16

I wouldn’t be surprised if I had got my wood screw pack from AliExpress but it’s from Home Depot and I believe Everbilt is at least not a random brand.

Yet many of the screws just break if I screw them into hard wood. The worst is that the piece stays in the wood and I have no means to get it out. I am using a driver at very slow speed but it even happens if I use a screwdriver by hand.

I have used them in the past for fixing NM cable clamps to studs (from 1920 though), screwing together simple pieces of lumber, fixing lumber to studs or attaching wheels to a table. In many cases, the screws just broke. See examples on the left of the box.

What is wrong with these screws?

Photo of a multi-pack of Everbilt zinc screws, 8 different sizes

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  • 28
    Do you drill pilot holes? Makes a big difference if you do.
    – Solar Mike
    Feb 10 at 8:46
  • 9
    "1920 through" studs may be very hard. Decades ago in New Orleans I came upon someone redoing an old house nailing drywall. "Why not screws?", I asked. "Wood too hard. Twist 'em off," came the reply. Feb 10 at 12:33
  • 3
    In critical applications use thread lubricant. I use bicycle chain dry lube--wax suspended in light solvent and/or a block of parafin wax. There must be convenient commercial products. Feb 10 at 13:11
  • 5
    Not just pilot holes, but also a countersink if you're using flat-head screws as shown. Those screw heads displace a lot of wood, and that type of screw is intended to be installed flush with the surface. Also use a driver with a torque-limiting clutch adjustment.
    – kreemoweet
    Feb 10 at 18:17
  • 5
    I keep a small dried-out soap bar remnant in my toolbox, and often drag screw threads across the edge of the bar. One drag on one side of the screw does the job. Feb 10 at 18:27

8 Answers 8

43

You're trying to drive screws directly into hardwood? Or, even, really old softwood?

Doesn't matter much what screw or brand you use, you'll end up breaking them.

You need to drill a pilot hole that will remove most of the wood that the screw will encounter, leaving only enough wood for the the threads to bite into on their own. The threads are sharp and thin enough to cut through the wood themselves, but there's just too much "meat" for the body of the screw to move out of the way in hardwoods so the screw binds until you snap it.

There are a ton of questions on this site about sizing a pilot hole, but basically, the pilot hole needs to be the size of the inner part of the screw, excluding the threads.

Of note, my house was built in the 1890s. I dulled 3 cheap 1" spade bits trying to drill one single hole to run some wiring through. This old wood is tough! Most screws won't stand a chance.

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  • 11
    Sizing a pilot hole with 100% of the screw's root diameter is appropriate for most dense hardwoods under side loading (not for maple, though). For withdrawal loading it's wildly inappropriate.
    – popham
    Feb 10 at 20:08
  • 3
    @popham It will definitely stop the screws from breaking though :-) But yes, for anything where more complex loadbearing is an issue 2/3rds usually is a better 'best of both worlds' idea. Hard to do with smaller screws though, a 2mm drill for a 3mm screw tends to break a lot the moment your location is even moderately challenging.
    – Mast
    Feb 11 at 12:24
  • 2
    Forget "old" or "hard", I drill pilot holes for everything, even brand new pine. (About the only time I'd skip them is for a very thin screw.) No hole significantly increases the chances of a bad result... and destroying the screw is the better result. If you're less lucky, you destroy the wood. Okay, hard wood may increase the chances that the screw becomes the point-of-failure, but... drill pilot holes.
    – Matthew
    Feb 12 at 18:11
  • 2
    I'd even be suspect of "self drilling" screws. I expect they're less problematical, but unless they're able to evacuate the material that the screw is displacing, they're still not going to be as good as drilling separate pilot holes. Pilot holes work because they remove (some of) the material the screw will displace. Do "self drilling" screws eject little bits of wood as they're driven?
    – Matthew
    Feb 12 at 18:21
  • 1
    @Matthew They do not. And self drilling screws in wood can have the same issue (splitting) that screws without a pilot hole experience.
    – Questor
    Feb 12 at 18:47
20

The code for wood engineering has "lead hole" specifications for screws. They're in Chapter 12. I'll quote the text later. The pilot hole size is predicated on wood's specific gravity (basically its density—multiply by the density of water to get the wood's density), so I'll list the specific gravities of the common US softwoods first:

  • Douglas Fir-Larch: G = 0.50,
  • Hem-Fir: G = 0.43,
  • Southern Pine: G = 0.55, and
  • Spruce-Pine-Fir: G = 0.42.

