Dovetail Joints Vs. Pocket Screw: What’s Better?


Wood Joinery is one of the most effective ways of joining woods in woodworking. Dovetail Joints doesn’t require the use of any other fasteners other than cutting the angles right and Wood Glue to support the workpiece. On the other hand, Pocket Hole Screws need using jigs and screws to hold wood. So, what’s better between these two wood joinery methods?

According to some professional woodworkers, Pocket Screws can be useful in various applications like cabinet face frames. It’s also because you can use the combination of both screws and Wood Glue. Unless your project requires some fancy glueless Japanese joinery, Dovetail Joints is more suitable. It would still give you sturdy support even without using Wood Glue for as long as you cut each angle of each pin and tail right.

Dovetail Joints and Pocket Hole Screws are two different methods of wood joinery. It involves various aspects and factors to consider to create these beautiful and robust wood joinery methods successfully. Once done right, it will give you the strongest workpiece that you can use for a prolonged period.

What are Dovetail Joints and When to Use Them?

They say Dovetail Joints are the definition of a true craftsman. Who wouldn’t? These finger-like joints are so intricate to do. This joinery method offers a tight, reliable, and long-lasting fit. More often, it doesn’t require any mechanical fasteners, which makes it more appealing to most traditional woodworkers. You can also use Wood Glue to add more strength to the joints.


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  • Parts of Dovetail Joints. Dovetail Joints have two primary parts – the pins and tails. According to its name, the tail has a resemblance to the rear of a dove. On the other side of the board are pins that fit in between the tails. It creates a joint that snugly fits.
  • When to Use Dovetail Joints? If you want quality that lasts for a long time, you can use this wood joinery method. You can use it for cabinets and other projects that involve boxes. As proof, go to any antique furniture shop. You’ll witness overwhelming items constructed with Dovetail Joints.
  • Why Use Dovetail Joints? You can never go wrong with Dovetail Joints. Its most significant advantage is that you’ll never have to use Wood Glue in your workpiece once done correctly. It has a large gluing area with interlocking joints, which are hard to pull apart. Plus, it offers beautiful looks. It’s relatively difficult to mark and cut, but it gives you satisfaction as a woodworker.
  • Types of Dovetail Joints. There are various kinds of Dovetail Joints, depending on the project, design, and function of the workpiece. You can choose from the different Dovetail Joints below.
    • Through Dovetail. It is the most basic type of Dovetail Joint wherein it uses a finger-like interlocking method to join two pieces of wood. It is ideal to use for practicing Dovetail Joints in joining frames, boxes, cabinets, and other items.
    • Half-blind Dovetail. It hides the joint from the front end. It is ideal to use for drawer fronts and an alternative for Through Dovetail.
    • Secret Mitered Dovetail or Mitered Blind Dovetail. It is the highest type of Dovetail Joints use for classy cabinets and other fancy boxes. It has a “secret” on its name because it hides the dovetail joint from inside and outside corners.
    • Slide Dovetail. It is a method of joining pieces of wood at right angles. 

What are Pocket Screws and When to Use Them?

Pocket Screws, Pocket-Hole Joinery or Pocket-Screw Joinery, involves drilling a hole at least a 15-degree angle into the workpiece. Then, the other board joins the first one with a self-tapping screw. It is a screw that creates its hole, with the help of an electric drill, as it drives through the material.

  • Parts of Pocket Screws. This kind of wood joinery is much simpler than Dovetail Joints. It only involves Pocket Holes created using a portable drill. 
    • A Pocket Hole Jig makes the process faster. It allows you to drill holes with clean and accurate angles. Pocket Hole Jigs have a metal insert for inserting drill bits to create holes.
    • Self-tapping Pocket Screws are more expensive than regular screws. However, it is what you need for Pocket Hole Screws to get a tight and secure joint. Self-tapping Pocket Screws have full washer heads for preventing screwing too far into the joint. It also prevents cracking or splitting the wood. Take note that coarse threads are ideal for softwood, while fine thread screws are for hardwood.
  • When to Use Pocket Hole Screws? Since Pocket Hole Screws are for joining two pieces of wood at a right angle, it is best to use for joining the legs of a table or chair. You can also use it in building the insides and framing of a cabinet, stairs, picture frames, and window jambs.
  • Why Use Pocket Screws? Pocket Screws are perfect to use when you are joining pieces of wood at a right angle. You have to make sure that cuts are precise and square to avoid any gaps. It also ensures that the workpieces are perpendicular to each other. If you don’t want to use Wood Glue, Pocket Screws are your next best option.

