The Kreg Jig: Is It Real Woodworking?

I am finally willing to admit it – I use a Kreg jig. I use it regularly and I like it. I don’t use it everywhere, but I am finding more uses every day, and it scares me a little. I am a woodworker, a custom woodworker. I use time-honored joinery like mortises, tenons and dovetails. It doesn’t feel right to add the Kreg jig to the list. I can’t and won’t do it. It isn’t real woodworking. Or is it?

I haven’t decided, officially. Used in the right places it is totally acceptable in my mind. For face frames, nothing is faster, the joints are tight and, with a little glue added, strong and stable. And, since the face frame is joined to a cabinet box it gets extra help in the support department to keep everything in place. So, it’s fine on face frames. What about the cabinet boxes that the face frames attach to?

The “Rocket” is the Kreg jig that I use.

I say O.K. The boxes get support from the walls and I use regular screws all the time, so pocket screws must be acceptable (as a footnote, I like to screw cabinets together when possible, so that I can take them apart for “design changes”). Face frames, check. Cabinet boxes, check. What about furniture? Maybe something very much like a cabinet or cabinet box, just not attached to the wall? Now, it starts to get really murky. Officially, out loud, I say no way. Furniture must be assembled with furniture joints, not pocket screws. Then I ask myself why and I don’t have a great answer except that it doesn’t feel right. Assuming that the pocket screw joint is just as strong as a “real” woodworking joint it shouldn’t really matter, but it does. I feel if I take the quick and easy way out, I am less of a woodworker. I can’t get past it.

Here’s the thing that is odd to me. I think that the Kreg jig works great and all of their products (at least the one I have used) are top-notch. I, especially, like their screws. It may not seem that important, but their screws are the best. I use them whenever I can, even when I am not using pocket holes. They never strip out or break, and they are self-tapping. Their drill bits are well made and stay sharp for a long time. When I was working on opening my new shop, Kreg products were the first ones to come to mind to have for sale. It’s clear that I like them, but I still think, in the back of my mind, that they aren’t for real woodworkers.

To this day, I will make sure that the Kreg jig and screws are always with me, but I won’t always use them. Weird?

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

19 responses to “The Kreg Jig: Is It Real Woodworking?”

  1. Martin says :

    This jig is a fast and dirty way to achieve temporary results. Don’t glorify it any further than that. It’s “clean” compared to most screw applications but is a second or maybe even third tier alternative to wood craft. In no way should this be passed off as good craftsmanship in high end carpentry or fine furniture. Don’t make the mistake of diluting your work. I see its application in plywood and rough work. Don’t dumb down your work with home depot quality methodology… professional or novice.

    Martin Goebel
    Goebel & Co. Furniture

  2. Jim Motto says :

    Scott, I think your uses are correct, but Martin is right about the furniture. Even on a simple table, I can’t think of a joint where I would feel good about a pocket screw holding up better than m and t’s.

  3. Mike Willard says :

    Scott,
    I must admit that I feel exactly as you do regarding Kreg technology, even to the point of buying their screws in bulk. I think that my own reservations about the Kreg approach is that it is just so simple and easy it seems that it must be deficient in some respect. Isn’t this one of those threshold events that seems like the first step on a slippery slope from whence you will not return with your dearly earned standards intact?
    I believe that this happens often and not everybody even notices. Some do, like in the mental scenario that I am currently envisioning: Duncan Phyfe at a shop-wide production meeting where he confesses, “Well, I am sorry that I was sooo … harsh about insisting that any competent woodworker would only use class A Shagreen to prepare this Cuban Mahogany, and do you know, this new glass paper is pretty good?” or words to that effect. Most of these conundrums are decided on the basis of efficacy and today’s woodworker may lament (while drinking, for instance) that it is no longer necessary to boil beef parts in order to make their own glue. Genuine, authentic and historically correct? You bet! Would it help me to make a better return on my labor? Pass the Titebond, please.
    We can (and love to) separate these issues into philosophical distinctions, since we now have options. On the other hand, I have never read any mention of a period woodworker missing the joy of preparing stock with a pitsaw. It only sounds romantic if you don’t have to do it, methinks.. I believe that woodworking is nearly as concerned with the inner (and outer) dialogue and drawing those distinctions, as it is about wood. If you didn’t think about the means as much as the ends you would be a woodworker of lesser dimension.

