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The kitchen cabinets in our apartment were hung with drywall screws which has been flagged to us as a safety concern because they might not bear the load when the cabinets are fully loaded with dishes:

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My understanding is these screws can be removed and replaced one at a time with hardware to better support the load. Is that right?

If so, what hardware would you recommend I use for this? Some sort of anchor I'm guessing?

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    What are they screwed into? It will makes a huge difference whether there's only gypsum, some plywood or a stud behind. – Jeffrey Jun 24 '20 at 15:48
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    I'm glad you posted this. While my wife will shun the idea, I'm going to replace all the drywall screws we used to hang our cabinets 26 years ago with some proper cabinet screws. (Note, they've been on drywall screws for 26 years w/o issue, but that doesn't mean that there might not be issues in the future.) – FreeMan Jun 24 '20 at 15:51
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    Has anybody really tried to break drywall screws with the loads that would be applied by hanging cabinets, let alone 2 or 3 simultaneously? Yes they are case hardened, yes they will snap when they are in a very hard wood and tightened too much, but that failure is obvious when it occurs. Yes it is better to use the "cabinet screws" but I have used drywall screws and hung my body weight off of them, about 200 lbs at the time (not so now) The trick is to screw into every stud and neighboring cabinet... – Jack Jun 24 '20 at 16:11
  • @Jack It's not about the strength - it's about the length. Most drywall screws aren't that long, typically 1-1/4". If the drywall is 1/2" that leaves normally 3/4" in the stud. Add a 1/2" cabinet on top of the drywall and now you've only got 1/4" biting into the stud. OP's screws look like they're additionally going through another ~1/2" furring strip at the back, so they must be longer than 1-1/4", but are still not likely biting deep enough into the studs to hold a full load comfortably. – J... Jun 25 '20 at 14:50
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Don't Replace, ADD

Removing the screws is a lot of extra work, for no real benefit. In fact, you might even find that some of the old drywall screws snap when you try to unscrew them, and then you have no practical choice but to add other screws anyway, leaving the partial screws in the studs.

Just add proper cabinet screws. Depending on the layout, you should be able to move a little up or down or left or right from each existing screw and put in a cabinet screw.

Predrilling holes slightly smaller than the new screws is highly recommended. That will make it easier to drive the screws, minimize the risk of any cracking, and also let you easily tell if you are hitting a stud (which you want here).

Thinking about this a little more, this is definitely a case where having two charged up drill/drivers would make the job much easier - one with a drill bit, the other with a screwdriver bit. If you've only got one, I'd pre-drill a bunch of holes then come back around with the screws.

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    The benefits to replacement are that the holes are already in the cabinets and you won't add unsightly screw heads to the interior, but yeah. I'd consider this as well. – isherwood Jun 24 '20 at 16:17
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    I would replace, not add. The odds of being able to find studs to screw new screws into are small. Unless the screws are in blocking, which the OP won't know since it's an apartment. – Huesmann Jun 25 '20 at 15:12
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There are screws designed for hanging cabinets, they are called cabinet screws. Some have more attractive heads, if that is important to you.

You need to hit the studs. Hopefully, the existing screws hit the studs.

Assuming that you have wood studs, if you have metal studs, you will need advice from someone else.

An impact driver is very useful when driving long screws.

Yes, you can replace them one at a time, if the cabinets are empty.

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  • If you have metal studs, just use self-tapping metal screws with a power driver. Used some 2" ones to mount a small cabinet at work – Machavity Jun 25 '20 at 12:36
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Any generic gold construction screw will do in wood framing. #9 x 3" are a common size for that purpose. If you have metal studs you'll need a fine-toothed screw. Torx-head screws are the easiest to drive, but Phillips are fine if you use a fresh driver bit and good technique.

While I don't recommend black oxide screws for load bearing applications, millions of homes in the US have cabinets installed with them. I've never once heard of them falling due to broken screws. I've even done a lot of demolition and haven't found them particularly lacking.

The problem comes when they get bent. The don't tolerate bending much at all, so if a sloppy carpenter kinks one during install it'll be very weak and possibly snap upon tightening. My objection to using them mostly comes from frustration around that issue.

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  • I have had them fail on me. I happened to be standing there when it started to come down, and caught it. They were 30" cabinets in line, so most only had 2 screws, mostly not in the ideal location due to spacing of studs, meaning really most of the load on one screw. I installed a ledger spanning the entire length just beneath the top panel, and attached the cabinets with vertical screws down from the top. – RyanJMcGowan Jun 26 '20 at 3:10
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I agree with isherwood. I've worked on a lot of houses (as an electrician). All I've ever seen used for hanging cabinets is what most people would call a drywall screw. They are actually quite a bit longer than the typical drywall screws, with some of them having a very small head. These screws are made of hardened steel, which makes them very strong; they will also break if you overtighten or bend them. I've never seen them fail. I used them to install my own cabinets over 20 years ago and they are still on the wall. Anectodally, I'd say there is nothing wrong with these screws, installed properly, except they don't match the color of the cabinet, and they can rust if exposed to weather. I'd leave them alone, or if you are concerned, add more as recommended above by "manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact."

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