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I am hanging a new door and was told to use brass screws to attach the hinges.

When I drive the screw with a mechanical driver, the brass screws sometimes snap (head snaps off the shank), or strip. The frame is 70-year old redwood, and is quite hard.

What am I doing wrong? Are brass screws inherently brittle? Did I buy cheap brass screws?

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Conveniently, Family Handyman just republished an article about this How to Drive Screws Perfectly: With the right techniques, screws will go in easier, and you'll stop stripping out screw heads –  Stefan Lasiewski Apr 25 '12 at 20:51

5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Brass screws are soft. You can easily twist the heads right off. This means you MUST be careful.

  • Pre-drill pilot holes for the screws.

  • Lubricate the screws. I use a stick of beeswax that I keep on hand. Just draw the threads across the stick to get a bit on them. You will be ASTOUNDED how easily a lubed screw drives. Some use soap on screws, which is probably ok for brass. It is bad for steel screws as it can cause them to rust.

  • Use a drill-driver that will allow you to limit the torque applied to the screw.

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I have some paraffin on-hand. Does it work as well as beeswax? –  Stefan Lasiewski Apr 23 '12 at 1:57
    
I'd say beeswax was slightly better, but paraffin should be just fine if that's what's on hand. –  Brock Adams Apr 23 '12 at 2:17
2  
Yes, paraffin would do nicely. I've also used a stick style drawer lube made with Teflon. –  user558 Apr 23 '12 at 9:31
    
I've been advised to use an impact driver instead of a drill driver. Would a impact-driver limit the torque applied to the screw? –  Stefan Lasiewski Jan 30 at 6:41

As well as predrilling, you might also want to first use an identical steel screw to cut the threads.

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This is the way I was taught in my woodwork lessons at school. –  ChrisF Apr 23 '12 at 21:38

It might just be that the wood is particularly hard. I would recommend predrilling a hole for the screws. This will also help prevent the wood from splitting.

If the screws still snap, try a different brand. You might also be using too small diameter of a screw - what size are they? I'd suggest a #8 2 1/2".

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These are #9-2", which is what our contractor recommended. –  Stefan Lasiewski Apr 22 '12 at 19:22

Never drive a brass wood screw in to hardwood without 1: Pre-drilling, and 2: running a steel screw of similar size in and out first.

If I have to do loads of a similar size. I find it simplest to take a steel screw with a similar size, (#) but far longer, and cut the head off the screw. I them 'chuck' it in a drill and run it in/out, takes only a few second per hole.

BTW You can buy sets of tapered drills to pre-drill holes of varying standard screw diameters (they usually also have adjustable depth stops) from good woodworking shops, they allow your hole to be the exact depth required and also to grip even the tapered part of the screw.

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The best way to explain this is with a link to this reference guide to selecting the proper fastener material, which states.

  • Steel Steel is the most common fastener material. Steel fasteners are available plain as well as with various surface treatments such as zinc plating, galvanization, and chrome plating.

    Steel fasteners are commonly available in 4 grades. Many other grades exist but are used far less often. The most common grades are Grade 2, Grade 5, Grade 8, and Alloy Steel. Grade 2, 5, and 8 are usually plated with a silver or yellow zinc coating or galvanized to resist corrosion.

    • Determining Bolt Grade Bolts of different grades are marked on the head to show what grade bolt they are. For a list of the most common grade markings see our Material Grade Identification and Properties Chart.

    • Grade 2 Grade 2 is a standard hardware grade steel. This is the most common grade of steel fastener and is the least expensive. Grade 2 bolts have no head marking (sometimes a manufacturer mark is present).

    • Grade 5 Grade 5 bolts are hardened to increase strength and are the most common bolts found in automotive applications. Grade 5 bolts have 3 evenly spaced radial lines on the head.

    • Grade 8 Grade 8 bolts have been hardened more than grade 5 bolts. Thus they are stronger and are used in demanding applications such as automotive suspensions. Grade 8 bolts have 6 evenly spaced radial lines on the head.

    • Alloy Steel Alloy steel bolts are made from a high strength steel alloy and are further heat treated. Alloy steel bolts are typically not plated resulting in a dull black finish. Alloy steel bolts are extremely strong but very brittle.

  • Brass Brass is an alloy of primarily copper and zinc. Brass is highly corrosion resistant and electrically conductive. However, its use as a fastener is somewhat limited due to its relative softness. It is used primarily for its appearance.
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