Types of Wood Screws

With the right wood screws in hand, even a relatively inexperienced carpenter can finish woodworking projects that are sturdy if not beautiful.

| August/September 2010

Furniture isn’t what it used to be — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Traditionally, intricate, hand-wrought dovetails and other mechanical connections were necessary to supplement weak glues and simple nails. But today, there’s an easier way, and it all revolves around choosing the right types of wood screws (metal screws 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 smooth shanks like most nails. The threads let them grip the surrounding wood with much more power than nails, offering greater strength. Combine screws and glue, and you’ll have an amazingly strong wood joint. Wood screw threads are so effective, they draw the two halves of a joint together tightly, eliminating the need for glue clamps in a way nails can’t match.

You don’t need to be an experienced artisan to make great basic furniture with modern wood screws. Wood screws have become so strong, effective, inexpensive, and widely available they allow ordinary folks to build serviceable, attractive, and simple furniture. It’s a quiet revolution. Plus, because you can remove screws easily and reinstall them, they offer the leeway 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.

Screws and Washers

Not all wood screws are created equal. Mailorder specialty suppliers (Lee Valley Tools is my favorite) are the best places to find the world’s greatest screws. 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 edges. This gives them the ability to burrow into wood with little or no splitting. It’s even possible to drive them into some kinds of hardwoods without drilling pilot holes.

No matter how easily screws are installed, or how well they hold, there’s still the problem of aesthetics. Wood screw heads are a bit of an eyesore, 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-looking heads.

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