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The new Kreg K3 pocket hole jigs are versatile and very easy to use.
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Kreg K3 Pocket Hole Systems

Simple, strong and elegant joints at speed

Text & Photos by Tom Hintz

The Kreg Tool Company (Huxley, Iowa) may not have invented the pocket hole joinery technique but they certainly have refined the tools that make creating them remarkably fast. Their innovative thinking, executed with first-rate manufacturing bring a line of tough, easy-to-use tools that will have you making perfect pocket hole joints in minutes.

Initial Impressions

These were my first joints with the K3 Master System. From 1/2" to 3/4" to 1 1/2"-thick, the species or wood made no difference. They all were easy and pulled together flush.
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The Kreg K3 kits are very well made with precisely machined metal components at critical wear-prone points, including the specially hardened drill guide that is at the heart of the K3 system. All stressed parts are accurately molded from a special glass-filled material that is very tough and stable.

High-quality manufacturing processes allow Kreg to mold useful scale markings at easily accessible places on some components. These scales make adjusting the drill bit stop collar or the jig itself quick and precise.

The Kits

The Master System (Top) appears to be the best value but the Standards Pack (Bottom) can be upgraded later to match the Master System with a special kit.
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The K3 Master System is the most complete of the kits and includes everything needed to make one or dozens of pocket hole joints very quickly. A specially molded carry case is included that allows storing all of the components in one neat package so they can be found when needed.

The Master System includes a well-written instruction manual, the benchtop and portable bases, both accepting the K3 drill guide block. A dust shroud and material support stop make the process very clean and repeatable. To insure absolutely flush joints, a special face clamp is included. The unique 3/8" step drill, stop collar with Allen wrench, a 6" and 3"-long, square-drive bits (1/4" click-lock end) and a sample bag of self-tapping screws complete the kit.

The K3 Standard Pack includes the instruction manual, carry case, K3 guide block, portable base, face clamp, 3/8" step drill with stop collar (and Allen wrench), 6", square-drive bit and sample screw pack.

The K3 Standard Pack will get you started but can be expanded to match the Master System. A K3 Upgrade Kit is available separately that includes all necessary components to convert the Standard Pack to a K3 Master System.

Magnetized drivers and square head screws make it easy to seat the screws cleanly.
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Note: The square-drive bits are magnetized, making it easier to assemble joints when helping hands are not available.

The step drills included in both kits are very good quality and cut exceptionally well. However, eventually they will dull. The Kreg manual recommends sharpening the bits after 2,500 holes. They offer sharpening of their bits for $4 - US or $6 – Canada. If you have additional Kreg bits, they will be sharpened for $2 each when included with the first one. (Catalog prices as of 9-20-2005)

Instructions

The kits come with a selection of the special screws. These are from the Master system. You will need more because you will enjoy using this jig!
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The printed instruction manual packed with both the Kreg Standard Pack and Master System is well written, fully illustrated and presents the information in an easy to follow format. The manual takes the user through the entire process step by step, making it almost difficult to mess this up.

Many of the kit components can be used in more than one configuration and the manual does a good job explaining those options as well as related setup procedures. An easily understood, illustrated chart makes selecting the proper screw length for material thicknesses from ½" to 1 ½".

Dust Collection

The Kreg step drill works great as do the special hardened guide bushings. The off looking spacing makes it easy to align two screw holes in most widths of wood.
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While drilling pocket holes does not generate a lot of debris but evacuating it from the hole makes drilling easier and you have less to sweep up later.

The snap-on dust cover (bench top base only) has a 1 ¼"-diameter port and a small volume that makes even so-so shop-style vacuums effective.

Note: The dust collection shroud that comes with the K3 Master System is not compatible with previous versions of the Kreg pocket hole jigs.

Pocket Hole Joint Strength

Aside from being a very fast and attractive joinery method, pocket hole technology converts one of the weakest of joints into one of the strongest. Kreg literature includes independent lab test results that compare a well-made pocket hole joint to an equally well-made mortise and tenon joint. When subjected to shear load to failure, the pocket hole joint proved to be 56% stronger than the mortise and tenon.

The Master System comes with a bench-mounted clamp (Left) that makes drilling virtually any board simple. The guide block can be removed and used as it also comes in the Standard Pack (Right) for when getting the wood in the full clamp is difficult.
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Adding the mechanical strength of the screws in addition to their clamping pressure is what makes the difference. Modern glue technology certainly helps but that bond strength is applied to both joint styles.

