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Suppose I want to pre-drill for, say, a 5/16 screw. How do I determine the correct drill bit diameter?

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Yes It would be But try 4/16 first work your way up –  user15353 Sep 30 '13 at 15:41

4 Answers 4

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Here are some charts from Bolt Depot. Bolt Depot is a handy resource, and has lots of information about all different types of fasteners.

Pilot hole size:

Pilot hole chart

Wood Screw Diameter:

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*Major thread diameter is measured on the outside of the threads.

enter image description here

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+1: This is a great resource. –  Doresoom Sep 8 '11 at 18:55
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nice chart, I gotta bookmark that site. +++ –  shirlock homes Sep 8 '11 at 22:06
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Be useful to have these measurements in modern metric sizes –  user12845 May 4 '13 at 16:16

Here is an option for metric Stainless self tapping screws This is ideal as it show the different pilot diameters needed for differing thickness of sheetmetal and also steel vs aluminium

Stainless Screws

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A real simple technique I use is to hold up the drill bit and the screw. Hold the shaft of the drill bit up in front of the screw. You should only be able to see the threads of the screw (and maybe a bit of the screw). If you can't see the threads the drill bit is too big. If you can see too much of the screw, the bit is too small.
I hope this helps!

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That's how I learned to do it as well. I've always been told to use a drill bit the same diameter as the screw's shaft. –  DA01 Sep 9 '11 at 1:40
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I like this advice, but it depends on the kind of wood that you are fastening to. If you are screwing into a dense wood, you want to just have the threads cutting into the wood. If the wood is less dense, you will want a slightly smaller hole. –  Eric Gunnerson May 5 '13 at 2:54
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@EricGunnerson - basically what I was taught. Hard materials need the thread to bite in to full root depth, soft materials need compression to add a little density to allow the thread to have something to bite into with the objective that you don't split the material. –  Fiasco Labs Mar 10 at 14:50

It depends on if you want it to be loose or not. If you want it to be very loose (in the case of a bolt where you're going to have washers on both sides and a nut on the far side threads, then feel free to upsize by a fraction -- in this case, 6/16 or 3/8. If you're using a screw where you want the threads to be firmly bedded, use the smallest drill bit you have in a soft material like wood -- and in harder substances like metal or concrete, a drill bit that is one fraction lower (e.g. 4/16" or 1/4" in this case).

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What if it's the former case (a bolt with washers and a nut) but I don't want it very loose. Should I go with 5/16? –  ageektrapped Sep 8 '11 at 17:47
    
Yeah, that'd be appropriate. –  Karl Katzke Sep 8 '11 at 18:24

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