    Mike Willard

  4. Steve Palmer says :

    I believe the Kreg Jig approach is a necessity for survival for those valiantly attempting to earn a living as a profesional woodworker. Is it heirloom joinery? Emphatically no! Is it acceptable if you’re trying to put food on the table for your family and at the same time compete with cheap, off shore crap? Well, at least you’re trying to offer beter quality than the glued together particle board offered by your convienently located big box store. Those that have the luxury of pursueing a piece built to heirloom quality standards should champion the effort to inform the public that quality is worth paying for. Meanwhile, good luck and best wishes to those fighting spirits trying to earn a living at woodworking.

    Steve Palmer

  5. wunderwoods says :

    The night after I put up this post, I was tasked with putting a bird house on top of a wood post. “What to use?,” I asked myself. In the true spirit of controversial woodworking, I pulled out the Kreg Jig. It may not be real woodworking, but neither is the Home Depot bird house, right? Problem solved. Just make sure not to build an heirloom birdhouse.

  6. john l w says :

    here is my thoughts and they are free—- so you see the value
    if it is a heirloom piece use all the skills and knowledge you have and enjoy the process as well as the outcome. if you are building kitchen cabinets/ built ins for a house that will be used for for 5-10-15 yrs an then remodeled the Kreg is a-ok. When I am building furniture/box/ etc I look at it as a legacy when I am building plantation shutters I want to get done Trust me you will know if you are cheating the craft.

  7. Jermain says :

    for me it’s pretty simpe: what’s the client willing to spend? if they have a low budget, they get kreg jig. If they have a high budget, they get m+t. either way, it will look better and will be much stronger than anything they bought off the shelf, and that, is a win win situation for me and my clients. at the end of the day you have to be a smart business person if you want to have a business. thankfully, the furniture at these stores is such crap that even if my pieces were held together by 50 cent gum it would be stronger. case closed!

  8. billlattpa says :

    I use the Kreg Jig on occasion. Fact is that it does work, particularly on face frames. I don’t use it where a mortise and tenon will do. But I also don’t believe in overbuilding face frames. I am an amatuer who gets maybe a few hours each week in the shop. And while I make furniture for fun, I also be make things that are useful and look nice(at least I try) I think there is a real danger when we hear terms like “real woodworker” “hand tool woodworker” “power tool woodworker” To me it’s all means to an end. Since when did woodworking have to be dealt with in absolutes? I’m for anything that gets people in the shop. I started off about 3 years ago with a bad table saw and a router. Today I have several nice projects under my belt and cut much of my joinery by hand. I think getting started is the most important thing. Later you will learn when and where to use certain methods. I don’t think that a pocket hole is going to be the end of quality woodworking by any stretch.

    • wunderwoods says :

      I am glad that you brought up the absolutes. I see everything in shades of gray personally, which has sparked this conversation. I don’t know exactly where to stop using the Kreg jig. Their products are nicely made and work well for their intention, but at some point you can have too many pocket screws. I see promotional videos for the Kreg jig and everything is pocket screwed for demonstration purposes. You can do this, but do you want to? When I saw them going crazy and pocket screwing everything, it made me feel a little sick to my stomach, like the piece was cobbled together. As this discussion has continued the separation seems to be between cabinets and furniture. While alright on cabinets (especially face frames), no one has attempted to make a case for using them to hold together furniture.

      • Jim Motto says :

        .

        Cobble…to make or assemble roughly or hastily <the stranded hikers cobbled together a rickety shelter I looked that up.
        I believe I've made my point……………

      • billlattpa says :

        You’re right, I wouldn’t use them for case assembly nor have I ever seen anybody try to. I have used them twice for attaching a top rather than buttons. Both times I attached, removed, elongated the holes, and reattached. So far after a few years I haven’t noticed any splitting in either case and I live in PA where we have cold dry winters and hot and humid summers. Turns out that this was a traditional method of attaching table/cabinet tops but fell out of favor in the early 20th century. I would hesitate to judge anybody for using them, however. As I said, if somebody new to the hobby decides to use them for case construction then go for it. Whatever works for you works for me. I’m not here to judge a hobbyists furniture. I only judge it if I’m paying for it.