The important point here is that using pocket hole joinery does not degrade the project in appearance or strength in most applications. The simplicity of the Kreg jigs makes it easy for even beginning woodworkers to build a wider range of projects with better results.

In The Shop

A scale on the benchtop clamp makes setting the collar for various thickness woods simple and accurate.
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Using the Kreg K3 system just cannot be any easier. I cut and joined a few pieces of scrap to become familiar with the setup procedures. Even the first "test" joints came out perfectly flush and tight.

The molded-in scales on the benchtop base (Master System) and drill guide block are easy to use and accurate. Used as described in the instructions, the scales show the proper setup for materials from ½" to 1 ½"-thick.

The three drill guide bushings in the guide block are arranged in an odd looking pattern that works very well when trying to install two screws in many material widths. Because only one side of the joint is drilled, placement of the holes need not be ultra precise. The guide block has lines showing the center of each drill bushing that can be eyeballed on the stock or can be used to align layout marks if you need to drill the pockets in a specific place.

The Master System also includes a material stop that is mounted separately so it can be positioned where ever it works best.
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By far the most difficult drilling situation is on mitered stock under 2"-wide. The instructions show how to deal with this as well. After drilling a few mitered joints, this task is not hard to deal with.

During evaluation one of the things that stood out was how easily the Kreg step drill cuts into soft and hard woods. My Bosch 14.4V, Brute Tough drill driver was used to make all of the joints in this review (and more) with no indication the bit was having any difficulty. Very little pressure is needed to drill the hardest of woods. The best results in oak, walnut, poplar and pine was produced by allowing the weight of the drill itself regulate the feed rate.

Conclusions

The face clamp makes assembling the pieces perfectly flush to each other simple. It also makes working alone much easier.
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The Kreg pocket hole systems work exactly as advertised and produce remarkably strong joints when combined with common glues. If you cut the wood square, the joint will be square.

The quality of all kit components is first rate and appears to be designed for a long useful life. That quality and the extraordinary behind the scenes engineering make the Kreg Pocket Hole Systems tools easy to use and very durable.

That ease of use and the strength of the joints should make the Kreg Pocket Hole Systems especially interesting to new woodworkers. Learning to make the many traditional joint types is fun and worthwhile but can take a long time. The Kreg Pocket Hole Systems can bring more projects within your skill set today and allow learning the more complicated joinery on a more relaxed schedule.

The mystery pieces (Top) are for a future enhancement. They will be used to attach the material stop (Bottom) to a section of Kreg Mini T-track to increase the versatility of the benchtop clamp fixture.
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With a street price of $149.99 For the Master System, $79.99 for the Standard Pack and $69.99 for the upgrade kit, the Kreg Pocket Hole systems represent an exceptional value that will make many of your joinery tasks faster, stronger and more accurate the day you get them.

Mystery Parts

Many of you have noticed the T-nut and 10-32 screw that seems to be extra in the K3 Master System. To be honest, we couldn't figure them out either. When in doubt, call the guys who know. We spoke with Kreg and got the real information on those pieces.

The T-nut and screw are actually for a future enhancement of the benchtop clamping fixture. They go in the center hole of the material stop and are designed to attach it to a length of Kreg Mini T-track. The idea is to run a length of the T-track out to either side of the benchtop clamp fixture, slide the material stop (with this plate attached) into the T-track and tighten it where ever needed when making multiple pocket holes in longer stock. The T-track will allow using more than one material stop for multi-position pockethole drilling.

The T-nut and screw actually are mentioned on page 16 (fourth paragraph down) of the manual that comes with the Kreg K3 Master System. A kit with the Mini T-track and other parts is in planning at this writing and will be announced on the Kreg website when it becomes available.

Production Setup

(Left) Just adding the Mini Trak and additional Support Stops provides many more options for using the K3 jig. (Right) This setup can be especially useful when working with larger panels or long boards.
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Photos courtesy Kreg Tools

The Kreg K3 Master System can be augmented with their Mini Trak and additional Support Stops for production-type work that will make doing panels and multiple-piece work easier even in the home woodworking shop.

A 4’ piece length of Mini Trak with measuring tape (Item# KMS7506) costs $18.99.  An additional Support Stop (Item# KJSS) for the K3 Kreg Jig costs $9.99 each. As you can see in the photos above, mounting this system to a dedicated board will make using the K3 faster and easier with larger stock or when multiple pieces are to be joined.

 

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