Edge joints are commonly used to create panels and table tops, but what’s the recommended spacing for pocket holes and should you also use wood glue for the joint?
Edge joints are one of the most common joints we use for building our DIY furniture projects, but do you know how far to space the pocket holes from the edge of the board? How far apart should you space pocket holes along the edge? Should you use glue? Should you clamp the joint? We’ll answer all of these questions today.
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Recently I received a comment from Richard on the How to Setup and Use a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig post. Here’s Richard’s question:
Can the Kreg Jig be used to help hold 2×10 lumber together for a kitchen countertop? I bought a Kreg 3 jig in hopes it was the right tool for the job and was planning to use 2-1/2″ screws to do the job. Also how far do the screws need to be apart? Thanks for the tutorial on setup and use of Kreg products.”
A Kreg Jig can be used to build panels and table tops, so I don’t see why you couldn’t use it to assemble a countertop. After I responded to Richard’s comment on the How to Setup and Use a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig post I heard my woodworking class instructor’s voice in my head. Bob was my instructor for three furniture making classes from “intro to furniture making” to “advanced furniture making”. In the classes I learned everything from how to make mortise and tenon joints to hand cut dovetails. Bob is also the inspiration for Bob’s Miracle Finish for Wood. Anyway, Bob’s voice was saying those wide boards are going to cup.
A wide board, like a 2×10, has a greater chance of cupping. OK, what’s cupping? I’m going to share the Wikipedia definition because I think it describes cupping the best. Cupping is a “warp across the width of the face, in which the edges are higher or lower than the center of the wood.” Imagine the end of the wood looking like a banana.
How could Richard reduce cupping on his countertop? First, he could use narrower width boards like 2x4s. He could rip the 2×10 in half and then join them together which would make two smaller cups rather than one large cup. Or he could use a table saw to make relief cuts on the back of the board in an effort to minimize cupping.
Since the countertop is going to see a lot of moisture he should also seal the countertop really well. Not only just sealing the top and sides, but sealing all exposed edges including the bottom. In Mistakes with Wood Can Cause Your DIY Furniture to Crack we talked about how wood is constantly absorbing and releasing moisture. Just sealing the top will cause the wood to absorb moisture unevenly and can encourage the board to cup or worse yet, crack.
Need to Know Pocket Hole Tips for Edge Joints
As far as spacing the pocket holes I double-checked with my friends at Kreg Tool. Although there are no hard and fast spacing rules for edge joints they had some recommendations and I’ll share those with you below. Before we look a the spacing recommendations let’s first look at the technique Richard would use to join the boards.
What is an Edge Joint?
Pocket Hole Spacing from the Ends
My friends at Kreg recommend setting the pocket holes about 2″ from the ends of a board when edge joining. Setting the pocket hole and pocket screw away from the end of the board will help minimize cracking the end of the board.
Tip: I’m picky about the direction of the wood grain for my furniture projects, so I lay out all of the boards first and decide on an eye pleasing grain pattern. Here’s an easy way to keep your panel or table top layout while you drill your pocket holes… draw a triangle or cabinetmaker’s triangle on the back. This way you can reassemble your panel or table top in your desired order.
Pocket Hole Spacing on the Edge
My friends at Kreg Tool recommend spacing the pocket holes approximately 6″ apart on the edge of the board. Again, there are no specific guidelines for spacing. 6” is just a good, general rule of thumb.
While we’re talking about spacing Timber posted this comment on the Drilling Pocket Holes on Miter Joints Requires Careful Planning post:
Another excellent and useful post, thank you! My big question is this: on edge to edge joining like for making table tops, I always see the pocket holes all in a line. Is there a reason for this? Wouldn’t it be better to have the pocket holes in a staggered or offset configuration? I’m brand new to woodworking, so it’s just a thought I’ve been having and would love some input. Thanks!”
This is a great question. I have always drilled my pocket holes in a row when making panels or table tops without giving it a second thought. For the official ruling, I turned again to my friends at Kreg Tool. Mike at Kreg said “There really isn’t an inherent benefit or disadvantage to staggering the pocket holes when gluing up a panel. The main reason you see them in line is simply for repetition of measurements from board to board.”
Use Wood Glue
When using pocket holes to make edge joints I would recommend using a quality wood glue in addition to the pocket screws. Even though pocket hole joints don’t require it, in my opinion, adding glue to a pocket hole joint improves the quality of the joint.
When a pocket screw is screwed through the angled pocket hole it draws the two pieces of wood tightly together. This creates a strong joint, but it doesn’t take into account the wood itself.
Wood is always moving due to seasonal changes. Wood is constantly absorbing and releasing moisture, just as it would when it was alive. In Mistakes with Wood Can Cause Your DIY Furniture to Crack I described wood like a box of drinking straws. When the drinking straws, ummm wood fibers, absorb moisture the wood swells and gets bigger. When it releases moisture the wood shrinks and gets smaller. If you build a project when it’s humid, you may notice when the air is drier that some of the joints don’t fit together as well as when it was more humid.
I’ve noticed this joint issue when edge joining table tops for furniture projects. I built my air conditioner dresser in the summer when it was humid, but I didn’t edge glue the top pieces. The top looked great in the summer, but in the cooler months, the joints of the top just ever so slightly pulled away from each other. And the edge of one of the pieces even started to slightly curl up.
Can you stop wood movement? The short answer is no, but you can help reduce some of these issues by gluing the joints. If I glued the top of the air conditioner dresser it wouldn’t be moving like it does.
Pocket holes create a strong, lasting joint, but in my opinion that joint is made even better by adding a quality wood glue.
I’ve seen a lot of DIYers assemble pocket hole projects without using clamps and I just don’t know how they do it. Whenever I’ve tried to attach a pocket screw without using a clamp one of the boards inevitably shifts and the result is a sloppy looking joint.
Using clamps will keep your joints properly aligned while assembling and will produce a professional looking joint. For assembling panels and table tops I like to use an assortment of bar clamps. With a bar clamp I can layout the entire piece, get all of the joints the way I want them, tighten the clamps and attach with pocket screws.
I also use clamping cauls or pieces of scrap wood when clamping to protect the edges of the workpiece and to help exert the force of the clamp equally across the board. Oh, and don’t overtighten the clamp. Overtightening can cause your panel or table top to bow and we want this piece as flat as possible.
Hey, while we’re talking about all of this clamping business, did you know there’s a science to clamping? Skate over to How to Clamp Your Project Like a Pro to learn more and to see how many bar clamps I recommend for a workshop. And if you need a place to store your clamps skate over to see these space-saving clamp storage options perfect for a small workshop.
Pocket Holes on Miter Joints
We talked a lot today about using pocket holes for edge joints, but did you know you can also use pocket holes to attach miter joints? In Drilling Pocket Holes on Miter Joints, I share three ways to use pocket holes for attaching miter joints. Skate over and check it out!
Pocket Hole Questions
Do you have a question about pocket holes? If you didn’t find the answer to your pocket hole question in this post or in the Kreg Jig Tips and Tricks directory you can ask your pocket hole questions here!
Edge joints are one of the most common joints we use for building our DIY furniture projects. There are no hard and fast rules for spacing pocket holes on edge joints but typically you should place pocket holes 2″ from the end of a board and then typically space pocket holes 6″ apart along the edge of the board. Use wood glue and clamps to create a quality joint.
Thank you for stopping by. If you found this information helpful, would you please pin it to Pinterest? Other DIYers would appreciate it and I would too! Thank you – Scott