Dovetail Joints Vs. Pocket Screw: What’s Better?

The best way to identify which is better between the two courses is by listing its pros and cons. However, you have to understand that Dovetail Joints and Pocket Screws offer different qualities and support in any workpiece. It all boils down to whether you want to use Wood Glue, Screws, or you want to be traditional? 




Do you want to have a fancy and classy workpiece? Do you want something durable, yet easy to do? The answer to these questions will help you understand what’s better between Dovetail Joints and Pocket Screw. For the sake of a better understanding, here’s the list of the advantages and disadvantages of using each method.

  • The Pros and Cons of Using Dovetail Joints
PROSCONS
Dovetail Joints provide an incredibly sturdy support on any workpiece.Dovetail Joints are challenging to create, especially for most beginners.
Dovetail Joints don’t require using any fasteners like Wood Glue, screws, and other jigs. Once tails and pins fit snugly, it’s enough to last for a lifetime. The interlocking pints and tails of Dovetail Joints are so intricate, which makes it doubting to make.
Applying Wood Glue on the surface of the pins and tails increases the sturdiness of the joints. Dovetail Joints require precision and high accuracy in measuring pins and tails.
Dovetail Joints offers a very classic and fancy look to any workpiece.
  • The Pros and Cons of Using Pocket Hole Screws
PROSCONS
Pocket Hole Screws don’t require any complex measurements, especially if you have a tool used for creating holes. All you have to do is to measure the right distance between the starting and ending points, which depends on the size of your screw and the thickness of your wood.Doing Pocket Hole Screws may promote breaking the joints easily, especially with conventional joints.
Using Pocket Hole Screws can be quick as you can ever imagine.Pocket Hole Screws are more prone to splitting. Once Pocket Hole Screws break the joints, there’s no way that you can fix it.
Pocket Hole Screws is very simple to use. It requires no high-level expertise. One mistake in creating Pocket Hole Screws may ruin the hole, so you may have to start from scratch again.
Since Pocket Hole Screws is more convenient to use, most amateur woodworkers would be safe to use it.

How to Make Dovetail Joints?

You already know that Dovetail Joints are durable and attractive. It’s a traditional wood joinery method that has been around since ancient centuries. To help you start creating this challenging procedure, here are some simple steps that you can follow. 

  1. Make Sure that Your Tools are Complete.  The tools depend on every woodworker. Some of the most common tools that you’ll need are Mallet, Bevel Edge Chisels, Marking Gauge, Cutting Gauge, Dovetail Saw, Dividers, Marking Knife, Rulers, and Hard Pencil. Also, make sure to cut your boards evenly.
  2. Mark Your Boards. Determine which is the Face Side and Face Edge of your boards, so it’s easier for you to identify while working on your Dovetail Joints.
  3. Make the Base Line. Create a baseline that has an exact thickness as your wood. You can use a cutting gauge for accurate results. It will serve as your guide to have an equal size tail and pinboards.
  4. Create your Half Pins. It is the first pin on top and outside of the Dovetail Joint. For a beautiful work, its size would be 6mm to 9mm. For larger projects, the size is approximately 10mm to 18mm. Set your marking gauge according to the size of your half pin, and mark the half pins onto the tailboards.
  5. Know the Right Space. This part is where it becomes a little bit confusing and complicated. It’s because you have to divide it for both pins and tails. Decide on the sizes of your tails and pins. 
    1. For the pins to have a desirable appearance, it should be smaller than the tails with approximately 4mm to 6mm for small projects, and 7mm to 12mm for more extensive work.
    2. For the tails, it should be around 18mm to 35mm for delicate work like drawers. Then, 35mm to 55mm for more extensive work as a chest.
    3. Remember the saying of most woodworkers for Dovetail Joints, “One more tail than a pin.” No matter what pin and tail length you choose, remember that it should fit your boards equally in size and angle.
  6. Mark Your Tails and Slopes. Use a Square to mark the lines of your pins and tails. For the slopes, you can use a dovetail square or a bevel set to mark the right angle. Marking and lining will help you remember what to cut and not to remove.
  7. Start Cutting Your Dovetails. Follow the lines that you’ve just marked as your guide. Make sure that your boards are stable by clamping them on your workbench. You can use a Dovetail saw to cut your lines with the saw kerf down to the baseline that you’ve created.
  8. Remove Waste. Dovetail Joints are like pieces of puzzles. So you have to remove wastes that are not part of the joints to make space for the pins of the other board. You can use a coping saw for this job, and avoid cutting down to the baseline for further trimming.
  9. Mark Your Pins. You will use your newly created Tailboard as a template to mark your pins on the other board. It will ensure that you have the right measurement and fit snugly with your Dovetails. Do it by securing your pinboard and rest the Tailboard on top of it. Line up their baselines to make sure that they are equal. Then, you can use a marking knife to make outlines of the tails.
  10. Cut Your Pins. Use your Dovetail saw to cut down lines that you’ve created. Now, the waste parts that you removed in your Tailboard are your pins. Do the same process in cutting the waste parts.
  11. Final Touches. Make little adjustments by comparing both Tailboard and Pinboards. Then, trim and smoothen the surface of both boards. Until they snugly fit together, then you have successfully created your Dovetail Joints. 




