Screws vs Nails – What’s the Difference?

Screws vs Nails

It’s one of the more common questions asked in our industry. Which applications should use screws and which should use nails? While there is no easy answer as we will soon learn, The basic theory is simple. Screws for holding power and nails for shear strength. But just what does that mean? How do we know when that kind of force will be present? To answer these questions, we sat down with our fastener expert to discuss screws vs nails.

The Basic Theory

Screws

Screws are fasteners with a drive located in the head and threading that protrudes down the length of the shank. Screws (most of the time) require a pre-drilled hole and can often cut their own threads into materials they are rated for. For the sake of argument, we are going to be discussing a deck screw for this example. Deck screws are exceptionally engineered to hold two boards of wood together tightly and efficiently.

Nails

Nails are fasteners with a flat head, smooth shank and sharp point. Nails are driven by a hammer into materials to hold them together. They can be installed faster and are cheaper than screws. In this case (and to explain the theory), we will be using a smooth shank screw as our example.



Comparison

Grip Strength
Force being applied to the top or bottom of the two boards.

So when comparing nails vs screws we need to consider a few factors. Grip strength and shear strength being the two most important. To view these forces we’ve created some simple diagram. Assume that the arrows are the forces acting upon the two boards in the pictures shown.

Grip strength, in this instance, will refer to a fasteners ability to hold in wood. When a screw is driven its threads dig into the material around it. This makes screws more difficult to remove as they need to be spun out of the wood. So as an example, lets take a tray with a wood board screwed onto the bottom. This board is going to be able to hold quite a bit of weight without the screws falling out. Conversely, if nails were used they would not be able to hold the same amount of weight without starting to loosen.

Shear Pressure
Force being applied on the sides of the two boards.

Now lets look at shear strength. Shear strength is the amount of force a fastener can handle from the sides. A nail, has more elasticity than a screw. This means as forces are pushed against the sides of a nail, the nail can bend slightly to accommodate these pressures. A screw conversely has very little shear strength. Screws that are bent will almost always snap when trying to be straightened.

So which is better a screw or a nail?

The answer is: It Depends. In many applications where force is placed vertically along the installation, a screw is a better choice, but in situations where the force is placed adjacent to the installation a nail is a better choice.

Now a real life scenario where we see this happen all the time is in decking. The forces wind creates on the bottom of a deck (especially in hurricanes) can be catastrophic. As a result, when you install hurricane ties, you want to use nails to install them as the forces that act upon them will shear screws straight off. But these same forces that come up from underneath a deck will push on the bottom of the boards you walk across and since that pressure is pushing directly against the fasteners head, you will want better grip strength making screws the appropriate choice.

As with all fasteners, each has its own unique positive and negatives and must be chosen accordingly. There are also outliers to this rule. Ring shank nails are one of the many varieties of nail available that can provide better retention add some very strong adhesive to that and it’s even less likely to come out. In theory though, the answer is simple. Need grip strength? Use a screw. Need shear strength? Use a nail.

Correct pressure to use a screw for                 The correct pressure to use a nail for



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What is Torque Control?

Torque Control and Related Terms

Torque is the force applied to something to make it spin (rotate) in machinery. Torque in relation to fasteners is the resistance faced when installing a fastener. Torque control then is simply controlling the amount of torque placed on a fastener without damaging it by over-tightening.

Prevailing Torque Measure of a screw or nuts frictional resistance to rotation.
Prevailing “Off” Torque Highest back-off torque on a torque wrench on the first rotation of a screw or nut upon removal.
Installation Torque The initial torque amount used to install a fastener before Pre-load.
Breakaway Torque The minimum torque required to start rotation into a nut (in the case of a bolt) or into a pre-tapped hole (in case of a screw).
Breakloose Torque Minimal torque required to begin the disassembly of a fastener assembly.
Seating Torque The torque required to produce pressure onto the installation material causing compression by the fastener.

Torque Wrenches are one of the easiest ways to ensure proper torque is met. Simply set the wrench’s torque and then when the maximum is reached the clutch will slip. This slip means the wrench stops putting any more torque on the fastener and it has reached its optimal torque.



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Installing Tapcon Masonry Screws

How To Install Masonry Screwsinstalling masonry screws

Masonry screws are used to fasten materials to different masonry materials (usually concrete). Tapcon is a brand that has become a generic term for these screws over the years, often referred to as tapcon screws.

Tapcon screws can be identified by their blue coloration. Most of them are fully threaded but some longer screws will have a smooth shoulder. This shoulder is designed to disperse the heat built up by the screw. If the shoulder was absent the screw would heat up exponentially and expand it the hole. This expansion plus the heat of the screw can compromise its integrity causing the screw to snap.

Now that we know a bit about masonry screw lets begin installing one.



Getting Started

What you will need:

  • Concrete Drill Bit
  • Drill
  • Painters Tape
  • Tapcon Screws
  • Various Driver Bits depending on which head style you choose
  • Safety Gear!installing tapcon screws

Step 1

The first thing we need to do is take the screw we are going to install and mark the end of the drill bit with painters tape. We do not want to drill an excessive hole in the concrete it only needs to be long enough.

