Introduction: Pocket Hole Workstation

About: Metalworking, woodworking, welding, homesteading - my interests are all over the map!

Pocket hole joinery is one of the most versatile methods of construction in woodworking. It allows the woodworker to make things as simple as picture frames, or as complex as custom cabinetry, with simple straight cuts. Jigs for making pocket holes range from super simple to production-class machines. Price, naturally, increases with capability. For the casual woodworker, the modestly-priced jigs can be used to build almost anything the bigger units can - it just requires more manual setup and, therefore, time.

This plan will show how to build a more capable pocket hole workstation using one of the basic jigs and some simple woodworking. The workstation is portable, easy to build, and can make the drilling of accurate pocket holes quick and easy. The focus is on making a capable tool at a relatively low cost. However, the station still has some great features (and extras that can be left out or added later if cost is an issue).

Materials needed:

Step 1: Jig Holder

Addendum: This part seemed to cause some confusion. If you are willing to go without the dust collection port, a much simpler jig holder has been added as Step 4.

The heart of the work station is a "pinch box" that securely holds the jig. It must also allow easy adjustment of the jig to allow holes to be made in materials of different thicknesses. The jig fits into some shallow reliefs that keep the jig from being pushed backwards.

For whatever reason, the jig is made with a shallow 2-1/2 degree angle on the sides. The trickiest part of this whole project is getting the reliefs cut at that angle. Note: If you are comfortable sanding the sides of the jig flat, fitting this angle can be avoided. A disc or belt sander with a well-adjusted table would be ideal for this.

For this Instructable, I'll make the angled parts. Start with plywood (I use baltic birch for this one) 2-1/4" wide that is thicker than the jig. Mine was not, so I glued two pieces together. Set the blade at a 2-1/2 degree and cut each end for the entire thickness. Use the jig to set the blade height on the table saw for the relief. I used a crosscut guide with a stop block to cut the relief approximately 1/16" deep on each end. Next, cut the angled ends off 1/2" from the relief. This gives you the two "pinch blocks".

Cut two pieces of plywood 3-1/4" wide and 4-1/2" long for the sides of the box. Place the pinch blocks on either side of the jig and measure the width (mine was 2-1/8" as shown in the picture). Cut another piece of plywood 3-1/4" wide and the length equal to your measurement in the last step for the back of the box.

Glue the pinch blocks flush with the ends of the sides and insert the back on the opposite ends. Clamp as in the picture. I fastened the back in place with brad nails. Once the glue is dry, drill a hole in the center of each of the sides for a 1/4" carriage bolt. Drill one side 1/4" and the other side a bit larger. A 3-1/2" carriage bolt is used to tighten the sides together to pinch the jig. Use a nut and washer to hold the carriage bolt in the side with the 1/4" hole as in picture. A 1/4"-20 star knob is used to tighten the pinch box onto the jig.

Step 2: Base and Guide Rails

Note: some of the pictures in this step are from an earlier version and may appear a little different than the current one.

The rest of the work station is fairly straightforward. The base can be made from whatever you have on hand. I glued two pieces of 1/2" plywood together, but 3/4" plywood would work well also. For this example, the base is 12" wide and 36" long.

The jig is moved higher or lower in the pinch box to drill holes in different thicknesses of wood. For 1/2", the bottom of the jig needs to extend below the bottom of the pinch box. A 1-1/4" clearance hole is drilled in the base to allow this. In my case, I drilled the hole through just one piece of the 1/2" plywood before gluing them together.

Position the box with the back flush with the back edge of the base and clamp in place. Drill holes for screws to firmly fix the box to the base. Don't forget that the sides have to be able to move to pinch and release the jig - only use screws at the back. Don't use glue.

Rip some 3/4" plywood 3-1/2" wide for the front side rails. Cut them to length so that they go from the sides of the pinch box to either side of the base. You want to leave a little room for the sides of the pinch box to spread. Now you're ready to drill your first pocket holes using the work station itself!

Insert the jig and adjust it so that the bottom is flush with the bottom of the pinch box (this is the setting for 3/4"). Clamp the rails as shown and drill pocket holes at three places to mount them to the base. Clamp a piece of plywood or a straightedge as shown to aid in placing the rails. Glue and fasten the front side rails with pocket hole screws.

Rip more 3/4" plywood to 3-1/8" wide to make the back side rails. Making this 3/8" narrower makes a "shelf" on which to mount the optional T-Track. Cut these to length similarly to the front pieces. They don't have to match the length of the front pieces - use what you have. Drill two pocket holes in each piece (not in the same place as the front rails). Glue and clamp the backs to the fronts as shown and secure with pocket screws.

Step 3: Clamp, Measuring Tapes, and T-Track

Cut a 3"x4" piece of 3/4" plywood and attach it to the base in front of the jig with glue and brad nails or screws. This is to set the clamp on so that the clamping force isn't down at the bottom of the workpiece. The clamp listed (which I'm not really thrilled with) has just a bolt to press against the clamped piece. I stuck on a piece of felt made for furniture feet that I happened to have left over from another project. Adjust the bolt as far out as it will go and still feel stable. Then use a piece of 1/2" (1/2" is the thinnest practical material for pocket holes) scrap to place the clamp and mark the location of the mounting holes. Pre-drill the holes and mount the clamp with wood screws.

Before attaching the adhesive measuring tapes on top of the front rails, sand the tops of the rails smooth with 220 grit sandpaper. A coat of polyurethane will help to give the adhesive tape a smooth mounting surface. Insert the drill bit into the jig and make a mark where the tip of the bit hits the base. This is where a pocket hole will be centered. Measure 2" from the mark on each of the front rails to show where to position the adhesive measuring tapes. I used the 2" side of a machinist's 1-2-3 block as shown in the picture. Trim the tapes at either end.

T-Track might be a bit over the top, but it is handy for stop block(s) if you want to drill a number of like pieces. Cut a piece of T-Track to fit each back rail. Carefully pre-drill the mounting holes and screw in place. You could go all out and get a flip-over stop for the T-Track, but I just made a simple one out of plywood scraps as seen in the picture.

Finally, I had an old 1-1/4" shop vacuum hose that I had replaced with a 2-1/2" one. I drilled a 1-1/4" hole in the back of the pinch box to allow me to insert it and connect to a vacuum for dust collection.

Step 4: Addendum: Easier Jig Holder

If you are willing to forgo the dust collection hole, the pinch box can be made much more easily than in step one. It is basically two pieces of plywood with reliefs cut for the jig.

Set your table saw blade for approximately 2-1/2 degrees and set the fence so that it just makes a blade-width cut. Set blade back to 0 degrees and cut two pieces 2-1/8" wide. Verify the fit on the jig.

Drill holes for the carriage bolt and install it as in Step 1. Use the star knob to pinch the jig in place and set it on the base (I used a piece of scrap plywood for this picture) and clamp it to allow you to pre-drill a screw hole for each piece. Using just one screw towards the back allows each side to pivot and pinch the jig when tightened.

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