Pocket Screws?

Well it looks like I may have ruffled a few feathers with my latest mortise fixture video release. I was after all, only making a lighthearted jab at those that exclusively use pocket screws to make furniture.  And, yes, those woodworkers are among us.

I suppose I should have been prepared for a little backlash, as mild as it was; woodworking can be a very personal thing.   My goal with the video was to offer an easy route to make loose tenon joinery, and to offer an alternative to those in love with pocket screw joinery.

After getting less than superior results making integral tenons, when I first started woodworking, I switched to loose tenons (also called floating tenons) and never turned back.  The fixture I make in the video is the same one that I used when I first made the switch.

What about strength? How do the joints stack up?  Well, that’s a great question, and a few exploratory woodworkers have provided, what I feel to be, adequate data to answer the question.  A popular woodworking magazine published an article in 2009 (Fine Woodworking #203) and the authors compared the strength of several commonly used joints.  Pocket screw joinery and loose tenon joinery (as well as integral) were among them.  Near the top of the list was a 3/8″ thick integral tenon (1,444 lbs of force before failure) followed closely by a 3/8″ thick loose tenon (97% as strong as integral).  The pocket screw came in at 48% the strength of an integral tenon and 50% as strong as the loose tenon joint.

How much strength is enough?  That’s also something to consider, after all, we’re not building tanks.  But when I invest time, sweat, and energy into building a piece of furniture, I’m going to go with the stronger joint, especially when it takes very little extra time to execute.

Truth be told, I’ve used a couple pocket screws for furniture pieces in the past.  But they were not used in a position that calls for joint strength.  I’ve used them to secure a stile to a rail for example.  Never on something like a rail to a leg that requires a lot of strength and can potentially take a lot of abuse.

But, like I said above, woodworking can be a very personal endeavor.  Do what makes you happy while keeping in mind that the same can make you unhappy a few years down the road.




One Response to “Pocket Screws?”

  1. Rick Hart Woodworking says:

    I agree with you. I believe what we have available is countless ways to join our projects. What I see more and more is when one way is easy, it becomes the “go to” fastening device. I believe that each type of joint serves a purpose and while it can be used in several applications, it does not make it the best choice for all. Too often, when we produce video’s for the masses, we lean toward the “easy” way to provide the audience with a sense of “I can do that” when what we should be doing is providing them with the knowledge needed to complete a project and challenge them to perfect their chosen craft. Practicing a dove tail or tenon, like anything we do, can become second nature and almost as fast as drilling 4000 holes for pocket screws.

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