14 March, 2014

Drill Master #96264 Portable Pocket Hole Jig out of the box review.

I started out woodworking on a small scale in the late 90s when I attempted to make a table, using nothing more than a circular saw, a drill, a couple of drilling jigs including a doweling jig, and a General pocket screw jig, and of course a pack of sandpaper. I got the table done although it more or less stank, but I learned, and worked my next project, and then the next one, and... well you get the idea.

Over the following years, I have come to learn a lot more about joinery, and the tools that help us make those joints. And I knew what I wanted in a pocket hole jig, and while the old General jig WAS reliable, and workable, it lacked some finesse that I was wanting. To get that finesse I was looking for a couple of pretty major features that the General jig was lacking.

  1. Adjustability, particularly on depth / angle. The General jig, if used in stock less than 1" would put the screw through the mating piece if using a 1.5" long screw which is the most common size I use. Shorter screws are no problem.
  2. Quick clamping / release for fast changeout of the work pieces. I wanted something to allow me to rapidly change pieces so that I can rapidly go from piece A, to B, to C, and so on... No manually screwing / unscrewing the clamp, I wanted to throw a lever. So a toggle clamp was a must.
  3. Reasonable simplicity of construction. I have seen pocket hole jigs that look like an engineer had fun designing it, but didn't take into consideration the more complex a system is, the more opportunities for failure there are.

So after looking around, and seeing what was on the market, I had my choices narrowed down to 2 jigs, although there are others similar out there, the 2 I was looking at were the big stand outs.

#1. The Kreg K4 Pocket Hole Ssytem.
#2. The Drill Master #96264 Portable Pocket Hole Jig

I had long ago chosen the Drill Master over the Kreg after seeing one of each in person and after several years of drooling over this particular jig, and losing the ability to resist the draw of the 25% off coupon from Harbor Freight, I finally broke down and bought one of these jigs. I feel I got a bargain buying it at the current sale price of $64.99 minus the coupon I was out the door for $48.75 + tax.

Once I got the jig home an un-boxed it, I took a quick inventory of the contents of the box. Inside I found.

  1. The main jig assembly itself.
  2. A secondary "portable" jig base. 
  3. A 3/8" step drill bit in a protective plastic tube.
  4. A bag with the stop collar for the step drill bit, hex keys for the step bit, and presumably for fasteners on the jig, and fasteners to hold the jig to your bench or fixture.
  5. 4 bags of various length what appear at a leisurely glance to be self drilling phillips head screws. Who uses phillips head screws in pockets? Square drive is pretty much the standard these days.
  6. The Assembly and Operations guide.
Overview of the package and contents on the bench.

One item that was conspicuously missing was a square drive driver bit that comes typically with other pocket hole jigs. Like I mentioned above, who uses phillips screws with pocket holes? The standard screws such as the ones from Kreg use a square drive.

After removing it from the box I noted a couple of things that I thought odd. The first was, I bought this at Harbor Freight Tools. The store, and all its contents known to be preserved in copious amounts of that funky, smelly shipping grease. This thing however was perfectly clean, no coatings of any sort anywhere near any of the ocmponents. That is a nice change from the shipping goo that I typically have to spend hours removing from new tools from HF and, well anywhere selling Chinese tools... 

The fit and finish of this unit is first rate all the way through, and while I expected some rough cast, or poorly machined billet aluminum pieces, this is all smooth, well cast, and well machined finish. seams line up with prescision, threads are free from burrs and move smoothly. What plastics are on this are well made from reasonable quality materials. The step bit appears to be the same exact unit that is with my old General pocket hole jig. 

The toggle clamp is pretty typical of Harbor Freight toggle clamps in that it is made of thinner stock than some other toggles, however this particular unit is substantially thicker than the toggles you get at HF just from their bins, it operates smoothly, and the adjustable foot has a considerable amount of throw to it.
Toggle clamp foot fully retracted.

Toggle clamp foot extended.

Looking at the main part of the jig, it is a fixture with an adjuster bar holding 2 guide blocks, and a threaded knob that tightens / loosens the adjuster bar. A clearly marked gauge on the front allows you to determine your hole center position of the guide blocks thus determining exactly where the holes are going to go, each guide block can be moved left / right along the adjuster bar. The guide blocks feature a pair of different angled drill guide inserts, the inserts at the steeper angle are for use in thicker stock, the inserts at a shallower angle are for thinner stock. It's actually pretty straight forward. The inserts are made from hardened steel and should contribute a great deal to the longevity of this jig.
Clearly marked adjustment rule, and well machined guides.

Adjustment of the guide blocks along the adjuster bar is pretty simple, loosen the knob, push / pull the block into position, and then tighten the knob. Getting the position dead on takes a bit of fiddling, but doesn't take long and once locked down won't move. 

