Is Scott Phillips (American Woodworker) preventing new wood workers from learning proper Joinery ?

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Having a rather lazy 4th of July I decided to watch some TV. As I flicked through some channels I saw Scott Phillips making a project,so I thought I’d see what he was up to and wanted to see if he changed his approach to joinery from the last time I saw his show(years ago),he had not changed his aproach.
At this point, I have to admit I’m not a fan of much of his workmanship.
Scott seems like he would be a great guy to know and be friends with. My issue with Scott and his show is that no matter what casework project he makes he always uses pocket screw joinery. As joinery goes pocket screws are relatively strong for what the are(a butt joint with mechanical fasteners). But when I open a door or look inside cabinets and see pocket screws my first thought is the builder is a very new woodworker and or they want to only make quick projects that are not top quality ,products like those made for Walmart.
I believe Pocket screw joinery has its place ,mostly in hidden locations like the back of face frames.
This brings me back to my question. If a newB only watches “American Woodworker”they may think that since Scott has been around for years that pocket screw joinery is the do all woodworking joint, and not bother to learn other types of joinery that takes some time and practise to learn.
This approach has been brought to my attention by a few of my new students saying," why not pocket screws" for almost every project they want to make.
Does all this mean pocket screws are evil and should never be used? No! But if you’re a new to woodworking or not and you want to keep improving your woodworking skills then look into and learn some more time-tested Joinery.
To those of you who love pocket screw joinery for its ease and ability to make quick projects.Enjoy!

What’s your take on this subject?

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34 Replies

Interesting subject Jim. You and I both are members at the “other” woodworking site, I’ve been there for 6 years and you for ?10 years; I’m not sure how many thousands of projects we’ve both seen posted there, from beginners to well seasoned professionals to master woodworkers. It seems like most of the members that I’ve seen as brand new beginner woodworkers start with really simple projects, glued, screwed, nailed together. Then they either continue with simple stuff like that or those first simple projects are an inspiration and stepping stone to gradually pick up more complex projects and joinery. I started that way, and gradually have tried to build my skills. My grandfather, uncle and my wife’s grandfather were all very competent hobbiest woodworkers but 99% of what they did was with pocket screws, brad nails and glue. That was the era that they learnt woodworking, unless you were fortunate enough to have someone to teach you otherwise, you were stuck with learning from watching guys like Scott Phillips. Now I think the internet and the multiple woodworking forums online are a huge influence on many beginning woodworkers; it exposes us to multiple different ways of doing woodworking. In some ways, the old model of learning woodworking from a PBS show and a set of books ordered from Popular Mechanics is extinct. So, I think we’re in a new era, and yeah, some will continue to learn solely from PBS shows and then go into their basement and fire up their radial arm saw (no offense to radial arm saw users!) and pocket screw the heck out of some face frames, but the majority will be inspired by the mass and volume of fantastic and varied woodworking that there is online.

Rob, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Very good point Manitario ,even though I’ve spent so much time online dealing with woodworking subjects,I tend to forget the great influence all of the woodworking websites ,you tube and other things like woodworking magazines have on today’s woodworkers.

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For me, pocket screws were a stepping stone. I built a lot of fairly complex projects, like my home built camper that I never would have tackled if I’d had to figure out traditional joinery. I started with pocket screws, then graduated to dowel pin joints, and now I’m doing mortise and tenon joinery.
If you are really interested in woodworking, you’ll always be looking for new challenges. If you are going to build every piece the same way, you might as well get an assembly line job at an Ashley Furniture factory.

Every project I build gets a different way of being built.
What ever is appropriate for the job.

RJC

Pocket screw joinery are the new way of toe nailing in my opinion .
I prefer not using metal fasteners as much as possible as they leave unsightly holes that have to be dealt with especially on items like jewelry boxes or other fine work .
I will use screws and other metal fasteners on shop items and properly used screws and bolts have their place .
I also see a trend to industrial style furniture with exposed metal and bolts and just shutter when I think of all these metal edges and points looking for an injury to happen .
Most of this is new type of wood working is driven by good marketing
and sets the new standard and style ..
Sorry about the rant !

