Pocket hole screws aren’t cheap – especially those name-brand screws manufactured by Kreg. If you’re working on a project involving pocket holes, then you’ve probably had the thought “can you use regular screws inside pocket holes?”
Pocket hole screws feature a number of specific features that make them ideal for use in pocket holes. They’re designed to work inside pocket holes to form a strong joint without causing the joint or surrounding wood to crack or break.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use other screw types inside pocket holes in a pinch. Obviously, they won’t perform as well as pocket hole screws, but if you’re halfway through a woodworking project and all out of Kreg screws – there is an alternative to pocket hole screws.
I’ll break this down further in this post, as well as give some examples of pocket hole screw alternatives.
Pocket Hole Screw Design
Before looking at some viable pocket hole alternatives, we’ll need to go over the design features that are specific to pocket hole screws. When choosing an alternative, you’ll want to look for a screw with similar features in order to avoid poor performance.
Self-Tapping Auger Tip
If you take a close look at a pocket hole screw’s point, you’ll notice a small flute cutout in the tip. This cutout functions like a mini drill bit – effectively creating a pilot hole as you drive it into your material.
This tip eliminates the need to drill a pilot hole all the way through your pocket hole and into the connecting wood board.
If you examine a pocket hole drill bit, you’ll notice the tip features a small pilot hole point that partially creates a pilot hole inside the board that you drill the pocket hole in. This pilot hole tip partially creates the pilot hole, while the screw does the rest of the job.
If you use a screw without a self-tapping tip inside your pocket hole – you’ll be more likely to cause the end of the connecting board to split and/or crack.
Deep Square Head
Examine the head of a pocket hole screw and you’ll notice that most of them feature a deep square “Roberts” head. This type of screw head is popular in a number of different applications where you need strong driver engagement and lowers the odds of the driver slipping or “cam out”.
This head gives you better control as you drive screws, and also helps prevent stripping the screw head rendering it useless.
Another thing to consider is that pocket holes require a fairly long driver bit to reach inside the pole and drive the screw. In fact, the standard driver that comes with most Kreg Jigs is 6” long. If you don’t have a long driver bit to match the head of your alternative screw, then you may not be able to reach inside the pocket hole to drive the screw.
Flat Washer Head
Pocket hole screws feature flat, washer-shaped bottoms designed to ensure the screw stops at the precise depth created by the pocket hole drill bit. This is one of the screw’s most important features, as it prevents the screw from traveling too far into the pocket hole and damaging or breaking the hole or surrounding wood.
Most construction, drywall, and wood screws feature some type of tapered head bottom designed to drive the screw head flat into the material. This is a big no-no when it comes to pocket holes, as this type of screw is likely to over-drive, causing damage to the wood and rendering the joint useless.
Partially Threaded Screw
Pocket hole screws feature threads that only go about halfway up the shaft, with the upper portion of the shaft being smooth and unthreaded. This actually causes the threaded portion of the screw to pull the head of the screw into the joint – creating a stronger joint than a fully threaded screw would.
You’ll find this type of partially threaded screw in many other applications where additional strength and shear resistance is needed including deck screws, structural screws, lag bolts, and many others.
Alternatives to Pocket Hole Screws
If you reach into your toolbox and find you’re all out-of-pocket hole screws, what are some viable alternatives you can use?
Drywall screws are one of the most common screw types, so you’re bound to have some lying around. That being said, they’re a pretty poor choice and far being the best pocket hole screw alternative out there.
Drywall screws typically have tapered bugle-shaped heads that are designed to do drive the screw head flat with the material. This is likely to lead to splitting the wood and ruining your pocket hole joint.
If you insist on using drywall screws, then you’ll want to be really careful when approaching the end of the pocket hole to avoid splitting the wood.
Also, keep in mind that pocket hole screws are manufactured to be tougher than run-of-mill screws. Drywall screws on the other hand are made from hard, brittle steel and are prone to snapping during installation – so they’re not likely to hold up over time.
Standard Wood Screws
Regular wood screws are a better alternative than drywall screws but still have some drawbacks. They often have self-tapping tips, partial threads, but lack the flat washer heads of pocket screws.
Once again, you’ll need to be careful when fastening these screws in pocket hole joints, as they can easily split the wood if you over drive.
Cabinet screws are very similar to pocket hole screws and have nearly all of the same design features including wide washer heads, self-tapping tips, and partial threads.
These screws are designed for cabinetry, light-duty structural applications, and general remodeling use.
If you happen to have some of these screws lying around then they’d make an excellent pocket hole screw alternative, but they’re not exactly cheap, so purchasing Kreg screws would cost you about the same.
Self-drilling screws are another strong alternative to pocket hole screws and share many of the same design characteristics.
They often have flat washer heads and have self-drilling tips that are similar to the self-tapping tips found on pocket hole screws.
You can find them at relatively cheap prices, so they’re a good low-cost alternative to most pocket hole screws.
Hopefully, you now have a strong understanding of how pocket hole screws work and why they’re designed the way they are. They have a number of different features that make them the ideal option to use with pocket hole joinery, but there are some alternatives that can work in a pinch.
Generally speaking, you’re better off using pocket hole screws than other screw types, but if you can pinpoint a screw that shares many of the same features then it can work as well.