Nuts and Bolts: A Fasteners Guide

Fasteners literally hold our world together. Here’s a guide to nuts and bolts and everything else that joins one material to another.

| April/May 2006

Fasteners are an essential part of almost any do-it-yourself project. Pay attention to them, and everything you build and fix will be better because of your extra effort. Nearly 20 years on my homestead have taught me that successful building and maintenance require many more kinds of nails, rivets, screws, nuts and bolts than I ever would have thought. I use them for creating new buildings, repairing older ones, building furniture, fixing machinery and completing crafts with my children.

Hundreds of different kinds of fasteners are available, and you won't need most of them. But here are the most popular ones organized in four broad categories: screws; nails; bolts; nuts and washers; and specialty. You might also want to check out this chart summarizing common fasteners. 

Screw Types

It wasn't so long ago that screws were too expensive and troublesome for outdoor building projects, thus barns and garages were always built with nails. But these days, you can readily buy inexpensive, corrosion-resistant screws at any hardware store.

For all kinds of projects, deck screws should form the heart of your screw collection. The best versions are highly resistant to corrosion. I keep No. 8-size deck screws in 1 1/2-, 2-, 2 1/2-, 3-, 3 1/2- and 4-inch lengths on hand at all times. Storing that many sizes of screws may seem excessive, but it's important to have many lengths on hand to match any size of job. For most applications, screw threads should penetrate the bottom layer of wood by at least 1 inch and even more is better. But screws that are too long are a problem if they pop out the back side of your piece of wood.

You'll also find pan head screws widely useful. Often called sheet-metal screws, these have flattened-dome heads that are ideal for attaching pieces of thin metal.

If you live in the United States, you might not be aware of a screw head design that is popular in Canada. Named after their inventor, P.L. Robertson, Robertson screws (see photo, Page 96), also called square drive screws, have a square recess in the drive head that makes them stay on the tip of your screwdriver, and they are much easier to drive than Phillips or slot head screws. Robertson patented the socket head design in 1909, and it's been used in Canadian buildings for many decades. Robertson screws are worth tracking down. One mail-order source is McFeely's

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