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25 tips for driving screws.

We've been there. You're driving a screw and it breaks, or you strip the head, or you're trying to get the dumb thing started and it pops off the driver bit and tumbles to the floor. Ugh!

We feel your pain. Driving screws can be a real exercise in frustration, but it needn't be. Here are 25 tips to help make your next fastening chore a little less screwy.

1 Reach for the stars

Phillips-head screws appear to be going the way of the dodo and are quickly being replaced by star-drive screws (aka "Torx"). And it's a change for the better! The multilobed heads on star-drive screws offer much better gripping power and are less likely to strip out.

Expect to spend a few cents more per box, but they're worth it. One downside, however, is that there are several sizes of star-drive heads out there, so keep a few different sizes of bits on hand. Square-drive screws are also a great alternative to Phillips screws, but they can be hard to find.

2 Wooden plugs hide screw heads

Using plugs is an easy way to hide screw heads. Simply drive a countersink bit deep enough to create a recess called a counterbore. Then just drive your screws, add a little glue, and gently tap the plugs in. Once the glue dries, you can sand the plugs flush. To make the plugs even less noticeable, align the grain of the plug with the grain of the workpiece. You can make your own plugs or buy packs of them at home centers and woodworking supply stores.

3 Give paint-clogged screw heads a tap

If you live in an old house, you've probably run into screw heads clogged with layers of paint. Instead of trying to scrape out the paint, try this trick: Simply take a driver bit, set it on top of the screw head, and give it a couple of taps with a hammer until it seats itself in the screw's slots.

4 Like a third hand

This magnetic bit holder has a self-retracting guide sleeve. The bit grips the head of the screw and the sleeve holds the screw straight, allowing you to drive it one-handed. The sleeve retracts as you drive the screw home. Available in hardware stores and home centers for about 5 bucks.

5 Lubricate screws

Rubbing wax onto screw threads makes the screws easier to drive, especially when driving them by hand. Spend a few minutes looking for some wax instead of an hour trying to remove a stripped or busted screw. You'll be glad you did.

6 Bit extenders go the distance

Sometimes the place where you need to drive a screw can be hard to reach without a bit extender. This accessory chucks right into your drill and comes in a bunch of different lengths. Most have quick-release jaws that accept hex-shank drill and driver bits. Buy more than one and you can click them together for even longer reach. Flexible bit extenders are also available.

7 Impact drivers require spare bits

If you've ever used impact drivers, you know they pack quite a wallop. And sooner or later, all of that torque will snap the ends off your driver bits. Be sure to buy hardened bits made specifically for impact drivers, but be fore-warned--they still break, so keep plenty of extras on hand.

8 Better than lag screws

Structural screws may look wimpy, but don't be fooled. They're a definite improvement over traditional lag screws. Their shanks may be narrow, but these screws are specially hardened and have tremendous shear strength and corrosion resistance. They're also labor savers because they zip right into thick, dense framing lumber with just a cordless drill/driver--no need for pilot holes. Be ready for sticker shock, though. Structural screws cost about three times as much as traditional lag screws. Shown here are the SPAX, GRK and FastenMaster versions.

9 Perfect junk drawer driver

Ratcheting screwdrivers make driving and removing screws by hand a breeze, and many come with an assortment of bits that store inside the handle for just about any type of screw head. Keep it in your kitchen junk drawer and you'll always know where it is. $5 to $40.

10 Screw too long? Drive it at an angle!

Ever drive a screw that you thought was short enough, only to have the tip of it break through the other side of your workpiece? Instead of dashing to the hardware store for shorter screws, try this trick: Drive the screws that you already have at an angle. They'll have just as much holding power but won't poke out the other side.

11 Double-duty bit holders

Special bit holders allow one drill/driver to do the work of two. With one type, you just snap a driver bit onto the countersink bit. Another has a countersink bit on one end and a driver bit on the other. You just drill, flip and drive! $10 to $50.

