The affordable, portable, easy-to-use pocket hole cutting machine.
The affordable, portable, easy-to-use pocket hole cutting machine.
Anyone who uses pocket holes occasionally will likely opt for a manual pocket hole jig, which can be had for around $100CAD. But, if you make cabinets on a regular basis, a pocket cutter machine is significantly quicker and more precise. Unfortunately they’re expensive, with the smallest models starting at around $1,700CAD – outside the budget for many self-employed and hobbyist woodworkers.
The new Castle 110 Pocket Cutter (an upgrade of the discontinued Castle 100) can be had for around $560CAD (shipped to Toronto). It bridges the gap between a manual pocket hole jig and a fully automated floor standing machine.
One of the common complaints with pocket hole jigs is that the workpieces can shift when driving the pocket screws home, even with the parts firmly held down. This is largely due to the steep 15-degree holes that these jigs create.
The Castle 110 cuts a much shallower 3-degree hole, even lower than the 6-degree hole you get with commercial machines. This virtually eliminates shifting. As well, the clearance hole for the screw is drilled from the outside of the workpiece, so that there is no debris left in the screw hole when you assemble the joint.
The Castle 110 is small, sturdy and durable. It’s made of a 3/32″ thick aluminum. Smaller items like the clamp handle, pressure plate, web adjuster, and pocket lever are stainless steel. Base and work top are HDPE plastic and the overlay plate is acrylic.
Clamp ports on either side of the base enable you to secure it to a workbench using quick-grip or similar clamps. You can also screw the machine to a plywood base and attach the base to any work surface. To do this simply remove the four screws that attach the base to the body of the machine, screw the base to a substrate, and then re-attached the body to the base. On a job site you can use the Castel 110 freehand simply by using the clamping plate on the machine to secure it directly to your workpiece.
There’s a vacuum port on the front of the machine sized to fit a 1-1/4″ dust hose, such as the Festool and Fein dust extractors. For other brands you many need to use a 1-1/4″ to 2-1/4″ hose adapter. The cavity underneath the vacuum cover plate is small and fills up very quickly, which means you really do need to connect the machine to a dust extractor. Otherwise you run the risk of overheating the router motor.
Inside the Castle 110 is a 450-watt router with a 5/16″ straight router bit (factory installed) that cuts the pocket holes. Replacment ruter bits ($49.99US, #B02516) are available from Castle. At the top of the machine is a work deck on which the workpiece is positioned, and a clamp foot that holds the workpiece in place. A handle at the top of the machine exerts downward pressure on the clamping plate (and is adjustable by means of a large height adjustment knob). At the back of the machine is a lever that you push down to pivot the router up into the workpiece. Once the pocket hole is cut (and before you remove it from the work deck) you drill the clearance hole for the screw with the included 5/32″ drill bit. Replacement drill bits ($9.99US, B06532) are available from Castle. The power button is at the bottom back of the machine – a tad awkward to reach. And, as with all router-based machines, the Castle 110 is loud. I measured it at 84 decibels.
And does the Castle 110 ever work quickly to produce smooth, clean pocket holes! Once I get into a rhythm I can cut pocket holes in about 10 seconds. Easily 150 in an hour – not too shabby at all. I find the most time-consuming part of the process is drilling the screw clearance holes. That’s because the drill guide is located at the back of the Castle 110. The drill bit fits into the drill guide very snugly and sometimes has a tendency to snag. I’ve found that positioning the machine at the corner of a workbench makes it a tad quicker to reach behind the machine and insert the drill bit.
The cabinets I make primarily use 3/4″ stock. However, you can use workpieces up to 1-1/4″ thick with the Castle 110. Positioning them on the work deck is super quick. For wide stock or when you have only a few pocket holes to cut, simply align a pencil line on your workpiece with the centerline on the clamping plate. To speed things up when cutting multiple holes in stock up to 6-3/8″ wide – cabinet rails, door rails, center stiles and the like – you’ll want to use the optional work stops (which are included with the Castle 110 for a limited time – a $40US value). I use the work stops all the time. I place pocket holes about 1/2″ from either side of rails and the work stops make alignment a piece of cake. The measurement scale on the clamping plate is laser engraved making it easy to read.
Out of the box, the Castle 110 works with 5/8″ and thicker stock. For thinner stock between 1/2″ and 5/8″ you simply install the supplied clear plastic overly plate on the work deck, re-adjust the clamp pressure using the large knob atop the machine, and you’re good to go. No other adjustments are necessary.
On the side of the machine is a lever that enables you to change web settings. The ‘web’ is the distance between the edge of the stock and the end of the pocket. You can select from 5 different positions for various screw lengths. The Castle 110 is factory set for 1-1/4″ and 1-1/2″ screws. For different screw lengths a couple of test cuts will get you the optimal setting.
Castle stipulates that you should only use Torx head ‘cheese’ style pocket screws with an integral fillet to ensure maximum compression of the workpieces and to eliminate screw cam-out. This isn’t a ploy to get you to buy Castle screws – there’s a good reason for this. The Torx head driver allows the screw head to completely follow the bottom of the pocket as it’s driven. This achieves the 3 degrees. Cheese-head square drive screws work but the driver doesn’t allow the head to follow the bottom of the pocket since the screw stays straight with the driver. The exit angle ends up being closer to 6- degrees instead of 3-degrees. I tried using washer style screws but found that they were too wide to fit the pocket holes.
I’ve not had to change the router bit since getting the Castle 110. Fortunately, changing the bit is straightforward, and the process is clearly outlined in the operator’s manual. You can use a 5/16″ solid carbide spiral router bit with an 8mm shank of approximately the same length.
Over the past month all the pocket hole joints I’ve made have been as close to perfect as you can expect – no misalignment and no gaps between mating workpieces. The router has enough power to cut pocket holes in hardwood plywood, Baltic birch plywood and solid hardwood.
The Castle 110 is a huge time-saver that gives one-person woodworking shops and hobbyist woodworkers an easy and affordable way to create low-angle pockets. If you’re building cabinets on a regular basis this is the one machine you won’t regret buying.