"Best" Joint? Pocket Hole or Mortise and Tenon

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Forum topic by mhawkins2 posted 08-20-2008 04:18 AM 13397 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View mhawkins2's profile


51 posts in 4015 days

08-20-2008 04:18 AM

Topic tags/keywords: pocket hole mortise and tenon question

I am designing (meaning I haven’t done much more than early sketches) a platform bed. I intend to make it frame and panel all the way around so that I can make three drawers where the fronts match the other panels. I am a novice / hobbyist and I have used pocket holes a fair bit and found them to be quite strong. But my question is more about the strength and longevity of the joint. These are for my kids (2, 2, and 4) and ideally my future grand children as well. So I would like something that would last a few lifetimes without needing to much repair. Surely that’s not asking to much of a joint :).

So at the risk of starting a “vi vs. emacs” or “tastes great, less filling” type of discussion: What is your experience with the qualities of pocket holes versus mortise and tenons?

I greatly appreciate all advice and experience. Thanks!

Where did all my money go and why is there sawdust all over the floor ?

-- mhawkins2 - why does my wife keep parking her car in my shop :)?

17 replies so far

View Tim Pursell's profile

Tim Pursell

499 posts in 4230 days

#1 posted 08-20-2008 04:25 AM

I’ve used both & there is no way pocket screws alone will stand up to the abuse a bed will see during it’s life. They have their place, but Mortice & tenon relies on a broad, well supported joint , not a but joint held together with a screw or even two.


View Eric's profile


875 posts in 4231 days

#2 posted 08-20-2008 04:56 AM

Not from experience, but just from my gut: There is no comparison between the two when you are talking about structural strength; mortise and tenon wins hands down. But if it’s not a load-bearing joint (like for the frame and panel), the pocket hole joinery should do just fine!

-- Eric at

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4653 days

#3 posted 08-20-2008 01:21 PM

Hello mhawkins2;
—-hands down or hands up, the mortise and tenon joint is the way to go. You can do a through or standard, but a haunched mortise and tenon will also resist twisting//wracking and adds strength, and then peg//bolt it.

Thank you.

-- --frank, NH,

View Patrick Jaromin's profile

Patrick Jaromin

406 posts in 4280 days

#4 posted 08-20-2008 01:56 PM

There’s a relatively recent (within the last couple years I believe) article in either Wood or FWW magazine—unfortunately I don’t recall which or when—that compared various joinery techniques, including pocket screws and M&T. They performed scientific stress tests. The results were interesting and worth a read (perhaps someone else can fill in the holes in my memory on this one).

That said, I concur with the others…M&T, absolutely. Franks addition of the pegs is also worth strong considering considering the application.

-- Patrick, Chicago, IL

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4453 days

#5 posted 08-20-2008 02:28 PM

Pocket screws may do fine for the basic frame and panel surrounds. Just not for the main joint intersections in the bed. Theres also some hefty mortised in steel joining methods for beds that may give mortise and tenon a run for its money.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Scott Wigginton's profile

Scott Wigginton

51 posts in 4193 days

#6 posted 08-20-2008 02:56 PM

Popular Woodworking did a similar test by dropping 2 different weight anvils on different joints. (it is on their main blog page, but I can’t access it from work to provide linkage)

Their tests were on drawer size joints and obviously found dovetails to be the strongest. The pocket screws were strong but when they failed the screw ripped through the surrounding wood leaving it unrepairable. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for the drawer construction, however the frame should no doubt use mortise & tennon or carriage bolts.

-- Scott

View mhawkins2's profile


51 posts in 4015 days

#7 posted 08-20-2008 07:11 PM

Thanks for all of the advice! I have to say I am surprised, I expected some enthusiasm for pocket holes. But taking all of this advice into account I will try my hand at mortise and tenon or perhaps loose tenons for the structural part. I have used pocket holes to built a frame for my workbench and to hold together plywood boxes with great success. The joints have seemed really strong but I have doubts about their longevity. So this is the time to try my hand at some new techniques.


-- mhawkins2 - why does my wife keep parking her car in my shop :)?

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 4216 days

#8 posted 08-20-2008 08:16 PM

no comparison. mortise and tenon! then pin it and that joint will never come apart!

View Callum Kendall's profile

Callum Kendall

1918 posts in 4151 days

#9 posted 08-20-2008 11:40 PM

I like the pocket hole system, however in comparrison to M&T. M&T wins every time!


-- For wood working podcasts with a twist check out

View brianinpa's profile


1812 posts in 4170 days

#10 posted 08-22-2008 03:51 AM

Pocket holes have their purpose and do a great job for what they are, but the M&T will stay stronger long after the screw rusts away.

-- Brian, Lebanon PA, If you aren’t having fun doing it, find something else to do.

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 4263 days

#11 posted 08-22-2008 06:13 AM

I cut my teeth on vi.

-- Scott - Chico California

View PineMan's profile


71 posts in 4042 days

#12 posted 08-22-2008 06:48 AM

M & T for me.

-- I never started a project I couldn't screw up.

View Patrick Jaromin's profile

Patrick Jaromin

406 posts in 4280 days

#13 posted 08-23-2008 12:12 AM

No way, Scott….emacs rulz!!

(Just kidding, I use ‘vi’ too)

-- Patrick, Chicago, IL

View Llarian's profile


128 posts in 4055 days

#14 posted 08-23-2008 12:15 AM

I’m glad to see vi is winning in the side pot here. :P

-- Dylan Vanderhoof - General hobbiest and reluctant penmaker.

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4747 days

#15 posted 08-23-2008 12:25 AM

Pocket holes are great for face frames on stationary cabinets, but I recommend M & T for the bed.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

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