12 Screws for hanging cabinets

When you're installing cabinets on walls, use "washer head" screws. Their large heads are far less likely to pull through, which is especially helpful if you're working with crumbly materials like particleboard.

The self-drilling tips can eliminate the need for pilot holes.

And depending on the brand, you can get them with either star-drive or square-drive heads, so they're less likely to fall off your bit or strip out.

The screw shown is made by FastCap.

13 Use a new bit

If you strip more than a couple of screw heads, it's probably time for a new driver bit. Check to see if the tip of your driver bit is worn or rounded over. If it is, replace it.

14 Pressure prevents cam-out

If you find yourself stripping a lot of screw heads, try applying more pressure. Simply push on the top of the drill with your other hand. If that doesn't work, try leaning into it and using your body weight to your advantage.

15 Drive easier with an impact driver

Thanks to their incredible torque, cordless impact drivers make driving most screws a one-hand operation. They even do a great job of driving Phillips screws, which are especially prone to stripping and cam-out.

16 Drill a pilot hole

Drilling pilot holes will almost always make driving screws easier. Pilot holes reduce the risk of splitting boards and allow you to get tighter-fitting, better-looking joints (especially if you use a countersink bit).

They also virtually eliminate stripping and breaking of screws and reduce wear and tear on both you and your drill/driver.

17 Self-drilling screws save time

The specially designed tip and threads on many modern construction screws can eliminate the need for pilot holes. Just before this writing, we drove a dozen screws of this type through doubled-up 3/4-in. red oak boards with no predrilling. They all drove easily with no stripping or breakage and sat perfectly flush without the need for a countersink bit. We also observed no splitting when driving them near the ends of the boards. Impressive! SPAX and GRK are two brands available.

18 Make a clearance hole

Have you ever driven a screw through two boards only to have them push apart? The screw you used likely had threads that ran from the tip all the way to the underside of the screw's head. One way to prevent boards from pushing apart is to create a clearance hole.

This hole allows a screw's threads to slip through the top board so it can pull tightly against the bottom board for a nice, tight joint.

19 Slower speed = more torque

Most cordless drill/drivers have a speed switch on top. The lower the speed setting, the higher the torque.

Generally, you'll want a faster speed for drilling holes and a slower speed for driving screws--especially when they're long ones.

20 Hit dead center

When you're installing door hinges, perfectly centered screws are crucial. A self-centering pilot hole bit, sometimes called a Vix-Bit (a brand name), makes the job easy. This springloaded bit has a tapered nose that seats itself in the holes of a hinge, and a springloaded shaft that retracts, keeping the bit perfectly centered as you drill.

21 Toothpicks fix stripped holes

If you have a stripped-out screw hole and can't use a larger screw, simply apply some wood glue to a few toothpicks and shove them into the hole. Once the glue dries, cut off the protruding ends of the toothpicks and drive the screw.

Just be careful not to overtighten or you'll strip the hole again.

22 A right-angle adapter for close quarters

A right-angle adapter is a handy gadget for driving screws in places where the body of your drill won't fit. $15 to $50.

23 Two jobs, one bit

YOU can drill a pilot hole with a standard drill bit, then create a recess for the screw head with a countersink cutter. Or, you can do both at once with a countersink bit. Pick one up at a home center or woodworking supply store for $5 to $20.

24 Drywall screws are for drywall

We've used drywall screws for all sorts of carpentry projects, with mixed results. They're strong, which is great. But they're brittle, which is not. With so many different types of wood screws available, you're better off using drywall screws only for hanging drywall.

25 Two steps for toe-screwing

Like toenailing, toe-screwing is a great way to make right-angle connections. You simply drive a screw at an angle. But getting the screw started can be tricky because the screw's tip often wants to slide. A pilot hole helps, but starting the pilot hole at an angle can be tough too. So, try this: Start the pilot hole straight until the tip of the bit engages the wood. Then turn the bit at an angle and drill the pilot hole. Works every time!

by Jason White
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Author:White, Jason
Publication:The Family Handyman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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