Pocket holes make joining wood simple and strong. But using them with plywood needs special care.
This article gives clear steps for using pocket holes with plywood. It covers everything from picking the right jigs and screws to avoiding common mistakes.
This guide helps all new or experienced woodworkers get better at using pocket holes.
Choosing The Right Pocket Hole Screws
There are two main types of screws used in pocket hole joinery:
|Best for Wood Type
|Softwoods (e.g., Pine)
|General Woodworking, Framing Projects
|Hardwoods (e.g., Oak)
|Cabinet Making, Fine Woodwork, Joinery
- Coarse-thread, used with softwoods to give a strong grip; and,
- Fine thread is used with hardwoods so the wood fibers are not split or ripped.
In addition to these two main types, screws come in various sizes and heads. Among the head styles is the pan head.
Pan head screws are a common head type of non-countersunk screws used in making woodworking screws, self-tapping screws, and self-drilling screws. They are characterized by wide, flat heads, usually curved sides, and recessed sockets. They present a low profile once sunk, and that can be an important consideration when joining plywood.
They differ with their flat heads from round head screws with larger profiles and domed heads. That round, domed head creates a half-sphere that sits higher on the screw than the flat surface of a pan head. This can be a concern if you intend to use plugs to hide your pocket hole.
The significance of this will become apparent shortly, and we’ll address it in our tips when joining plywood.
Picking The Best Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
We love Kreg Pocket Hole Jigs. They are the leading brand of pocket hole jigs, inventing the pocket hole system in the late 1980s.
Their jigs come in several configurations for different needs:
- The Kreg Jig K4 is their premium jig, with heavy-duty construction, adjustable settings, and dust collection. It’s the choice for avid DIYers and professionals.
- The Kreg Mini Jig is a simple, single-hole jig perfect for beginning woodworkers. It’s small, lightweight, and inexpensive.
- The Kreg 720 PRO is a heavy-duty model with a machine-cast aluminum body and a 6″ opening.
- The Kreg Foreman Pocket-Hole Machine is their professional, industrial pocket-hole drilling machine.
- The Kreg 520PRO is a heavy-duty, three-hole jig with easy-to-read drill depth settings.
Note: We will receive a commission if you buy through our Amazon links.
Consider how often you’ll use a jig and what types of projects you expect to do. A beginning woodworker may start with a basic single-hole jig and upgrade later as needs grow.
Kreg jigs range from $20 for a Mini up to $350 or more for heavy-duty models. And accessories like drill bits, screws, stops, and clamps are available. With a little research, you can find the right Kreg jig setup for your workshop and budget.
Plywood and Pocket Hole Joinery
Plywood is a manufactured product made of thin wood veneers glued together. The grains of the veneers are rotated up to 90 degrees during manufacturing to enhance the strength.
There are 3 main types of plywood:
- Sanded – Has sanded faces and backs suitable for visible surfaces like cabinets or shelving.
- Hardwood – Made from birch, oak, or other hardwoods. Very strong and stable for furniture and heavy use.
- Structural – Inexpensive plywood for construction projects. Used where appearance doesn’t matter.
Plywood comes in different ply or layer counts, from 3-ply to 5-ply or more. More plies make it thicker and stronger.
Choosing coarse-thread screws to grip the soft wood fibers when using pocket holes with plywood. Pan head screws work well to minimize the visible hole. Adjust your jig depth settings based on the plywood thickness.
Drill just deep enough for screws to reach half the depth of the bottom board. Avoid splitting the bottom piece by not over-torquing the screws. Consider using plugs to conceal the holes for a seamless look.
Considerations When Joining Plywood in Pocket Joinery
First, let’s answer the primary question: you can use pocket holes on plywood. However, there are some considerations you must take into account when doing so. Those considerations include the thickness of the plywood, the type of screw to use, and the style of the screw.
We mentioned earlier the screws to use with softwoods such as pine, cedar, fir, and spruce. Plywood falls into the same category as softwoods when choosing pocket screws.
Thus, you will want to use a coarse-thread screw. They have deep and aggressive threads on them that will dig nicely into the soft fibers and create a tight joint.
For the screw length, the jig setting and the depth of the drilling will determine the length of the screw to be used. You want the screw to reach at least half of the thickness of the bottom board – the one being screwed into.
|Recommended Screw Length
As it happens, Kreg jigs come with charts that are filled with details to help you determine the right depths. The most common thread lengths run from 1” to 2 ½“. Again, the length of the screw will be determined by the depth of the drilling, with the depth of drilling depending on the boards being joined.
Based on discussions with other experienced woodworkers, here are some tips for successfully using pocket holes to join thinner plywood:
- For 1/2″ plywood, we recommend using 1″ coarse-thread pocket screws. This provides enough grip without poking through the bottom layer.
- Set your jig’s drill stop collar to allow screws to just reach the center of the bottom board. This prevents them from poking through.
- Screw gently and slowly to avoid splitting the bottom layer of plywood. An impact driver can over-torque the screws.
- Opt for pan head screws that sit flush when driven into the pocket hole. This provides a smooth surface if you plan to plug the holes.
- Consider using plugs to conceal the pocket holes for a seamless look after assembly. The right plugs can blend right in and hide the joinery.
Grab your jig, screws, drill, and get ready for your next project. Follow the tips we covered on screw types, jig settings, driving carefully, and using plugs.
You now have the know-how to confidently incorporate pocket holes into plywood projects.