Yes we all take those steps Jeff

I agree Railway ,my point is exactly that deferent joinery that meets the need of every build

Not a rant Klaus ,good point , For years and years high-quality furniture makers have stated ,hand cut dovetails ,no nails no screws. Your right to follow your own path rather than someone who wants to follow ever trend that comes along
that includes the industrial look. Besides with your talent and design ability you don’t need to follow trends.

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Well, now this a subject I have been waiting to approach. I, as a middle of the road woodpecker, have never used a pocket screw for anything I’ve built. My favorite joint is the miter joint. If one looks at the jewlery boxes or other finer builds, I use a miter joint in 90% of them. It’s a very difficult joint but, when done correctly, there is nothing that looks better. Pocket screws to me are just what you all have said , A beginner’s joint. It does build confidence in completion but, not something to base your whole woodworking on. I love trying something new and would never tell anyone to use a pocket screw. Good for the ones who like it but, better if you get away from it and really test your skills. Test yourself and watch your confidence take a HUGH leap. Thank you for sharing this subject and reading this post.

Jamesw

Thanks James
I think trying something new is what it’s all about.

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Pocket screws are just lazy in my opinion. Just Google “wood joints” and you’ll get more than enough examples of joints to choose from to suit your needs. Once you’ve chosen a joinery method you can look up specifics on how to execute them. Pocket Screws are time saving but not quality joinery. There’s a reason you don’t see antique furniture with pocket screws, (besides the fact they haven’t been around that long) It will never be as strong as quality hand crafted joinery. Could any of you ever say “look at the quality craftsmanship in those pocket joints”? I don’t think so. People have to realize also that woodworking is a skill of practice and patience and basic skills need to be taught and learned.

Mitch

The pocket screw thing has been around since ever and was used to fasten tops to aprons but for joining two boards especially end grain to edge grain I don’t think its the right application .
I won’t knock it as a lot of guys use it and it heavily promoted but there are much better ways to make a joint .

I’ll throw my $0.02 in here………

Walk into any cabinet shop and somewhere you’ll find a pocket hole device of some kind. In my shop, the dedicated Kreg machine is connected to the dust collector and gets used almost daily. Pocket hole joinery is quick and efficient, and serves a vital role in the construction of face frames and some aspects of case work. It is one of the tools in the “arsenal” certainly add to the profit margin.

When I’m building cabinets, I use dados and rabbets for shelves and backs and lots of screws and brad nails. Generally speaking, kitchen and bath cabinetry ain’t fine woodworking and has to be out the door as quickly as possible. Admittedly, my case work is a lot more substantial than the norm but my pricing and clientele dictate that.

When a furniture commission comes in, I shift gears. A lot of the power tools go silent and the hand tools are on the bench. Traditional joinery is required.

To Jim’s point, I cringe as well when I see some of the TV shows so adamant about certain techniques. The credibility of the host tends to give folks the idea it’s the best, or perhaps the only , way to build. I’m fortunate to be involved in a fairly active woodworking guild. Most of the members are hobbyists with a few of us “full-timers”. Periodically I open my shop for guys to come in and see different types of equipment and techniques. There’s a lot of sharing as some of these guys are incredibly talented.

Artisan Woodworks of Texas- www.awwtx.com

I think there is a Facebook page called I hate Scott Phillips. So I guess we look at many things when we build something for a client as in , is it cabinetry so pocket screws work great for that and i have been doing it for 20 plus years and never had a face frame fall apart or a box. The next thing is what your market is, will they pay for craftsmanship and joinery. That is a big part of the business and do they care if they have dovetail drawers or m/t door joints? Hate to bust people bubble but there is a small amount of people that really care. Certain joinery should be used no matter such as a m/t apron to a table leg and pinned is a must.
I think the rule of thumb is that if it cabinetry you use more modern joinery like biscuits, pocket screw etc. For furniture you may use some of the older joinery or a mix of new to old depending on what the cost of the piece will be. For scoot I think each show on TV has it different levels of woodworking and most of these guys are running a race with programing and all that crap that goes with TV.

