ll use them to help fix splits in thick slabs, especially when I can place them where they cannot be seen. (Check that operation out here.) I also use them for clamping up tricky miters, including compound ones. Nothing can pull a wacky miter together with ease.
Today I used them to piece together a really odd short-grain arm bow for a Welsh chair I’m prototyping.
The arm bow has three pieces. Two are the long curved bits for your arms. The third is the backrest. Getting all three pieces glued together can be a tricky task. I’ve used pinch dogs in the past, but my pich dogs have gone missing. Plus they leave some unsightly marks as well.
In this case, pocket screws were the perfect solution. I have a Mini Kreg jig that I bought on sale at my home center for about $20 years ago. It’s not fancy, but it works quite well.
I butted the two pieces together and clamped them to my benchtop. Then I clamped the jig on the joint and cut two pocket holes – one from each side of the joint. Driving the screws in pulled the joint tight. Now I have several choices.
- I can leave the joint as-is. Drill the holes for the spindles and then cover the pocket holes with the backrest.
- I can glue and screw the joint, covering it with the backrest.
- I can glue and screw the joint. Then remove the screws after the glue is dry. Then cover the joint with the backrest.
In all three cases I get a tight joint with no visible evidence of how it was put together.
— Christopher Schwarz