The Essential Bus Conversion Tool: The Pocket Hole Jig

 

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Now that we’re on the tail end of our bus conversion project, it’s great to reflect on the ESSENTIAL tools that helped us get here.

For many people the idea of building their own cabinets seems overwhelming. The body, the doors, the drawers, the frame; where do you begin!?

There’s one tool that helped me (BEN!) significantly in this job and in so many other places during our bus tiny home build: The pocket hole jig.

The Jig

 

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Side note, Meag is pretty pumped I used this photo of her for the jig section. “Look! I’m helping!”

I’ve used two different brands of pocket hole jigs in the past: Kreg and Drillmaster.

Both have their upsides and downsides but I would have no problem recommending either of them. I personally own the Drillmaster.

I went this route because I was already purchasing a lot of tools for our bus build and the Drillmaster jig was only $75 compared to Kreg’s $100 jig. There’s your first upside to the Drillmaster. I also love that it has a full aluminum construction and larger base.

This is one of those rare cases where the cheaper option can last just as long as the more expensive options out there. The pocket hole widths are also adjustable on the Drillmaster so you can custom fit it to what you’re working on.

However, there is a minor flaw in the design. Where you clamp your workpiece to the jig there’s a cut away leaving a gap for sawdust to collect. This gap almost always results in tear-out due to a lack of contact pressure on the wood.

This isn’t the end of the world as most joints are hidden, but for those that are not it takes a little extra work to clean up. I also find this gap to make it more difficult to clamp narrow pieces because instead of sitting at the correct angle, small pieces fall into the gap. I rarely run into this problem as there’s not a lot of instances where I’m working on such small pieces, but when I do it’s very frustrating.

The Kreg jig doesn’t have this problem at all. It’s built so the workpiece sits flush against the entire jig without any airspace making a much cleaner pocket hole.

The drill guide is made up of hardened steel and the body is made of a composite glass nylon. It may look like just plastic but don’t be fooled. The Kreg jig is sure to last just as long as the Drillmaster’s solid aluminum body.  Worth the extra $25? I think so.

For the serious DIY builder out there it just makes sense to get the package deal. You’re going to end up needing a locking c-clamp, screws, plugs, and extended driver bit anyway. Kreg has a few bundle deals with their jig, this bundle is their highest rated.

The Joint

 

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At this point you’re probably asking, “What the heck does the pocket hole jig do?!”

Simply put, the jig holds your workpiece up at a right angle and guides a two stepped pilot hole down at a steep angle and stops just before the edge of the piece that will be joined to another. It’s similar to “toenailing” two pieces together but has a much stronger joint. Add glue and it’ll be sure to last a lifetime.

There are so many types of wood joints out there and a whole lot of them can be applied to cabinetry. So why choose the pocket screw joint?

The quick answer is it’s easy for anyone to use, it’s fast, and it’s strong. There’s no messy glue joints that need to be clamped for hours on end, which means a lot less downtime.

I glue a lot of my joints anyway, but because it’s held together with screws I don’t have to clamp and can keep on working. You also don’t need a router to shape the edges. Less mess, less stress.

The majority of people don’t have a full wood shop at their disposal, probably even more so for those of you who live in or are building a tiny home or working on a bus or van conversion.

That’s yet another beauty of the pocket hole jig, it fits anywhere! Heck, I did most of my cabinet builds in our apartment kitchen!

I even took it on the road with us in case I felt the itch to get some more work done…yeah… that didn’t happen. 🙂

 

Accessories

 

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It’s not that you absolutely need any additional tools to help with the jig. In most cases I use my super powerful arms (yessss) to hold my workpiece in place while I screw them together.

THAT SAID… there are a few accessories that can make your life a whole lot easier.

My favorite complimentary tool to pick up is the bar clamp.

Do yourself a favor and STOCK UP on these babies. We have several clamps and have never felt anything other than, “We need more clamps!”. Trust me!

For any two objects that are going to be put together there’s a special clamp for it. But I’m a huge fan of versatility so my first recommendation is to get a few parallel clamps.

These simple guys can be used for pretty much any application including joining cabinet carcasses and face frames.  And if you plan to make any countertops, doors, stair treads, or tabletops your going to need them anyway. I’ll use them over pipe clamps because it’s easier to keep your glue-ups flat and to use with one hand without having to fiddle with pipe clamps falling out of plane.

Now, you can definitely get by with just parallel clamps. BUT if you plan to be going to town on your own built-ins there’s nothing wrong with springing for a few specialized clamps.

The pocket hole clamp is a no brainer. On one side there’s a screw clamp and the other side there’s a rod that is designed to fit into the pocket hole. Great tool but pretty much has only one application.

Another essential addition is the right angle clamp designed for pocket holes.  Great for the cabinet carcass but again, not a whole lot more uses than that. The two that I absolutely love and have a little more versatility are the locking c-clamp and the corner clamp.

LOCKING C-CLAMPS are great for keeping pieces flush and in plane like when joining rails and stiles for cabinet face frames. They’re also perfect for clamping just about anything to your workbench or when doing small glue-ups!

THE CORNER CLAMP makes quick easy work out of this (I also LOVE the name, “Can Do Clamp”) and many other applications.

The corner clamp holds any two pieces being joined at 90 degrees. Great for face frames, built in boxes, and drawers. It also has the very convenient ability to hold two mitered ends together at a right angle without them slipping out of place. I made our toilet and bathtub covers with mitered ends and didn’t have a corner clamp. It was very difficult to keep them from moving out of place while I tried to join them, what a pain!

EXTENDED BIT — Another very important accessory is the extended bit. I like using Kreg screws that have a square drive so I have a 6” extended square bit. You can use a couple magnetic bit holders piggybacked on top of each other but they tend to wobble a lot when your driving. Just get this one, it’s cheap and totally worth it.

POCKET HOLE PLUGS — This last one I don’t know if I’d consider it an accessory or not but I’m going to mention it anyway. If any of your pocket holes are going to be seen you’ll need to pick up some pocket hole plugs. They’re sold in different wood species or just paint grade. Simply pop them in the hole with a little glue and sand flush.

Wood putty will clean up any seams.

 

The Screws

 

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You’ll have to get special pocket hole screws to do the job right.

Most of the time you’ll be joining ¾” and ½” thick material so you’ll only really need a few lengths. Whatever your application make sure to get more than you think you’ll need. I’ve been in too many scenarios where I’m almost done a project and I run out of screws, so disappointing. You can’t use pan head screws as a replacement because it’ll split the pilot hole so off to the hardware store you go!

I’m a big fan of the Kreg screws here:

 

These screws have a nice big head and a self tapping tip to help with wood splitting problems. The square drive head also holds in the bit more securely so you can one hand it without dropping screws all over the place.

 

Expert Tip:

This comes from my background in reclaimed lumber. When working with wood, instead of trying to hide a flaw, accentuate it. Even the best wood fills have a hard time matching color exactly and grain patterns are sure to give it away regardless.

I like to crush up a tiny piece of wood charcoal into a powder and mix it with glue. This makes a jet black putty that makes the workpiece pop. It looks like it was done deliberately rather than trying to mask it.

If done with an artistic eye and a little creativity it can really give a cool and unique look to your workpiece. it’s great for antique wood, nail holes, mends, knot holes, and even pocket holes and other joinery! Try it out and let me know how it goes.

 

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Have fun!

Whether it’s for a tiny home, bus conversion, or homestead, for your next project pick up a pocket hole jig. You won’t be disappointed with how quick and easy this little tool gets the job done. Good luck and (insert cheesy jig pun).