  9. Craig Moellenhoff says :

    I’m a little late in replying, but i found this post and the comments interesting and somewhat related to a recent decision on one of my projects. I too have used the Kreg for shop jigs, a few face frames and many practical joinery tasks around the house (similar to the birdhouse example). I generally avoid pocket screws for “fine furniture” in the rare cases I find time to build something in this category.

    Since my time in the shop is limited, balancing quality and time required is a relevant challenge. I have built furniture in the past with M&T joints and although I feel better about the quality, it is time consuming. In an attempt to build a loft bed for my son, I needed to find an efficient, but hidden joinery system. Although a loft bed might not be considered fine furniture by most, my version is solid cherry and “finer” than what you would find in a store (at least in my opinion). M&T was possible although problematic, especially on the 100+ inch rails. Obviously, I could cut these by hand, but that consumes even more time and man-handling the rails on the table saw / shaper was not an attractive option.

    I had always been an opponent of dowel joints based on my experience with a cheap “self-centering” dowel jig years ago. In my experience this was more of a “self-misaligning” jig and the joints were never to my standards. After reading reviews and biting the proverbial bullet, I bought a Dowelmax jig. I have to say that I have been very pleased with the balance of precision and speed that this jig has provided. I have also found that it is very flexible and can handle a wide variety of joints. I created my own custom shims from aluminum bar stock and used these to put 16 dowels (2 rows of 8) in the joints between the 5/4″ X 6″ cross rails and 4″ X 4″ posts with the rails being offset exactly 3/16″ from flush. The alignment is perfect and the joint seems to be sufficiently overengineered to my standards.

    Although this is not exactly related to the Kreg question it has given me a viable alternative in the joinery spectrum. I don’t know if everyone would agree, but the range of joints in the quality vs. time spectrum in my mind goes something like this (in order):

    – Dovetail (where appropriate)
    – M&T
    – Loose tenon
    – Dowelmax
    – Biscuit
    – Pocket screw
    – Nail
    – Toenail
    – Corrugated fastener
    – Duct tape
    – Cheap self-centering dowel jig

    • wunderwoods says :

      Craig,

      I too have had bad results with dowels, so much so that I pretty much stopped using them a long time ago. There just seemed to be so many directions that things wouldn’t line up. Biscuits solve this problem since one direction is adjustable. For more substantial joints, like the bed you mentioned, I have always thought that we need a biscuit jointer with an extra thick blade and thicker biscuits. Then we start drifting into Festool Domino territory and their loose tenons and before you know it we are back to traditional mortise and tenons. Bring on the duct tape.

  10. wunderwoods says :

    Today, I was building another router table after the fire and decided to build a decent utilitarian unit in the shortest amount of time. I can tell you that I used the Kreg jig to hold on the top, and I didn’t even fret over whether this was acceptable or not. I was using plywood and had no cross-grain situations, so I didn’t need to worry about expansion and contraction. Going back to billattapa’s comment above on loosely securing tops, I think elongated Kreg jig holes are a nice solution and very similar to how I might handle it otherwise.

  11. flyingratchet@gmail.com says :

    In the year 3045 when mainstream furniture production utilizes robots and lasers to make furniture- old fashioned purists will use Kreg jigs because they are more “authentic”.

  12. John says :

    I realize this was written five years ago, but Google brought me here when I entered ‘Is a pocket joint cheating?’ I’m new to woodworking, and after hearing how easy they are to use, I bought a Kreg jig. I haven’t built much, but I feel like using it is an easy way out. People online argue back and forth about them all the time. I’ve since bought a dowel jig and a biscuit jointer. The dowels are tricky to line up perfectly, and the biscuits aren’t good for heavier joint needs. I feel like I should practice more traditional joinery, but the Kreg gives me quick results (just doubt and near guilt when using it).

    • wunderwoods says :

      This was written a while back, but I still feel the same way. I was having this same discussion last week with a guy that was helping me. If it works and gives good results, I say don’t fight it. I am a very logical fellow and if the Kreg jig wasn’t doing a good job in the instances that we use it, I wouldn’t continue.

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