Southern Pine has the same density as Mixed Maple. Hardwoods other than maple tend to have G > 0.60 (Yellow Poplar is the extreme exception). Old wood also tends to have a higher density (and therefore a higher G), as it may have been harvested from a slow growth forest instead of "farmed."

For screws loaded in withdrawal, the code mentioned earlier says:

12.1.5.2 Lead holes for wood screws loaded in withdrawal shall have a diameter equal to approximately 90% of the wood screw root diameter in wood with G > 0.6, and approximately 70% of the wood screw root diameter in wood with 0.5 < G ≤ 0.6. Wood with G ≤ 0.5 (see Table 12.3.3A) is not required to have a lead hole for insertion of wood screws.

For screws loaded laterally, the code mentioned earlier says:

12.1.5.3 Lead holes for wood screws loaded laterally shall be bored as follows:

(a) For wood with G > 0.6 (see Table 12.3.3A), the part of the lead hole receiving the shank shall have about the same diameter as the shank, and that receiving the threaded portion shall have about the same diameter as the screw at the root of the thread (see Reference 8).

(b) For G ≤ 0.6 (see Table 12.3.3A), the part of the lead hole receiving the shank shall be about 7/8 the diameter of the shank and that receiving the threaded portion shall be about 7/8 the diameter of the screw at the root of the thread (see Reference 8).

If you have a combination of lateral and withdrawal loading, then I don't know what to tell you.

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    For interest: Oven dried Lignum Vitae SG = 1.05 . || Iron Bark = 0.98. || Jarrah 1.15+ green. 0.82 seasoned. || !!! :-) Feb 11 at 11:59
9

Small screws do not tolerate a lot of torque. Even with a 12V 1/4" hex driver (nowhere near the torque of my other tools) I can regularly break #9 "deck screws" if I didn't use a pilot hole. As a result, I still have a few pieces of screw in the hardwood floor of my trailer. For the smaller screws, like you had shown, with a sufficient quantity of "elbow grease" you can definitely break #6 or smaller screws, although with a Phillips head I would presume one might be reasonably likely to strip the head instead of breaking the screw.

See the related question at What is the maximum torque I can apply to a screw?

See also Bolt Depot - US Recommended Bolt Torque and as you may note, the recommended torque for small bolts is rather small and in inch-pounds. It could be very easy to far exceed these values with any power driver, or with a screwdriver with a decent handle. No, bolts and screws would not be rated the same, but there seems to be very limited data regarding torque values for wood screws, given that wood is such a non-uniform material.

5

There are screws designed for use without drilling. They work pretty well. If you use the right wood and the right driver they work even better.

Buy screws that say on the label they can be screwed into rough framing without drilling. Use the right length, not longer. Buy ones with Torx heads, and a Torx bit and use an impact driver. If you encounter resistance in an old joist etc, stop, remove the screw and drill.

Everything about the screws in your picture is wrong for this.

  • They are cheap screws. You can get good screws at HD, but they sell crap ones too.
  • The thread is too fine, the point is useless, the head is weak.
  • Your framing is old and probably the wood was denser to begin with than modern studs.
  • Some of them are too long. The longer they are the more important it is to predrill, and from the empty compartment it seems you're using the long ones.
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  • "Buy ones with Torx heads" — definitely (or Robertson if you live in Canada). Phillips screws are designed to be great for assembly by factory robots, but are almost useless for humans, especially when you want to remove them. Feb 13 at 3:45
  • @RayButterworth Phillips and Pozidrive predate robots. Feb 13 at 8:13
4

It's not about the brand, but about the screws being hardened. Next time, go to a builder's supply house and get a box of hardened screws. Big box stores also have them, usually labeled "construction screws". Pretty much any screw sold in cardboard boxes by the thousands, except drywall screws, will work.

If you want to use the ones you already have, always drill pilot holes and set the screws by hand.

