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I forget the proper name for them (please do remind me), but I have some bits that will make a hole in a piece of wood such that a screw head will be beneath the surface when tightened. And then you can put a tiny dowel in if you want to cover it up, though I generally don't.

I mention that in regard to the fact it shortens the length of screw needed to fasten two pieces of wood together.

With that in mind, I began to wonder how do you determine the proper gauge and length of screw needed. I did some searches and found general articles about the types of screws... not really helpful because I already know I need wood screws; and articles about wood screws that I found were mostly just charts of what the various sizes of screws available are with little info on how to determine which sizes are optimal.

I suspect there is information available as to the minimum gauge/length that will support the most weight (and at which point a larger screw would provide little to no benefit) based on the size of wood being fastened together (and perhaps even taking into consideration the hardness of the wood?)

Anyone know where to find such a guide? Perhaps this is more of an engineering question? I figure it made the most sense to ask here first though.

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    The kind of information you're looking for is required in an engineering context, but it's simply not needed for (most) furniture work and basic building. There is data for some fasteners and breaking strain for screws (which independent tests show is immensely conservative as a rule, in part to allow for some level or user error or unexpected material failure, but also of course to cover their a$$). If you're talking furniture work, all you really need to do is follow established practice and/or use common sense.
    – Graphus
    Jul 5 at 11:30
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    The holes to hide screw heads, which will later be plugged (commonly not with a dowel BTW, but instead a long-grain plug cut with a specialised bit) is a counterbore.
    – Graphus
    Jul 5 at 11:36
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    "I mention that in regard to the fact it shortens the length of screw needed to fasten two pieces of wood together." A shorter screw isn't necessarily weaker, in case that's what you're thinking. As long as 'enough' wood is under the head (poss. as little as 1/3 the thickness of the first piece) what's important is how much screw goes into the second piece. So for two situations, longer countersunk screw and shorter screw in a counterbore, the strength could be comparable as long as the length of threaded screw in the second piece of wood are roughly the same (everything else being equal).
    – Graphus
    Jul 5 at 11:42
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    @Graphus I think the info in your 3rd comment is what the OP is looking for: A) How deep (in % of 1st board thickness) can one counter bore without compromising strength. B) How far into the 2nd piece should the screw extend in order to maximize strength of the joint without "overdoing it", or, potentially starting to compromise the strength of the 2nd piece. (I'm specifically thinking of 90° cabinet wall type joints, but I'd imagine the answer is similar for 2 pieces on the flat.)
    – FreeMan
    Jul 6 at 11:26
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The term you are looking for is a wood "plug." You can either cut a piece of dowel, or if you want control of the grain direction, use a plug cutter to cut your own. A flush-cutting handsaw can be helpful, as well.

Regarding screws, you won't find a definitive guide, because the strength of a joint depends on what the joined object will be used for. You can make a 1/4" thick triangle without a center into carpenter's ruler for measuring or to be used as a shelf support.

I believe people learn what size screws to use by starting out by learning from others (these days, like watching YouTube videos). With that foundation, over time you will discover when screws have proved insufficient or when it didn't seem to matter (which meant they were sufficient).

It is not necessarily a bad exercise to screw (and glue) some pieces of wood together and try to bend them apart. This will help give you a sense of when strength depends on the choice of screw (or the choice to use screws at all).

You may discover that under stress the fastening method remains strong while the wood is delaminating/tearing apart. Keep in mind the direction of the forces at the joint, as well. Screws are incredibly strong against a force trying to pull wood apart along the axis of a screw as well as a force 90° off the axis (trying to "cut" the screw in half), but stress is rarely in a single linear direction. Predrilling a hole before putting the screw in can be a part of the learning process as well. You can find guides for how big the hole should be.

I believe that ultimately a good decision can be made after one becomes able to consider the kinds of stresses that will be put on the joint (combined with how much the structural integrity of the wood will be lost by putting a hole in it).

Fortunately we can partially rely on the fact that the common gauges of screws available fall into a narrow range depending on how long the screw needs to be. You can trust that an intermediate choice is likely to be fine under normal circumstances.

If the stresses may be unusually high, consider that the design of the joint may be the limiting factor, not the screws. Keep in mind that one can make strong joints without using any fasteners or glue at all (see Japanese joinery for an abundance of information). The best screw is not going to work if the joint is structurally too weak for the stresses it will be subject to. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of the screw?—when properly applied glue will be stronger than the wood itself.

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    While the OP has accepted this answer, it is quite unsatisfying to me. "What screw should I use" being answered by "you'll learn from experience". I would have thought that the point was to share experience with at least some general rules/guidelines, instead of expecting each person to learn from his own mistakes/experimentation. If everyone was to learn on her own, there would be no need for this site at all. NOTE: This isn't a personal attack, it's just that this answer is... disappointing. There has to be some rule of thumb someone could share...
    – FreeMan
    Jul 7 at 11:41
  • The question is deceptive in that it is simple, but a "book knowledge" answer can't be. As was suggested, it is a question with an engineering answer. The OP didn't specify whether he was making a 4x4x6" jewelry box or constructing a house. The post contains two ways to make a quick estimate of what is needed, a way to get some experience quickly, and an explanation why there can't be a general rule of thumb.
    – GregJ7
    Jul 7 at 12:55
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    The question should be closed as "needs more detail" then. The goal of (almost) all the SE sites isn't to answer overly broad questions, but to get them narrowed down to something that is objectively answerable.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 7 at 12:59

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