I have yet to take dimensions of the jig yet, I can tell you it is BIG. You can get an idea for the size of it when you realize the adjuster scale on the front ends 2" from the center on each side. If I had to guess I would say it is probably around 6" tall, and 12" long, I WILL be measuring this item VERY soon as I want to make a stand / case for this jig, and other pocket hole accessories such as the step bit, screws, and a pre-existing square drive bit I have. This is not the most space efficient item in my shop. Not the worst either... 

I had been considering this, or a Kreg K4 Master System, and I am very glad I got this one instead. The Kreg has a couple of advantages over this jig, but a couple of distinct disadvantages.

Advantages of the Kreg over the Drill Master Jig.
  1. Front "foot" area making clamping to a bench top much easier. This is a glaring design ommission of the drill master jig. However the Drill master can be mounted to a simple piece of plywood that can in turn be clamped to a bench, problem solved.
  2. Dust collection port. This is a nice to have, but not must have item. Drilling operations don't typically produce the fine, get into your tissues and won't come out dangerous dust. So the dust port is really more for ease of housekeeping. It is a NICE feature to have, but not an absolute MUST have. Again, a clamping rig for a shop vac or DC hose right in front of this jig can do the same job admirably. Problem solved again.
Disadvantages of the Kreg over the Drill Master Jig.
  1. Primary assembly is made of injection molded plastic. This makes the jig much cheaper to manufacture, but also much more prone to breakage if you drop your jig on the concrete floor of your shop, or simply break down of the material if the jig is stored in a non climate controlled shop. This is a HUGE problem. For me this was the primary deciding factor, but not the only one, that swayed me away from Kreg.
  2. Lack of fine adjustment in hole spacing, and no variable angles for the drilling guides. You get what Kreg wants to give you in this regard. You have no way to control / left right spacing of your holes unless you physically move your stock, and the mechanism for making a different angle to accomodate for different thickness work pieces is a set screw in the guide block / plastic housing that allows the guide block to go up and down, it doesn't really vary the angle so much as vary when the screw hole starts in the piece. That isn't itself a bad idea, just securing it in plastic I felt was poor construction. This was another huge hit to the Kreg when it came time to decide on the purchase. 
  3. Cost. Simply put, the Kreg is expensive, ESPECIALLY since it is made with so much plastic. Materials, labor, amortizing R&D and tooling investments for a plastic based product should have resulted in a radically less expensive tool than a mostly metal piece. Kreg simply fails to compete on the price point. I checked the price for the Kreg K4 at both Amazon, and Home Depot, and it is selling for $99.97 + tax. The Drill Master as I mentioned above, came in at $48.75 + tax. 
Initial testing:
To test the jig, I mounted it to a simple plywood mount board that I clamped to my bench, and then I took a sample of 3/4" cabinet grade Aracuo plywood, a sample of 2x4 Southern Yellow Pine, a sample of 3/4 walnut, and drilled pocket holes in each, using the appropriate guide for each material thickness. The material was then machined similarly using the General jig. The results can be seen in the photos below.

General screwed to a simple test fixture quick clamped to the bench.

Drill Master jig screwed to a simple test 
fixture quick clamped to the bench.

Drill Master on the left, General on the right. Hard to tell from
the lousy Cell Phone photo, but in Walnut the Drill Master hole
is much cleaner.

Drill Master on the left, General on the right.
The tear out was caused by me pulling the fuzz
away from the hole. Both make LOTS of fuzz in plywood.

Drill Master on the left, General on the right.
The Drill Master left a cleaner hole.

So in the grand scheme of things, I chose the Drill Master, certainly not for the name, as there are plenty of folks out there that carry a deep disdain for anything Harbor Freight, but because it was the superior tool for the job, and the fact that it came in at just under half the price of the Kreg jig didn't hurt either. No doubt you have heard of the Harbor Freight Gems list, this item goes way beyond a gem, it is truly a diamond, and not in the rough!


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  2. I didn't find the way to pick the proper screw length for the slotted holes into the base piece. example'
    slotted hole piece is 1/2 and the base piece is 1/2 also.

    1. I'm not certain I understand what you are trying to say. Do you mean how to pick the correct length mounting screws for the base mount holes?

      I will have to go out and measure it again, but I am mounting mine to 1/2" plywood, and I am using 5/8" flat head screws, I think they are either #8 or #10 I don't recall offhand, but the idea is that I don't need to go all the way through the material, and after the head is countersunk in the base plate, there is about 1/8" of plate the shaft of the screw passes through before it gets to whatever stock you are mounting to... Unless you are mounting to sheet metal, or super thin wood stock (BAD idea....) a 5/8" screw will give you adequate purchase in the mount block without over penetrating it.

  3. How do you pick the right length of screw to use in the slotted jig screw holes that
    will not go through the base material

  4. How do you determine where to set the collar on the bit? Trial and error? The Kreg has a guide depending on material thickness.

    1. I set the stop collar by placing a doubled over piece of thick paper (magazine subscription insert card stock type stuff) on the base of the jig, and set the bit depth using that. I have never tried using pocket screws on any stock less than 1/2" / 13mm. I am sure others have their methods too!