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  • The drywall screws sold around where I live are hard as hell.
    – kreemoweet
    Feb 10 at 18:13
  • 4
    @kreemoweet, the spec for drywall screws calls for case hardening. Toughness sacrificed for strength.
    – popham
    Feb 10 at 20:14
  • 1
    ... He is screwing into a hardwood without pilot holes... With tiny screws... He could have screws made out of titanium and they would snap... I don't think the problem is the screw so much as the lack of a good pilot hole
    – Questor
    Feb 12 at 18:57
  • @Questor Not correct. I work with old houses, and my impact driver will stop turning hardened screws on hardwood before they break.
    – Cheery
    Feb 13 at 0:32
3

Some other answers touch on this, but let me explain my screw-buying philosophy.

The modern world has given us a new and marvelous tool for driving screws: powered driver (drills, impact drivers, etc). As a result, pre-drilling took a back seat because with a power tool proving the torque, you can just power the screw in.

Except when you can't.

You're showing the basic zinc screws that are ubiquitous for anything light or medium duty. They hold "well enough" and will easily penetrate any "softer" materials like a standard pine 2x4. Use it on older hard woods like oak, and you might find they don't play as nice. Apply power tools to them and... well, you're using the wrong fastener for the job.

I always keep a box of coated deck screws around. You can find them in 1.5" length or longer. I buy the coated variety so I can use them for any job, indoors or out (the cost difference for outdoor screws is minor for a single 1lb box). Why deck screws? They're different from your basic wood screws in one key way: they have tips designed for not needing pre-drilling (image source)

deck screw tip

Now, the tip here is key. That bevel doesn't just draw the screw in, it's doing some minor measure of pre-drilling for you. You're just experiencing the less-common problem here of the head coming off. More often the wood splits without drilling. take time to work these screws in and it's less likely the heads will come off (or get bent).

3

Much of the advice already here is good, but I have to add that the brand of screws really does make a difference. Everbilt screws are of poor quality and are known to break quite easily. As one of many bad reviews on many different sites, a recent Amazon reviewer said:

Junk!! don’t waste your money on these piece of Junk Screws. They stripped out like there made of butter! And they break putting pressure on them and I pre drilled! What do you expect from Something made in China! Save your money go get screws made in the USA. Can’t believe they have the nerve to sell this Crap!

I don't know for sure where Everbilt are made but I've used that brand and also had a tough time with them breaking. When I've used better brands like GRK screws I've never had a problem -- the metal used is much higher quality.

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  • 1
    TBH, I'd not put too much faith in a single Amazon review. Especially such a ranty one as that. I find that if you read carefully, most of the 1-star reviews the person is misusing the product...
    – FreeMan
    Feb 12 at 18:22
  • 1
    @FreeMan if you google Everbilt screws you will find a great many negative reviews on several sites. I was just including one as an example. I've also personally had problems with that brand of screws that I have not had with better brands. Feb 12 at 20:46
  • Consider it a general point about most of the 1-star reviews I've read...
    – FreeMan
    Feb 13 at 11:56
  • Sorry but no. If there are a large number of negative reviews of something on many sites, and there are very few positives on any, you can be confident the product isn't good. And as I have said I have my own experience with this brand. Feb 16 at 14:52
  • You may want to edit that info into the answer itself. As it's written, you seem to be relying on just one review. At least, that's how I read it.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 16 at 16:31
0

It could be as simple as a bad batch. I had the same issue with a new box of stainless screws. Same brand and same size as the box before yet 4 out of the first 10 broke off. I took it back to the store (with the broken off heads as a proof), they agreed that I'm not supposed to snap a handful of stainless screws just like that in a pine and gave me a refund. Bought a box of same size C4 coating instead of stainless and didn't snap a single one. Clearly a bad batch.

screw

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  • 1
    Not necessarily. Stainless and carbon steel have different mechanical properties, so it's reasonable to assume that screws dimensioned for one will not be optimal for the other. Feb 13 at 8:15
  • 1
    If it was just a "bad batch", why not replace it with a different batch of the same screws? Obviously you were looking for the longevity and look of stainless, yet you replaced it with something coated. (In my experience, the coating comes of on first drive...)
    – FreeMan
    Feb 13 at 11:56
  • @FreeMan I had half a box of stainless in my garage from a few months before and used them first, not one of them snapped. When I was running out I gave the box to my wife and sent her to buy another. This time had them breaking like never before. Clearly a bad batch b/c the same from a few months before was ok. I could swap for another box but the chances are that would be the same batch, so went for a different thing and that was the C4 coating. It’s a fence, I’m not that fussy about the look.
    – MLu
    Feb 14 at 3:22

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