Okay, I'll admit it. The shop here at WOOD magazine has nearly every type of tool, jig, and accessory ever invented. So drilling pocket holes in the bottom shelf frames of a display stand I recently made didn't present a problem.
Now, that's easy for me to say, but I know that you may not own a pocket-hole jig. And usually, that's not a problem—you just substitute another form of joinery, say biscuits or dowels, in place of the pocket screws. But sometimes, as with the display stand, only a pocket-hole joint will do. Then, do as I did in my pre-pockethole-jig days. Simply drill a series of holes—without assistance from a jig—that form a pocket hole. This doesn't go fast, but it sure gets you by.
—Jeff Mertz, WOOD Shop Manager
Select a twist bit—those with pilot points work best—that matches, or is just slightly larger than, the diameter of the screw you will be using. In this example, we used a #8x1-1⁄2 " screw requiring a 5⁄32 " shank hole. Chuck the bit into a handheld drill.
On the end grain of the piece of wood that will be drilled for a pocket hole, mark the exit point of the screw. As shown in photo below, we marked the exit point 1⁄4 " from the edge of a 3⁄4 "-thick workpiece. Then, mark a line on the edge of the piece that angles 25° from the exit point. This is the path of the screw. Start the drill bit at the exit point, angle it to follow the path line, and drill until the bit emerges from the face of the workpiece.
Center a 3⁄4 " Forstner bit on the hole where the bit emerged from the workpiece face. Drill straight down to a depth of about 1⁄4 " to make room for the screwhead.
Align the two workpieces, then clamp a scrapwood positioning block, as shown in the top photo. This stops the pocket-hole workpiece from sliding during assembly.
If you have access to special pocket-hole screws, you can drive them right into most woods. But, if you're working with a dense wood, or using conventional screws, you'll need to drill pilot holes into the undrilled workpiece. To do this, simply align the workpieces with the positioning block clamped in place, then use the shank hole to guide the pilot-hole bit. Our #8 screw requires a 7⁄64 " pilot hole in hardwood, a 3⁄32 " pilot hole in softwood.