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Choosing the Right Screw

Most DIY and Woodworking Projects Need Some Kind of Fastener, from Drywall Screws to Tapcon® Concrete Anchors

© 2011 by Kelly R. Smith; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

The right screw is essential for DIY and woodworking projects

Hex-head screws of different sizes

This article was updated on 05/04/21.

Make sure you choose the right type of screw for your DIY project. There are all sorts of screws and accompanying screwdrivers available at your local hardware store, and using the correct type is an important part of improving your DIY skills.

Most people are familiar with the standard slot head screw and cross head (Phillips) screw, but many people new to DIY don’t know of all the other types of specialized screws available to them.

Slot vs Cross or Phillips Head Screw

A simple slot screw is thought to be the first type of screw ever used, and is still used to this day even though other types have been developed. The main advantage the classic slot head screw has over other types of screws is that it still seems to be the cheapest and easiest to make.

If you need inexpensive screws for a simple woodworking project that doesn’t require using an electric screwdriver or cordless drill then these types of screws are fine.

The problem with using an cordless screwdriver (or a drill with the appropriate bit) with a slot head screw is that the screw bit has a tendency of slipping out of the screw head, which can lead to the slot being chewed up.

A cross head screw is an improvement over a slot head in the majority of situations. The real advantage a cross head has over a slot head is that it has two slots intersecting each other. This distributes the torque, doubles the contact area, and is self-centering. In the early 1930s, the Phillips head screw was invented by Oregon businessman Henry Phillips (1889–1958). Automobile manufacturers now used car assembly lines. They needed screws that could take greater torque and could provide tighter fastenings.

A general purpose and inexpensive type of Phillips is the drywall screw. It’s a good idea to keep a couple of boxes on hand. The ones with coarse threads have more holding power when working with wood. The ones with non-coarse threads are used for installing drywall on metal(steel) studs.

Both these types of screws are fine for simple projects that don’t require the use of power tools, but they are also the go-to fasteners for larger, more complex endeavors. Of course, many projects go the route of woodworking joinery, dovetail joints, for example. With joinery you get strength and aesthetics. Win-win in my book.

Hex Keys and Screws

Chances are you have used a hex key, also commonly known as an Allen key, before at some time or another. Hex keys are commonly found bundled with flat-packed furniture to use with the hex screws that hold the piece of furniture together. A hex screw is a screw with a hexagon shaped recess in its head.

Hex screws are very handy for constructing things that need to be dismantled and put back together again easily and without specialized tools. Just one hex key can be used to put together an office chair, desk, and even a wardrobe. Realistically, it would behoove you to buy an entire set to add to your collection of tools. No wood shop should be without one.

While hex screws can be a bit more expensive than simple slot and Phillips head screws, it is definitely worth it when your item needs to be taken apart because the shape of the slot minimizes stripping.

The opposite of the hex type is the lag screw. Rather than a recessed head, the hex sticks out from the head. These are generally large and are used for projects like dock construction and installing ledger boards for decks.

Torx Screws

Torx screws are another type of screw worth considering when it comes to choosing the right type for your current DIY project. This type of screw drive is referred to technically as a Hexalobular socket, but that name isn’t used too often for obvious reasons. That has an anatomical rather than mechanical ring to it, don't you think?

These types of screws are popular, and can be found used in all sorts of different things, from mobile phones to cars. The main difference between Torx screws and slot or cross head screws is that it has a star shaped recess with six points in its head.

The advantage of using this type of screw is that it allows more torque transfer, and so is less likely to strip out. Also, because torque is more easily transferred there is less need for you to push weight down onto the screw.

Torx screws are a great choice if you have to use a large amount of screws to complete your project, because it will be easier to screw in each one. The main disadvantage of using Torx screws is that they are more expensive than standard slot and crosshead screws, and you will need a specialized Torx screwdriver to use them. Again, it is worthwhile to invest in a comprehensive set, especially if you work on cars. Cars are lousy with them.

Buildex Tapcon® Concrete Anchors

There are times when you need to attach to masonry, be it concrete, block, or brick. The best fastener on the market for this is the Tapcon “blue screw” anchor system. They are easy to install; drill a pilot hole and drive them in with a hex bit in your drill.

Because of the nature of the environments in which they are usually used, they are engineered to be highly corrosion-resistant. Wondering about the odd name? Their site says, Tapcon stands for “An anchor that TAPs its own threads/grooves into CONcrete.” Clever, methinks.

With all the variety, finishes, and specializations available today, it's easy to choose the right screw for each and every project.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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