10 Pocket hole tips and tricks to build like a Pro

Follow these simple pocket hole tips and tricks to build furniture like a pro. Pocket hole joinery is extremely beginner-friendly and with these simple steps, you can build awesome furniture in no time!

Pocket hole with text overlay


Pocket holes are one of the easiest ways to create strong joinery for beginner woodworkers.

A Kreg Jig was, in fact, my very first investment in woodworking tools.

I shared a complete guide on how to use a Kreg Jig in this post.

I also shared how to make pocket holes in angled boards.

However, like every technique, there are simple questions and problems that you might run into as you begin to use them.

How do I know?

I have been there and I wished someone had told me all of these things when I started.

Keeping these in mind can totally change the look and strength of your project!

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Here are my best tips and answers to frequently asked questions and problems when using pocket hole joinery –

1. Measure the thickness of materials

And then measure again!

This is very important to make sure all your settings are set correctly for the material you are using.

Measuring thickness of board with measuring tape before pocket holes

Never assume. There can be variations between various stock. By taking a few seconds to confirm the thickness, you are saving your self a lot of potential frustration and wasted materials.

And double-check the settings on your jig and drill bit too!

P.S. – Get that measuring tape with printed fractions and decimals here. Seriously, it is life-changing!

2. How many pocket holes do I need?

Simple answer – At least 2.

Even in a 1 x 2 which is only 1½” wide, you need 2 pocket holes to make a strong joint.


Just one pocket hole serves as a pivot point and you can easily twist the joint aka – not a strong joint.

Below is the basic rule I use to drill pocket holes.

Always do a visual check to make sure that the board covering the holes in the jig because you don’t want holes along the side of your board.

1″ to 2″B and C
2″ to 3″A and B
3″ to 4″A and C
4″ to 8″A, B and C

If you are joining wider boards or plywood, pocket holes should be every 6″.

Here is what the common boards look like with pocket holes.

Pocket hole spacing in common boards


3. What screws do you need?

First of all – use pocket hole screws and NOT regular wood screws. They are specially designed to be used with pocket holes.

Pocket screws are specifically designed to work with pocket holes. 

Pocket hole screws have threads only on the lower portion, while the upper portion not threaded. This helps the pocket hole screw to pull the joint tight together

pocket hole screw vs wood screw

There are two types of pocket hole screws – coarse and fine.

Coarse screws are made for softwoods like pine and cedar. Plus, they are used with plywood. Fine screws are for hardwoods.

I have only built with softwoods to date. I always have the 1-1/4″ pocket hole screws, the 2-1/2″ pocket hole screws and the 2-1/2″ Blue-Kot pocket hole screws (used for outdoor projects) at hand.

4. What is the best way to join boards using pocket holes

Let’s first talk a little about the faces of a board. It has 3 faces –

  • End grain
  • Edge grain
  • Face grain
various faces of a wooden board

The end grain is the weakest and cannot hold screws.

This means that you can NEVER screw into the end grain. They should ALWAYS go into the edge grain.

What does that mean?

It means you CANNOT do the below –

There are two common ways of joining boards using pocket holes and they are –

The Butt Joint

This is a simple 90-degree joint between two boards.

An example of this is when you build a frame of a simple table.

In this case, the pocket holes are made on the ends of the board and the screws are driven into the edge grain of the other board.

but joints made to build using pocket holes

The Edge Joint

This is used to make wider boards by joining multiple boards edge to edge.

The pocket holes are made on the edge of a board the screws are driven into the edge of the adjoining board.

edge joining boards using pocket hole screws

An example of this is when I built the panels for the sides of the nightstand.


5. How to join different size boards with pocket holes

ONE RULE – Always go with the thinner board.

Use that for the settings on the drill bit collar and jig placement.

Also, use that to pick which pocket hole screws to use.

How to join various sized boards with pocket holes

For example, if you are joining a 1×3 (which is 3/4″ thick) to a 2×2 (which is 1-1/2″ thick), you would set the jig height and drill collar at 3/4″ and use 1-1/2″ pocket hole screws.

6. How to avoid splitting of boards

I get asked all the time, why do I make pocket holes on the outside of this chair rather than on the inside and hide them.

It is true that you should try your best to put the pocket holes on the insides to hide them as much as possible. However, there is an important reason for the exception to that rule.

Remember what a pocket hole looks like?

It is basically a hole drilled at a 15-degree angle i.e., the screw is going in at that angle too.

how to prevent splitting of boards when using pocket holes.

If I put the pocket holes on the inside of this joint, the screw would be going towards the outside of the 2×2, giving the screw very little material to grip and a high probability of splitting.

By putting the pocket holes on the outside, we are making sure the pocket hole screw goes into thicker material and minimizes splitting.

7. Joining plywood using pocket holes

I mentioned at the very start that the most important thing was to measure the thickness.

Have you measured “3/4-thick” plywood? Or for that matter any other plywood?

How to use pocket holes with plywood

They can be ever so slightly thinner than 3/4″. This means that you need to set your drill accordingly.

In this case, I would still set the drill height at 3/4″ BUT set the drill bit between 3/4″ and 1/2″. This helps account for the thickness variation – as drilling less is always better than drilling deep!


8. Use Clamps

Clamps are not just like having a second hand, when correctly used, they help make the joints professional looking.

I love the right angle clamp and the face clamp. But when needed, I use as many other clamps as needed to make sure the boards don’t move as you join them.

Collage of Kreg Clamps used in woodworking

See a list of all my favorite Kreg Accessories that make woodworking easier and efficient!

9. Use Wood Glue

Yes, pocket holes are strong enough without the wood glue.

But wood glue makes the joint not just a lot stronger, it helps in preventing wood movement from moisture fluctuations that can cause cupping and cracks.

10. Drill bit stuck?

Sometimes as you drill pocket holes, you might find that the drill bit gets stuck and doesn’t go any further.

Step by step tutorial with video - how to use a Kreg jig

There can be 2 reasons –

First, you may be hitting a knot in the wood. If so, change the pocket hole location.

Second, you may have sawdust stuck in the jig preventing your bit from doing its job. Just clear it up and you should be good to go.

With these simple tips and tricks, you should be well on your way to building with a Kreg Jig like a pro!


Have a question about using pocket holes or the Kreg Jig that I didn’t answer? Send me an email – anika@anikasdiylife.com and I will get to it right away!

Now that you are a pro with the pocket holes, you are ready to build awesome projects using your Kreg jig!

Kreg Jig Project Ideas for beginners –

Check out 34 other Kreg Jig projects for beginners!

Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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One Comment

  1. janet wene says:

    what a beautifully informative article! Great ideas & perfect supporting pictures! Am sending this to my son who is into woodworking and bought him a Kreg 4 & the drawer jig for xmas. He loves them both. This information will help get better & better at woodworking! Thank you so much!

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