Once we have our drill taped, its time for the most important part of our drilling into concreteinstallation. Putting on our safety gloves and glasses to make sure we protect ourselves.

Step 2

With our safety gear on and drill in gloved hand we can begin drilling our hole into the concrete. Even short concrete screws will hold very well in concrete. These masonry screws cut their own threads and will only need to be installed a little over an inch to have some true holding power. Once you reach the desired depth marked by the tape, you may remove the drill and carefully wipe any extra debris away from the hole.

Step 3

screwing in tapcon masonry screws

This is the home stretch for installing a concrete screw. Find the appropriate bit driver. We decided to use the hex head slotted Tapcon screws due to their popularity. Simply drill the screw into the hole until the head reaches the surface of the concrete and you are done!

 

finished tapcon screw install

 

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Removing Stripped Screws in 3 Easy Steps – Quick Tip

How To Remove Stripped Screws With a Rubber Band

Removing stripped screws can be incredibly annoying. There’s no way around it, literally. In the case of stripped screws, they can severely hinder your ability to get a project done. So we have once again consulted our fastener expert for a solution to this problem.

His first recommendation was a drill extractor bit, but those of you that follow our blog knew that already. We posted a blog about how to use a screw extractor a while ago.

But what about the everyday DIYer who doesn’t come across this situation constantly. You might not want to go buy a bolt extractor set when you only need to get rid of one pesky screw.

Enter the most useful tool ever created, next to duct tape of course! The rubber-band. A tool used for anything from a bracelet to a keep your favorite bag of chips from getting stale. A tool that is going to help you remove that screw as if it was never stripped to begin with.

Lets begin

So now that you have the secret tool you need to get that stripped screw removed, lets walk you through the process in three easy steps.

  1. Place the rubber-band over the screw head.
    removing stripped screws
  2. Place the drill bit against the screw head through the rubber-band and apply pressure.
    using a rubber-band
  3. Spin Slowly
    apply steady pressure when removing

And that’s pretty much it.



When you press the rubber-band against the stripped head, it fills in the spacing created by the stripping. We have done some basic testing and determined that this trick works best on semi-stripped screws but you can still get it to work on some of the more dramatically stripped screws as well if your lucky.

Most effective on semi-stripped screws

Have a question you need answered? Leave a comment below! If the question stumps us it may turn into a post of its own!


Removing Stripped Screws With a Rubber Band

Using a Rubber Band to Remove Stripped Screws
Rubber Band Trick For Stripped Screws Transcript

Scroll Down To Continue Reading

Bob: Welcome back to Albany County Fasteners – Fasteners 101. I’m Bob and I’m going to show you today how to remove a stripped screw.

I’m just showing you here that these heads are stripped out. I’m going to show you how to remove them with a rubber band. So let’s get started.

I’m gonna put it here in my vise. Okay, so I have a rubber band. We’ll put the rubber band onto the head of the Phillips and we’re going to go slow and steady outward, okay.

You have to put nice pressure on this and we’ll back it out.

So basically what the rubber band does is fill the void between the Phillips head (and the driver).

There you go.

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Threaded Inserts for Wood – Brass Inserts

Brass Threaded Inserts for Wood

threaded inserts for wood

We hear all the time about how people don’t get threaded inserts. Well today we are going to discuss how to install brass threaded inserts into wood. Lets start with the tools you will need:



Threaded Inserts

Threaded inserts are fasteners that are driven into a material (in this case wood) which house internal threads for a fastener to screw into. Threaded inserts have their own cutting threads designed to cut into the installation material and provide a strong hold.

spade bits

They are mostly used in situations where the fastener will need to be installed and removed multiple times. In a normal situation this process would destroy the installation hole requiring that new ones be drilled. But with these inserts you can tighten or loosen fasteners with ease over and over in the same hole.

Step 1

The first and most important step in any installation is making sure you are wearing the appropriate safety gear! So since we will be drilling and working with sharp objects lets first get our safety goggles and gloves on! Now that we have our gear on let’s get started.

The first thing we need to do is get a spade drill bit. Spade bits are made specifically for boring holes. When you start drilling the hole you will notice that the but has a tendency to bounce around. To prevent this wobbling effect we recommend drilling at a very slow speed.

Step 2brass threaded insert installation

Once you’ve drilled your hole your going to take the E-Z Lok Drive tool, or Flathead driver bit, and set it in your drill. The threaded inserts have two breaks along the top of the insert where you can fit a slotted screwdriver but we recommend using the E-Z Lok tool. This tool fits snug into the gaps making driving these inserts much easier.

You’re going to want to hold the insert and fit it as straight into the hole as you can. It is critical that the insert goes into the hole as straight as possible so your fastener can also sit flat once installed. It may also cause chipping of the wood

Step 3

fastener install into brass threaded inserts

Continue driving until the threaded insert is flush with the surface. Now just line up your new material over the hole and begin tightening your fastener into place.

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