Having learned joinery in shipbuilding as a lad I was exposed to old time joints that some people have never seen or heard of. Later in life as an engineer I was exposed to building and repairing furniture with all the different types of joints both old and new. About twenty years ago I saw pocket holes being used in face frame cabinets and a contractor friend that began to use them on every joint possible. About 6 months ago I purchased the kreg system to build some face frame furniture for a client that required concealed and lockable compartments. My next time using them was this week to build some drawers quickly for my Roubo work bench. I love traditional joinery in any form that is going to show. For speed in an area that will not be visable they have their place. On my work bench I will eventually replace each drawer with solid wood and dovetails, but in one morning I completed the same results. I only used rough birch plywood so it will eventually be replaced to match my beautiful bench. For now the drawers keep the tools clean and stored away. I will continue to use joints based on the project at hand but I am always learning. As for the TV series most young people don’t even watch it anymore, the Internet u-tube, and Netflix is where they spend their learning spare time. For me I have never heard of American woodworker, years ago as a young paratrooper I would watch the new Yankee workshop when I was ever at home (very rarely) in between overseas tours. As for actually learning from a TV show, I have not. The best teachers I have found are old craftsmen in trades, it takes time and effort to seek them out, but they are where I have acquired my skills from. Progress is always at hand in life some things change for the better some not. I will always be willing to try new things, but remember the fundamentals and apply what suits the situation at hand.

CHRIS, Charlottetown PEI Canada. Anytime you can repurpose, reuse, or recycle, everyone wins!

Thanks for you very good input guys.

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I’ve used pocket joinery, here and there, over the years, but it doesn’t belong everywhere, in every project. Although numerous joinery techniques are time consuming, they sure have a place and are something to accomplish.

When I taught shop, every students’ first project had to be completed with nothing but hand powered tools, other than a corded drill. Reason? I wanted them to know that they could make a nice piece with tools that most folks have in the garage.

Our society seems to have become one of hurry up and get it done. Shame.

Keith "Shin" Schindler

Something I’ve always remembered in life not to mention woodworking,, SPEED KILLS. Noted that society wants everything yesterday and doesn’t want to pay for it, they get what they pay for, a speed induced piece of cheap furniture.

Jamesw

Good points Shin and James

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Great topic Jim!
Funny, I just bought a Kreg 3 for one particular project I will be building, and that was out of necessity. For a small commission job, that I will make 0 money
on, but want to do a decent job on it.
I can’t imagine using it on much of anything that someone that appreciates
fine woodworking would buy.
My skills are improving daily, and I am totally inspired by the fine craftsmanship of so many of you.
I really think you have to look at this whole Kreg Jig phenomenon from the aspect of who pays the bills at American Woodworking, and Pbs, Wood Magazine,
who are using the jigs on practicaly everything?
The Kreg Jig people are trying to sell Their
systems, and are doing a great job at it!
In my estimation, that is the driving force behind this less skilled movement being hawked by all the Magazines and Webb
sites.
I agree with a lot of you that say if you go on in you woodworking, and as ones skills improve, one will want to learn the
finer ways of doing woodworking, I know
I do.
And remember, good tools get sold once,
ya gotta buy more screws all the time!
Lol
thanks again Jim, I love your passion! !!!!

Steve Tow

Hi Steve
Thanks for your input. I agree a new woodworkers use of pocket screws may change after they gain more experience. I think Scotts use of pocket Screws was his choice not because Kreg is his sponsor because he used them on everything close to 30 years ago long before Kreg became one of his sponcers.

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Ahhhh, that really is different then!
And not in a good way!
I entirely get your point!
You know, when I bought the Kreg jig I did, even for the reason I did, I did do
a double take on it so to speak. I know
there is a better way to do this project, I justified it by the time and whom it was going to, but in reality, I will know.
I think you for sticking to your morals about this
issue. You have helped me decide which direction I want to peruse on several things, including this one!
I would rather make quality not quantity.
Thanks again!

Steve Tow