We have all seem Norm use his pocket hole machine on the New Yankee Workshop. I wanted one the first time I saw him use his. Not that I needed it. Pocket hole jigs can be plenty fast for small projects. One day a Kreg DB55 Foreman made an appearance in my shop. Here are some of my observations.
The Kreg Pocket Hole Machine
The Kreg Foreman does indeed produce perfect pocket holes in record time. When equipped with a sharp stepped drill bit the pocket holes come out fine in wide range of woods. I have tested all sorts of woods ranging from pine to mahogany and Wenge. I found nothing the Kreg Foreman can't handle.
The best bit is that the machine completes an entire pocket hole in a couple of seconds. The Foreman has increased my productivity so much that I don't want to go back to the way I did things before. Sometimes I get disappointed that I only got to use the machine for a few minutes a project. It's that fast. Let's take a look at what there is to tell about the Foreman beyond the fact that it works.
If you have never seen a Foreman, take a look at this quick introductory video.
Air vs Electric
Kreg sells two versions of the Foreman. A pneumatic DB55, and the electric DB110. On the pneumatic unit the clamp and the drill bit's rotation are powered by air. The plunge action of the bit is controlled by the lever arm. Both the drill stroke and retracting the bit are manual operations. There is no air assist, but there is a spring which helps with retracting the motor. On the electrical version the motor is an electric unit. The clamp and the plunge action are operated by the lever.
The way the lever controls the plunge is an important feature of the Kreg Foreman. Because the leaver is directly linked to the motor, the operator can control the speed of the plunge. Pull on the lever slowly, and the bit advances slowly. The lever also provides feedback on how well the bit is advancing through the wood. If the bit is getting dull or the pocket is being drilled in hardwood, the lever will be harder to pull.
The negative component in this setup is the requirement to push the lever up to retract the bit and motor. The springs that are meant to assist with this might as well not be there. If I let go of the lever on my unit when the bit is fully extended, the lever will move an inch and remain stationary. It needs to be returned to the resting position manually. This requirement is a key distinction between the Kreg Foreman line of machines and their larger sibling, like the Kreg DK1100 FP. The machines are pedal operated. Air power is used to complete the entire pocket hole drilling operation including advancing and retracting the bit.
The lever's function is not a negative; rather it is an observation that puts the Kreg Foreman in a certain range of tools. A small cabinet shop will be well served by the Foreman. The lever's feedback property even adds to the versatility of the machine. Larger shops that dedicate employees to just building face frames should look at the larger Kreg machines.
The pneumatic clamp is unquestionably strong enough to hold the piece in place. Two minor problems still exist. When the clamp engages, the metal tower the clamp is mounted on moves slightly (1/16" at most) in the other direction. It gets lifted up. The frame of the Foreman is not strong enough to bring all the power of the clamp to bear on the work piece. In operation this has no effect, but it's worth noting when combined with the second minor flaw.
The clamp depends on the work piece being located flush against the fence to secure the piece from moving in all directions. If the fence was not there, it would be possible to rotate the piece around the clamping point. Narrow pieces (less than 1") have less area touching the fence.
A dull drill bit or fast plunge can cause the piece to rotate out of position. There is too little force restricting rotation. The clamp exerts most of its force downward. The piece won't fly off the machine, and in most cases the pocket hole will still be serviceable, but the pocket hole will have jagged edges. The guides add some lateral support, but they are not long or sturdy enough to make the problem go way entirely.
This is a minor issue, because the situation can be easily avoided by using a sharp bit and exercising some operator care. On a Foreman you can't just throw the piece on the machine and pull lever. You must place the piece in the correct position and pull the lever with care. You'll still be done in a couple of seconds, but it is not a completely managed operation.
The flip guides work as intended. Built from metal they will stay true for the life of the product. It is usually not necessary to locate
The plunge depth and location are fixed on the Foreman. The machine was not intended to cut variable width pieces on a regular basis. In order to readjust the machine for heftier pieces the fence needs to be moved back. The Fence is held in place with two bolts. Some work below the table is required. The clamp must also be adjusted. All told this operation only takes a couple of minutes, but it is a bit too complicated to do on a regular basis. My Foreman is set to accept ¾" material and will probably never be used for other dimensions. That's ok. I use it for speed.
Dust collection on the unit is not necessary if you drill a few holes, but becomes essential in a production environment. The Kreg Foreman produces no visible dust above the table. The drill bit pulls the waste material beneath the table into the cabinet of the machine when the drill bit is retracted. The dust accumulates in the cabinet.
After 30-40 holes it can be removed with a shop vac after removing the top access plate. This has to be done, because the dust shares the cabinet with the motor and plunge mechanism. If in is allowed to accumulate, it will eventually plug the motor's intake and interfere with the plunge action. For production use I recommend connecting the unit to a low-volume dust collection port. This will increase tool life and speed of operation.
The quality of the tool and especially the plunge mechanism leads me to believe that the Kreg Foreman line of tools will last for hundreds of thousands of operations. I suspect the pneumatic version may last a bit longer than the electric version, because it is less affected by the dust in the cabinet. All parts of the mechanism are made from strong and thick components. No plastic to been seen anywhere it matters. I have no concerns about the build quality of the Foreman.
Overall the Kreg Foremanis a winner. It has change the way I work. I am looking for places to use pocket hole joinery simply because I enjoy operating the Kreg and like resulting joint. As every machine the Kreg Foreman has its limitation and a range of optimal use. If I had a choice, I'd prefer the pneumatic version over the electric one due to expected longer life. One thing, however, I am certain about. The Kreg Foreman will make a positive impact on any shop, may it be a cabinet shop or a hobby shop.