Pocket Cutter Machines Versus Pocket-Hole Jigs

Pros discuss the advantages of pocket joinery, and talk about their equipment. July 6, 2005

I am looking at the advantages/disadvantages of using a pocket cutting machine (Portercable) versus using one a pocket jig device (eg. Kreg). I am wondering how people are using their pocket cutting system with various devices - for production or flexibility? I am also wondering what the better machines on the market are. Any help is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor H:
The obvious difference is speed in production. I had a castle machine which I liked very much. It was pneumatic and electric. I was pocket-holing everything in sight and it was fast. At $2700, I could not justify the price for the amount of time I was using it. I bought a Kreg Forman for $700, and although it is not as fast as the Castle or bigger Kreg machines, it fits my budget.

From contributor M:
The two main differences between the machines are how the pocket is cut. With the Castle, it used a router that swings into the material to make a pocket. Others use a drill bit and drill the pocket at an angle. I looked at the Castle and the Ritter, and I was more impressed with the Castle. The bits are less expensive, and you don't have to deal with tear-out as you would with the drills.

I use a Kreg jig now, but like Contributor H said, $2500 (show price) is steep for the limited amount I would use it. As far as uses, there are quite a few. You can make face-frames, join the ff to the carcass without nailing the front, make drawer boxes, assemble cabinets, attach nailers and cleats, and the list goes on. Pocket screws are a good way to clamp material until it dries.

From contributor B:
I picked up the Kreg Foreman (about $700) around 6 months ago. I couldn't really even justify the cost of it vs. a hand jig for a one man shop, but now that I have it I really like it and use pocket screws wherever I can.

From contributor H:
Mike, I went with the Kreg because it is an easier machine to use with an air hold down. There’s no need to rock the controls back and forth, and it is quieter as well. I use the machine for cabinet assembly with an extension table. I do like the PC and Castle through-hole better though, and will trade up to the castle in the future.

From contributor A:
We used to use the Kreg hand jig. It worked fine, but was slow, and we tended to only use it when it was absolutely necessary. I now have the Castle, and love it. We find new uses for it all the time. We build frameless cabinets, so frames are rarely built, but we have found lots of uses none the less. The main use is for attaching the wood edge on our laminate countertops.

From contributor B:
To Contributor A: How do you use pocket screws to attach the wood edge to a laminate top?

From contributor A:
We first cut the 3/4" pb blanks, then cut pockets on the bottom side. Then we cut and attach 1 1/4" wood edge. Then we add the 1/2" pb build up, which covers the pockets. Then we laminate, bevel, and it is done. It is so much faster the way we used to do it, which was to use biscuits and bar clamps.

From contributor T:
Pocket holes work in places you probably haven't even thought of yet. It’s a great method for many things and one of the best processes we ever adopted in our shop. I have never used any of the Kreg system holes, but have read a lot of feedback here and otherwise about the shifting problems with the steeper angle as opposed to the routed pockets from the Castle/PC. I do know that even with the routed pockets, we sometimes get a little unevenness.

We have the PC 552 and have used it for maybe 4 years now at least. I will say that even though we have used it on probably 100-125 kitchens besides numerous other projects, we have had a lot of problems with it, right from the start. We replaced both motors once (within 3 months of purchasing), replaced/or otherwise re-worked the switch the same number of times), the cutter that comes with it is not even worth using the first time (take it out and replace with a mill cutter).

When it finally can't be rigged to work anymore, I will purchase a Castle, or upgrade our compressor and try one of the Kreg's. The Foreman from Kreg looks like a good deal price-wise, and gets really good reviews.

From contributor W:
I have also had a PC 552 for the last 4-5 years. It is well worth the money. Most of the mechanical problems related to this machine can be directly related to:

1. Using the machine to bore 500 holes in a row without a cool down break.

2. Not having proper dust collection under the machine (the air movement also helps keep the motors cooler). I have just replaced my first motor after 4 years. I got a PC 690 for $129 and was back in business in 30 minutes. The pilot-hole motor is still going strong. Keep it clean and it will run for a long time.

From contributor E:
I really like my Kreg Foreman semi-automatic. I agree with the others about the time saved and how it is addictive to make pocket holes. Several cabinet shops around me nail their cabinets together because it is faster. Since I got the automatic machine, I think that I can assemble them almost as fast. As far as in comparison to the others out there, the price is the big item, and that is why I chose the road I did.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
The Porter Cable machine, the PC552 is licensed to Porter Cable by Castle Inc, so the PC552 pocket is essentially a Castle pocket. The biggest difference between the two is the angle as which the pocket is cut. Castle machines have low angles with pilot holes. Kreg’s uses drills and steeper angles for their pockets. Kreg also drills their pockets, where as Castle routs their pockets.

With Castle pockets you get less of a chance of shifting when joining your two pieces of wood. Kreg’s steep angles cause breakthrough and shifting unless properly clamped down. Depending on the amount of work that a person will be doing, Castle pockets are best for high production. Kreg's is good if you’re a hobbyist and want to take your time building gadgets.

Comment from contributor F:
Joining face frames with pockets is fast and easy when using low angle pockets. Shifting occurs more when you try to join pockets with steep angles. Low angle pockets do not shift as much as drill tub pockets do. Castle's low pocket allows for very little shifting when using a face frame table. Kreg's pockets have a much steeper angle so that even with a face framing table you still get shifting when joining the two pieces. Ritter also has a low angle on their pockets; however, I have not used their machines. I can imagine that their machine joins similar to the Castle machines.

Comment from contributor C:
I've been using pocket joinery for eight years now and I use both the pocket jig and machine. They both have advantages and disadvantages as others have discussed. I prefer to use a pocket machine. It's 50 times faster when you fabricating 15 cabinets and 90% of the joinery are pockets. There are times though when a pocket machine just will not do the trick. For example when you have to make modifications to a cabinet carcass that is already assembled. Another example is when you're on a job site and space is limited especially when you got your arsenal of other tools out. I personally have a PC 552 and a Kreg pocket jig in my shop. I modified my PC 552 with a 4" dust port and mobile stand. It works beautifully! Just like with anything mechanical that you use service will be required. Having both the machine and the jig is priceless. Diversify, use both!