Fine Woodworking, Pocket Screw Joinery, Product Review
Comments 9

Book Review: Mark Edmundson, Pocket Hole Joinery

I use pocket screws and pocket hole joinery from time to time. For me, this joinery method is so dang simple and fast, it is hard not to use pocket screws. If there is such a thing as seductive joinery, pocket screws would be it.

When I heard that Taunton Press, parent of Fine Woodworking magazine, was going to launch a book about pocket hole joinery, I felt the need to buy it. I wanted to see how a book from a company which writes about fine woodworking would approach this joinery method. The book by Mark Edmundson is simply titled, Pocket Hole Joinery.

Some fine woodworkers have a hard time calling a piece made with pocket screws “fine” – I have heard at least three of the staff writers at Fine Woodworking talk with concern about this joinery method. But the back cover of Taunton’s new book says this about pocket hole joinery: its “strong, quick to learn, and easy to master.” So what’s up with that? How can it be strong and yet a joinery method to be cautious with? Hopefully the answer lies within the pages of Mark Edmundson’s new book.

Who is Mark?
Concerning the author, Mark Edmundson is very much a serious woodworker. He studied under master woodworker James Krenov at the famed College of the Redwoods and has been a professional furniture and cabinet-maker since 1997. Mark has also written several articles for Fine Woodworking and Fine Homebuilding magazines.

Mark Edmundson, Pocket Hole Pro.

Mark Edmundson, Pocket Hole Pro.

Once I had this book in hand, I looked immediately for construction methods which would back up the statement that pocket hole joinery is strong.

For most all projects, strength comes from the abundant use of pocket screws. Logic would dictate that more screws = stronger construction. Mark adds biscuits and dowels to many of the pieces found in his book, but these things are present only to correctly align mating parts. As pocket screws are driven into wood, the cutting action of the screw will make the mating part shift – one of the few difficulties found in pocket hole joinery. Biscuits and dowels hold parts in place while the joinery is executed and are not used for additional joint strength.

A Bazillion Screws
When I say Mark uses a lot of pocket screws, the dresser project in the book uses 29 pocket screws for the right side alone. Pocket hole joinery is found in the top, opposite side, web frames, drawers, etc. etc. By my estimate, well over 100 pocket screws are used in this project and there are larger projects in this book. Prior to building one of Mark’s pieces, it would be wise to count the number of screws needed so you don’t run out.

Buy your screws in bulk. Lots of screws in this bed project.

Buy your screws in bulk. Lots of screws in this bed project.

The projects found in Pocket Hole Joinery are a mixture of case pieces, legged furniture and picture frames. These pieces are all well suited for pocket hole joinery. I would have no problem building the case pieces with pocket screws. The blanket bench and end table are light duty pieces. The daybed resembles a case piece more than a bed. The combination of dowels/biscuits along with pocket screws seems reasonable enough for these projects. Concerning the bed; I wouldn’t rely on pocket hole joinery and dowels to provide enough strength for the bed rail to head-board/foot-board connections. Metal bed rail connectors are more reliable and are not very difficult to install.

Designing for Pocket Hole Joinery
With each project, design considerations are discussed. Mark acknowledges that successful pocket hole projects include zero visible pocket holes. So, his designs have been created to hide them. And his designs are very tasteful. Mark’s time at The College of the Redwoods and the influence of James Krenov is evident, but there is artistic restraint in his pieces. They are traditional shapes with a slight modern twist. I think that many readers would desire to build some of these projects regardless of the joinery method.

A few of the projects from the book (click an image to start a slideshow)…

There are plenty of construction photos in the book. They show yummy lumber being used like black walnut, cherry, maple and quarter sawn oak. The photos alone are enough to make me want to get into the workshop and build something. You will also find illustrations and cut lists with each project.

Conclusion
While Mark Edmundson does not provide any scientific evidence that pocket hole joinery is proper for heavy-duty use, the evidence is really throughout his book. Chapter by chapter he is making a case for this quick and easy-to-execute joinery method.

The projects found in Pocket Hole Joinery are designed with enough structure to last for many years (I still don’t like pocket screws for bed construction). And the projects found in this book are well designed with just enough modern styling to look good in both traditional homes as well as modern ones. Mark is a top-notch designer.

Pocket Hole Joinery shows us how a woodworker can use pocket screws to make strong, quality furniture quickly. Before you dive into one of these projects, make sure you have a full charge on your screw gun, because you’ll need it.

I purchased this book at my local Woodcraft store. You can buy it online directly from the Taunton Press by clicking here.

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9 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on SouthRed and commented:
    I am trying to prepare myself for some woodworking crafts in the near future. After reading this article on pocket hole joinery, I’m honestly beginning to get excited. I will definitely be buying this book…. Wish me luck!!

  2. I think that it can’t be as strong. Unless like you say you use a ton but then what is the benefit? The whole reason to use them is to save time in my opinion. Now add biscuits to mix and then my question becomes why not just use them? What you think Jeff. Thanks for the article it was a great read!

  3. Hey John, I know what you mean. That was really my point in saying that metal bed rail fasteners are a better choice. Cutting all those pocket screw holes and properly aligning the dowels in the rails and then the mating headboard or footboard is a lot of trouble.

    My thinking is that conquering better joinery methods goes hand in hand with the desire to make higher quality furniture. I don’t see why someone would want to use pocket screws in fine furniture. That just doesn’t seem right to me. It was almost a shame to see photos in the book of black walnut boards with pocket holes in them.

    But Mark Edmundson, who is a professional furniture maker, stated that not all of his clients are willing to pay for the custom work that includes better and more costly joinery. That was exaclty the case with the washer/dryer table I built for my daughter (see it here). She needed something quick and on a budget; it is not made of black walnut and is not fine woodworking.

    Mark’s pieces featured in the book are very nice and have the look of fine furniture, but I wouldn’t call them that. For the most part, the projects in the book work well with pocket screws and should perform well and they look really good.

    • I hear you Jeff but to put all those screws in seems like it would take MORE time to me than to just do it with traditional joinery. I am probably wrong, I don’t use them that much because if you want to hide them it’s a pain. Thanx Jeff!

  4. Matthias Wandel just issued a video testing the strength of pocket hole construction vs dowel vs mortise and tenon using three different glues.

    • Hey Alan, thanks for sharing the video. Very interesting and makes you wonder who is right about pocket hole joinery being strong? The writers at Fine Woodworking or the marketing guys at Taunton Press who want to be a part of the pocket hole joinery craze. Hummmm….

      • Jim Davis says

        Great review

        “Strong” is relative. Obviously, pocket screws aren’t going to be as strong as a M&T, but can they be “strong enough” in certain situations? Absolutely they can, especially when the force is in compression anyway and the screw is just holding things laterally. I don’t use them much myself (mostly on shop furniture), but I could see where they might be used by people who don’t yet have the skill or experience to do a more traditional joint and would like to make a nice looking coffee table for the living room.

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