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Thread: pocket screws for face frame construction

  1. #1
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    pocket screws for face frame construction

    i make almost exclusively face frame inset cabinets, and have for years - i've made a lot of face frames.... traditionally, i domino my face frames together (with 4mm dominos), and that yields great results, but it's slow and tedious, and clamping takes time. recently, i thought i would speed up my process by switching to pocket screws. i have a good flat-surface clamping setup (with the Kreg tracks and heavy clamps), and a good pocket hole machine.

    yet, no matter how accurate my setup, and how much i work, in hardwoods, i get terrible results. things wander, parts split.... undoubtedly the results are better in softer woods, but still nowhere near the quality i get when i domino and clamp.

    can somebody please convince me that my process and techniques are the issues, and not the fundamentals of pocket hole joinery in hardwood? how do others do this? i love the idea of it, but despite my setup and quality tooling, i still can't reliably get great joints via pocket screws.

    thanks for any guidance.

    --- dz

  2. #2
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    You’ve found out that pocket screws aren’t all that quick. In fact the clamping required to make sure they don’t stray on you for the showy stuff really slows the process down. I’m usually successful but I clamp the heck out of my face frames. If I had a domino I’d probably stick with that.

  3. #3
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    Not sure what the issue is, I get very minimal shift (only if I over drive a screw with a impact) and I can't recall a split. I did get slightly more shifting occurrences before I switched to a castle machine, again usually from over torqued screws.

    I've domino'd face frames before and pocket screws are easily 10x faster.

  4. #4
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    I have pocket screwed face frames together without issue for ten years in fir, pine and poplar. I have always imagined it would be a different experience with something hard like maple. I would also like to know from those with experience the best way to pocket hole hardwood.

  5. #5
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    A few clarification questions:
    Are you using Kreg screws? Are they hardwood screws or soft wood screws.
    What hard wood is giving you issues?
    How close to the ends of boards are you driving the screws?
    Lee Schierer
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  6. #6
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    How much glue are you using? Too much glue allows the parts to shift more easily. Try putting a couple of joints together with no glue. If the parts don't shift then you were using too much glue. If they do then you don't have enough down force on the parts or you are driving the screws too far. Also, make sure to use fine threaded pocket screws for hardwoods. Split parts suggests you are using the wrong type of screw or driving them too hard.

    John

  7. #7
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    guys, thanks for this, i appreciate the help and feedback. to be clear, i'm not new to pocket holes, but i am "new" to them (as a primary approach) for hardwood face frames. i am using a Kreg pneumatic machine to bore the holes. i am using 1 1/4" pocket hole screws, purchased from richelieu, fine thread. i fully understand and appreciate the importance of using the right screws.

    john, your thoughts on the glue are interesting and i'll try that. the issues i'm having are in hard maple - in cherry, walnut, poplar... no issues. mixed results in oak. lee, yes, i'm doing rails to stiles, and yes, the holes are very close to the edge. i'm compressing the heck out of the joint with my clamps, so my thought was that the compression would keep the wood from splitting, given that the screws are self-drilling.

    yet, i struggle.

    here's my assembly/clamping table, an MFT i dedicated to this purpose and for one of the vacsys units. note the flip-up outriggers to support large face frames - that works quite well.

    IMG_3705.jpegIMG_3707.jpeg

  8. #8
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    What are you using to drive the screws? I use a drill and set the torque low. I had splitting issues with hard maple. I spin the screw freely with the drill without much pressure so it predrills more instead of the screw grabbing and feeding.

  9. #9
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    milwaukee impact driver, set on low speed. maybe i need to drink less coffee?



    Quote Originally Posted by Michael W. Clark View Post
    What are you using to drive the screws? I use a drill and set the torque low. I had splitting issues with hard maple. I spin the screw freely with the drill without much pressure so it predrills more instead of the screw grabbing and feeding.

  10. #10
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    Try putting wax on the screw threads. The screws drive with less torque. I use wax on all screws not just pocket hole screws. Helps keep screws from breaking and tearing up the screw head.

    Impact driver applys more torque than is necessary. I use my 3/8 cordless drill set about mid point.
    Last edited by George Bokros; 02-10-2021 at 8:23 PM.
    George

    Making sawdust regularly, occasionally a project is completed.

  11. #11
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    Pretty much every face frame I've made since the first ones for my kitchen renovation in 2003 has been done using pocket screws. Clamping is critical and as someone mentioned, not overdriving the fastener is also important. If I were going to be doing this a lot, I'd also opt for a pocket hole machine that reduces the angle of the screws as that angle is what sometimes pulls things out of whack if the clamping doesn't hold.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  12. #12
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    good idea george, i can definitely try that... thanks.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    Pretty much every face frame I've made since the first ones for my kitchen renovation in 2003 has been done using pocket screws. Clamping is critical and as someone mentioned, not overdriving the fastener is also important. If I were going to be doing this a lot, I'd also opt for a pocket hole machine that reduces the angle of the screws as that angle is what sometimes pulls things out of whack if the clamping doesn't hold.
    maybe i have the wrong machine? it was expensive - like $4k or so - it's the kreg pneumatic, and seems to work really well....

  14. #14
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    I use a Bosch 10.8V drill, torque value of 10 which I think is about 2/3? Max torque setting.

    Letting the screws predrill more before they start driving helped me quite a bit.

    I have a Kreg K3 jig, and use the closest 2 holes on 1-1/4 face frames. Frames 1-1/2 are better.

  15. #15
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    I believe the Castle pocket cutters have a very low angle compared to drill based systems. But yes, the Kreg is a good system...you just have to have things clamped down really well. Perhaps your pneumatic clamps need adjusting?
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

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