Wood Screws: Best Uses for the Best Types

You can build sturdy, attractive furniture if you choose the right wood screws.

| October 15, 2009

Furniture isn’t what it used to be, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Look closely at many old dressers, tables, cabinets and shelves, and you’ll see a whole lot of interlocking joints. Traditionally, intricate, hand-wrought mechanical connections were necessary to supplement weak glues and simple nails. But today, there’s a simpler way, and it all revolves around choosing the right types of wood screws (screws made of metal used to join wood, not screws made of wood) and hardware that works with them.

Metal wood screws are superior to nails because they have threads instead of being smooth like most nails. This lets them grip surrounding wood with much more power, offering greater strength than nails. Wood screw threads are so effective they draw the two halves of a joint together tightly, eliminating the need for clamps in a way that nails can’t match. Combine screws and glue and you’ll have an amazingly strong wood joint. And because screws are installed with twisting action delivered by a drill or hand driver, you get none of the destructive pounding that comes with hammer-driven nails.

You don’t need to be an experienced artisan to make great, basic furniture with modern wood screws. One reason is that wood screws are much better and cheaper than ever. Screws have now become so strong, effective and available, that they allow ordinary folks to build serviceable, attractive and simple furniture. It’s a quiet revolution. Choose the right kind of screws and accessories, and you’ll be able to create beautiful woodworking joints in minimal time. And because you can remove screws easily and reinstall them, they offer the grace necessary to take several runs at woodworking success before you get it right. The key is understanding the hardware that’s available and how to use it. And it all starts with a look at the screws themselves.

Screws and Washers

Not all wood screws are created equal. They might look the same at a casual glance, but key design refinements and differences matter. Mail-order specialty suppliers (Lee Valley Tools is my favorite) are the best places to find the world’s greatest screws without having to travel all over the planet. Ordinary hardware-store deck screws are fine for many applications, but to get optimal results you need a better-than-average screw.

Premium wood screws are sold under various brand names (my current favorite is Spax), and all offer a similar virtue: much better threads. You can tell simply by looking closely at them. The threads are thin and sharp with serrated tips. This gives them the ability to chisel through wood, letting the screws burrow into wood with little or no splitting. It’s even possible to drive them into some kinds of hardwoods without predrilling. The difference between ordinary deck screws and premium screws is amazing.

No matter how easily screws are installed, or how well they hold, there’s still the problem of aesthetics. Wood screw heads are rather homely, at least on their own. And countersinking (making a slightly larger hole, so the head of the screw goes beneath the surface of the wood) doesn’t help much either. What you need are better heads.

10/8/2013 1:55:19 AM

Here's a killer new screw from Outlaw Fasteners. They're calling it the "world's best screw" and say it doesn't strip or fall off the bit. If definitely looks well engineered. Here's the link: http://bit.ly/outlawscrews

Donna Baune
3/12/2013 6:56:28 PM

I have found that star drive screws are the easiest and best screw. There is no end load (pushing) needed to drive a star drive www.screwsolutions.com carries a verity of wood screws and has excellent service.

1/18/2012 7:02:30 PM

Robertsons make every type of screw head there is, so there's not much point in saying "I use Robertsons"! Which one?? For an engineering joint I'd use 'tork' heads (that's the six sided hole). For fixing two bits of wood together use rusty nails, pre drilled in hard woods and put them in at a slight angle to the direction of tension.

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