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My house has metal studs (South Florida) and I cannot figure out how to easily get screws into the studs for hanging things such as curtains. I have tried the pilot hole approach with a titanium drill but I still need my husband strength to get the hole made and it takes forever.

I’ve tried every type of self tapping metal screw they sell. Is there a screw that will make hanging things that require going into the metal studs (but not necessarily really heavy like a tv) easy?

Thanks in advance for your help.

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    drilling into metal often just takes time, you don't necessarily need husband strength, just a steady pressure to the back of the drill-for pilot holes or self tapping screws – depperm Sep 18 at 11:11
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    You might try getting hold of an off-cut length of metal stud and just practice a little with drilling pilot holes and/or self-tapping screws into it. That way you can actually see the metal you're drilling into and get a 'feel' for the length of time it takes and for what kind of progress you should expect to be making, since you can actually see the metal you're drilling into (as opposed to when it's hidden behind the drywall). – brhans Sep 18 at 11:16
  • Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. Good question, and sounds like you're getting some answers in the comments. And, props for taking our tour before your first post; few people do... – Daniel Griscom Sep 18 at 12:03
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Living in South Florida I know exactly what you mean about the metal studs. What has worked for me is starting out with a very small drill bit and moving up to the size you finally need. The best screws to me are drywall screws if you can stand the black appearance and the head sticking out a bit. You can usually start them out with a whack of a hammer and don't even need to drill. Good luck.

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    over here drywall screws are also available with a golden zinc chromate finish, also if you don't like the look once the hole is formed a different slightly fatter screw can easily be fitted in its place. – Jasen Sep 21 at 0:32
  • "metal studs" - prob not. It's prob plaster over metal chicken wire attached to c-channel. Just use wall anchors; in that kind of wall they'll hold up a tank. – Mazura Sep 21 at 1:59
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Light pressure, high speed, and patience.

You really only want to drill a hole that's just large enough for the screw's threads to grab. Much larger and you risk reducing holding power in the screw. 3/32" is a good size.

Also make sure you're using a sharp bit. Used bits can get dull easily if abused, and cheap bits aren't sharp even when they're new. Twist it against your skin. You should feel the drag of the cutting edge.

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Metal isn't magic, but it demands good technique, you can't just casually make charcoal like you can with wood drilling.

It hardly needs super-drills -- I use bottom shelf cobalt drills. The titanium drills last longer in a controlled, everything-dialed-in production environment. In hand drills, they can't last long enough for that to matter.

Ideally, "Dialing in" means looking up the species of steel to get the correct feeds and speeds for that material, then looking in the drill-bit table for correct RPM and feed rate, and setting the tool for that. Then chips fly and it's all over in 2 seconds.

With hand drills, we have to settle for trying to get feeds/speeds right, and adjust our technique for the indicators of perfection:

  • fast cutting
  • big or long chips
  • drill bit stays cool
  • no squeaking or complaining

For instance a web guide is saying for hardish steel, 80 linear feet per minute speed, and .004 inches per revolution feed.

Speeds

Speed is one thing we can get right in a hand drill. Say we're drilling a 1/8" hole. We need RPM but we know feet per minute (80). So RPM = FPM / diameter / 0.2618. Plug in 80 and 1/8", and I get about 2700 RPM.

The biggest problem I see these days is the so-called "drill/driver". I needed a drill urgently last week. My local hardware store had a plethora of drill-drivers from $35 to $120, and every one had a top speed of 450 RPM. My mind flashes to drill bits the size of your finger. These drivers' jaws don't open that wide, and just as well because the torque would break your wrist. So clearly, these drills are incapable of drilling metal. They simply cannot produce an adequate speed. I did find a forlorn orphan for $35 that went 1500 RPM.

I realize drills are trying to be dual-purpose, but I don't drive screws with drills. I use a speed wrench + bit holder for that.

450 RPM when the book says 2700 just can't be effective. When you try to drill metal that slow, you shave it a little, but mostly wou work-harden it, which makes it much harder to punch through.

I like 1/8" starter holes because they fit directly in my 10,000 RPM Dremel moto-tool. That's way too fast, but I can slow the tool down - 4000 RPM is certainly better than 450.

Feeds

What the metal wants is the tool driven positively into it, at a suitable rate, regardless of the force that is required to do that. That force can vary dramatically due to surface treatments, work-hardening, and drill diameter. Without a mill with an auto-feed, we have to "wing it" by applying force by hand.

Generally, that means applying enough force. Going too limp-wristed, even for a second, will work-harden the metal and make our job harder.

This is where drill diameter is a huge factor. A drill twice as wide has 4 times the surface area/ metal being removed so potentially 4 times the force needed if you can't match up RPMs precisely. A 1/4" hole into steel can be a lot of force!
Another reason I'm a big fan of starting with 1/8" drills. Following with incremental sizes means cutting far less metal per pass.

Even the force going down a 1/8" drill makes me worry about breaking the bit. It's not small.

But once you get the hang of it, and get adjusted to how much force to use, it goes very quickly.

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Metal studs are engineered to be cheap, the metal is only thick enough to hold up the drywall, screwing into it is like screwing into a tin can. The biggest problem with metal studs is getting a solid fixing on the thin metal, but as your loads are small you don't need to worry about that.

Use sharp-pointed screws with a fine pitch (like drywall screws) and screw straight through the drywall, when you reach the metal give the driver a bit of a shove so that the point bites into the metal, and the screw should continue in without any problem.

You're going to need a firm footing to deliver that shove, use a ladder or step-stool, don't try to balance on top of a bookshelf.

Self-drilling metal screws can also be used.

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They actually make self-drilling drywall screws (in 1 1/4" length, at least) for use with steel studs. I have a box of pro-fit branded ones I use whenever I need to attach wood to metal and pre-drilling is onerous. Check with your local hardware store, these are probably even more common in Florida as virtually all single family homes here in NY are framed with wood.

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