The Toolbox: Issue 8

Comments (0)

This article is from Issue 8 of Woodcraft Magazine.


Kreg K3 Pocket Hole System

It was back in 1989 that I remember watching Norm Abram use pocket screws to construct a face frame for a bookshelf he was building on “New Yankee Workshop.” He pulled a clever little implement out of his tool pouch and announced that it had been sent to him by a “friend of the show.” It was nothing more than a small block of aluminum with a hole drilled through it at the precise shallow angle necessary to guide a standard drill bit to carve out a channel in the piece of wood the jig was clamped to, while not allowing the drill to poke through the opposing face of the wood. A piece of tape wrapped around the bit indicated the depth to stop drilling.

For all I know, the viewer who gifted Norm with that gadget may very well have been Iowa tool and die maker Craig Sommerfeld, who had been tinkering with just such a device since 1986 and brought his first commercially available pocket hole jig, the Kreg M1, to market in 1990. A two-hole model, the M2, followed later that year, as did the sand-cast model K2. 

Fast forward to today and the solid aluminum block has given way to the molded glass-filled nylon body with hardened-steel drill guides of the Kreg model K3, the essential component of the company’s K3 Master System. This little unit is about the size of a pack of cigarettes and houses three guides, two of which (B and C) are just 9/16" apart while guide A is spaced 7/8" from guide B. The manufacturer recommends using two pocket holes when joining material that is up to 33/4" wide, and this arrangement permits both holes to be drilled without having to reposition the jig. The combination of two of the three available guides you use is determined by the width of your workpiece. For even wider boards, the manufacturer suggests spacing individual holes 6" apart. 

THE FRONT-SIDE CLAMP on the K3 bench-top base enables both the jig and workpiece to be held solidly to the bench.
THE BASIC K3 JIG slides out of the bench-top base 
for attaching directly to a workpiece with the included face clamp.

THE KREG K3 is also available in the standard pack without the bench-top base and dust collection hookup.

Not only has the basic jig seen significant improvement over the years, so have the accessories. In the early days you might have had to secure the jig to the workpiece with whatever clamp was handy, but now Kreg supplies a tool created specifically for that function. It is a sort of hybrid of locking pliers with a large C-clamp on either side, and a disk mounted on a swivel, perpendicular to each jaw. This item can serve the dual purpose of holding the jig securely to the work while drilling, then keeping the two pieces of wood exactly flush with one another when screwing them together.

It is also no longer necessary to wrap tape around the bit to avoid drilling too deeply. Most Kreg kits now come with a 3/8" drill bit equipped with an adjustable depth collar. Furthermore, it is a stepped drill bit with a smaller diameter portion at the tip for generating the pilot hole for the screw, which will eventually be driven through that newly drilled pocket. 

Even the screws have been specially designed. They are self-tapping and feature a built-in washer for extra holding power. The screws are available in three thread types: fine, coarse, and a combination of the two called “Hi-Lo” for medium-density hardwoods like poplar. There is also a smaller no-washer pan head screw for extremely hard woods. All of these screws are square-drive type, and the appropriate driver bits in 3" and 6" lengths are included with the kit.

A lot of combo kits come with various tools to perform multiple functions. The Kreg K3 Master Kit does just the opposite in that it performs just one function, but is loaded with bells and whistles to make that one job go as smoothly as possible. After all, you could make perfect pocket holes with just the basic jig alone, but this kit comes with a bench-mountable front side clamp, a rugged base intended to be permanently installed in the workshop. Using it in combination with the basic jig and a separate bench-mounted material support allows you to clamp both workpieces securely and accurately to your bench and conduct your drilling operations vertically rather than horizontally. There’s even a handy dust-collection shroud that can be snapped onto this accessory to port wood chips directly to your shop vacuum or dust collection system. The kit also contains a smaller portable base that can fit easily in a tool belt and be quickly screwed to a jobsite workbench to facilitate vertical operation out in the field. 

The entire K3 Master System comes packaged in a rugged, plastic carrying case and includes a small assortment of screws. It retails for around $150. 

The K3 is also available in a standard pack without the bench-top base and dust collection hookup, and sells for around $80. For more information visit

— When not in his shop, Lee Gordon is a copywriter and announcer who has voiced thousands of radio and television commercials. He lives in West Hartford, Conn.

THE WIXEY WR500 electronic readout fits most popular planers

Wixey WR500 Digital  

The Wixey WR500 electronic digital readout is an extremely easy way to add digital measurement to a bench-top planer. The Wixey readout can be easily attached to Delta Models TP300, TP400LS, 22-560 and the 22-580 two-speed surface planers, the DeWalt Models DW733, DW734 and the DW735 two-speed surface planer, the Ridgid Model TP1300LS, the Craftsman Model 21713 or the Ryobi Model AP1300. It can also be attached to just about any 12"-13" bench-top planer with just some very minor modifications. The measurements can be given in inches or millimeters with an accuracy of .001 inch or .01 mm.

The directions supplied with the Wixey digital readout unit are straightforward and have excellent diagrams. 

The unit is affixed to the planer with double-sided tape after it is properly leveled and locked in according to the instructions that apply to your particular planer. Once in place, set your planer’s preset depth stop at one of the lowest positions (1/4" or 1/2") and lower the cutterhead until it hits the stop. If your planer doesn’t have a preset stop, lower it as far as it will go, which should be 1/8" on most planers. Slide the readout down the steel scale and using the top edge of the plastic readout case as a pointer, align the readout with the proper reference position printed on the steel scale. 

After calibrating the unit, which takes only a minute or two, you can surface your wood to extremely precise dimensions. For example, if you’re in the process of planing wood and after repeated passes a point is reached where you want to remove a precise amount of material on the final pass, follow this procedure: After the next-to-last pass, don’t touch the head or height-adjustment crank yet. Press the ABS/INC button until “INC” appears above the reading and the reading changes to 0.000. Then unlock the headlock and crank down the cutterhead until the display shows the amount of material you want to remove on the last pass. Lock the cutterhead lock and run the last pass. Pressing the ABS/INC button again takes the readout out of the INC mode and places it back in the ABS mode. The reading on the display will be the exact thickness of the board you’ve just planed and your planer’s calibration is maintained.

By the way, even though this unit was designed to be used on bench-top planers, I also tried it on two different drum sanders. The unit fit very easily on the Performax Model 16-32 Plus and the results were just as good as on either planer test. The unit also fit on the Delta Model 31-250, but had to be placed on the outfeed side of the sander. The measurement results were just as reliable as those on the test with the Performax.

All in all, the Wixey WR500 electronic readout enables a precise measurement capability that has been lacking on woodworking machines. We now have the ability to machine wood to the same precision tolerances that have previously been the domain of milling machines and surface grinders. 

The unit retails for around $59.95.

— Jim Doyle lives in Norfolk, Va.


Write Comment

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page