How to Make Pocket Screws?

Creating Pocket Hole Screws are not as challenging as Dovetail Joints. It would help you a lot if you can afford to buy a Pocket Hole Screw for higher accuracy. Once you have that tool, these simple steps will help you make Pocket Holes.

  1. Prepare Your Boards. Make sure that the pieces of wood are in the right size. Layout and mark your drilling points. Find the side of your angle that has the best grain, so you may want to avoid screwing into the end grain of the wood. It’s because screws don’t hold well when threaded into the end grain. Drill Pocket Holes on the rail, instead. Then, drive crews into edge grain of the stile.
  2. Drill Your Pocket Holes. Set the correct pocket depth wherein the pilot point should be ⅛ inch from the end of the workpiece. You have to maintain this angle to avoid drilling too deep or shallow.
    1. Drilling at a higher speed will give you cleaner holes. 
    2. Spraying a dry lubricant reduces drilling friction, which may cause brittleness. It also helps in prolonging the sharpness of the bit.
    3. Pull the bit out every time you reach at least half-inch depth to clear the path. It also helps in reducing friction.
  3. Choose the Right Screw. As mentioned, it’s better if you can use Self-tapping Pocket Screws. Remember, Coarse-thread pocket screws are perfect for softwood. On the other hand, fine-thread screws are for hardwood. The length depends on the thickness of the workpiece.
  4. Assemble the Joints. Start screwing your boards. Don’t forget to clamp your workpiece for stability. It’s your choice whether you will use Wood Glue before screwing or not. Then, you have successfully joined two pieces of wood using Pocket Hole Screws.

Pocket Hole Screw Guide

MATERIAL THICKNESS SCREW LENGTH
½ inch to ⅝ inch1 inch
¾ inch1 ¼ inch
⅞ inch to 1 ⅛ inch 1 ½ inch
1 ¼ inch to 1 ⅜ inch2 inches
1 ½ inch2 ½ inches  

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Are Dowel Joints Stronger Than Screws?




More often, Dowel Joints are stronger than Screws. It is because Dowel Joints uses Wood Glue, which further enhances the durability of the combined two pieces of wood. Wood Glue penetrates the material to provide more holding power. Screws, on the other hand, may loosen with time causing it to strip out.

Do You Have to Use Special Screws for Pocket Holes?

When it comes to Pocket Holes, you can use special pocket hole screws. These are self-drilling wood screws with fluted tips. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use those standard screws but may be less accurate and efficient with the results.

Why Are Dovetail Joints So Strong?

Dovetail Joints are sturdy because it consists of interlocking tails and pins. Its angles make it hard to pull the joints apart. The addition of Wood Glue makes it stronger – the reason why most woodworkers prefer to use this wood joinery method.




Final Words

Dovetail Joints are perfect to use if you don’t want to use any screws. On the other, use Pocket Hole Screws if you’re going to be a little bit fancy when using screws. Both can offer sturdy support for any workpiece. So, it’s a matter of personal preference.  If you want to be elegant and classy, go with Dovetail Joints.

However, you have to make sure that you are up for the challenge of creating its pins and tails. If you prefer using screws, your design will always be safe with Pocket Hole Screws. Choosing between these two methods should be simple when you have a concrete plan for your workpiece. Know more about the Different Kinds of Wood Joinery.


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