I'm wondering what types of screws I should use for woodworking and what types I shouldn't be using as well.

For example, Are deck screws OK? What about a square head vs. Phillips? Does the type of metal/construction of the screw matter?


3 Answers 3


Just to get it out of the way, this is the conventional/traditional wood screw:

Trad wood screw

In the past it would always have been flat-head (now also called slot-head), and as a result when making a piece in a traditional style many woodworkers will insist on using flat-head screws so they look the part.

Are there specific types of screws I should use for woodworking?

In short, yes. But which type to pick is often on a project-by-project basis. While there are screws that were not originally intended for use in wood that are OK to use for specific purposes (when used appropriately, e.g. machine screws in jigs or tools), there are most definitely a few screws you shouldn't use in woodworking, and drywall screws top that list. Some people value them because they're sharp and drive well in the wood they're using, or for their black colour. But they are too brittle for woodworking in general and should never be used ideally. Edit 2024: at the time of writing it was widely held in woodworking circles that drywall screws were too brittle for applications where they had to withstand high strain. While this likely had a grain of truth initially it's clear that it's more accurate to say that some drywall screws might be too brittle, but it is most definitely not true about all. If high strength is important in a project that relies on screws it is of vital importance to test any screws one intends to use if there's any doubt about how well they hold and how brittle they are.

Are deck screws OK?

For decks, sure.

But you need more detail than that :-) How they are intended to be used in that application is a big factor in how they should be used. Decking is, like most exterior woodworking, sort of an extension of rough carpentry. In any project in a similar vein they can be a good choice. Although they can of course be used indoors they're not the fastener of choice for interior use and particularly for furniture pieces other screws should be preferred (many of which would be cheaper anyway).

What about a square head vs. Phillips?

Yes and yes. Point to remember, these are not screw types, these are just head styles. A great many different types of screws can have either kind of head.

Square-drive screws — which I feel we should call Robertson screws to give due credit to its inventor, even if we're not Canadian :-) — are a particularly good screw type because the square shoulders are very strong and resistant to stripping. Also on a practical level the tight fit of the driver to the screw should be good enough that the screw can hold securely on an unmagnetised bit, aiding single-handed driving. This is a particularly good head style I think and it's a shame it's not more common worldwide; possibly the only reason they're not more widely used across the globe is that when invented manufacturing wasn't capable of producing the screw strongly enough in a cost-effective manner.

Phillips screws (sometimes referred to generically as cross-head) have a long track record and can work fine but are now a bit outmoded, with the PoziDriv (Pozi for short) screw being an improved version. One general principle with screws that any good guide will emphasise, that the driver should be carefully size-matched to the screw, is particularly important with Phillips screws. While you can use both a slightly undersize or oversize screwdriver with a Phillips-head screw (they'll both seem to fit well enough) there is a greater tendency for the shoulders to round over when the driver 'cams out' and if you do this just a few times the screw can strip completely. In a somewhat similar vein PoziDriv screwdrivers should never be used on Phillips-head screws.

Does the type of metal/construction of the screw matter?

Yes, very much so but this is too broad a question to go into in much detail, so I'll just randomly pick a few salient points.

Brass screws
Brass crews are considered a must for use with brass hinges and other brass fittings. Where steel screw are used, they stick out like a sore thumb visually and just give a cheaper appearance.

Brass screws must always go into pre-drilled holes, even in softwoods, or there is a great risk they'll snap when being driven in. In hardwoods in particular it is also good practice to drive in an exactly matching steel screw before driving the brass screw, so that the stronger steel screw can thread the hole and reduce the strain on the brass. Manufacturers of good brass hardware like Brusso will supply a steel screw in every pack of brass screws for exactly this purpose.

Even with this, some people use an extra security measure and lubricate the brass screw, using wax (just a candle will do), soap (any hard bar) or an oil or fat (e.g. lard or tallow, both used historically). Despite the steel screw being stronger it can be a good idea to lubricate it as well, particularly since it has to be driven in and removed multiple times.

Note: these days with the increasing cost of brass "brass screws" may not be solid brass but brass-plated steel. So while there's the potential for the brass plating on the head to be scratched off, they are stronger.

Exterior applications
For exterior use, all screws and bolts should have a rust-resistant coating of one kind or another, or be made from stainless steel.

Conventional screw use
The traditional use of a screw was to fasten a board to another board, often to its edge, so one board is considered the thin board and the second the thick board (even when they are in fact the same thickness of material). And in this application there are some rules of thumb. The length of the screw should be approximately three times the thickness of the thin board being fixed. Older guides (early-20th century and before) often state that the pilot hole should be deeper than needed so that the screw doesn't 'bottom out', but modern guides do not agree on this point and it's rarely done today, however, in particularly hard woods this can still be a good idea.

Wood screw, cross-section of hold

In cross-section like this notice that the screw actually needs to go into two sizes of hole, the pilot hole we're all familiar with but a wider clearance hole in the first board. This drawing makes this clearer:

Wood screw clearance and pilot holes + countersink
Even where some of the threading on the screw remains in the thin board the idea is that it is not held there, which can lead to a problem called bridging where no matter how hard you drive the screw the gap between the boards won't fully close.

Screws and end grain
Screws do not generally hold well in end grain. This was virtually universally held to be true at the time of writing but like too many things in woodworking it turns out to be a myth, as covered in an Answer many years later.

Where screws go into end grain you can improve hold if you 'toenail' or 'dovetail screw' them, that is, drive them in at a slight angle so that they partially bite into long grain. Even though screws into end grain are not as weak as commonly supposed this is still worth doing.

Another option is to glue in a dowel (preferably hardwood) in the path of the screw:

Dowel to secure screw in end grain

Some very coarsely-threaded screws, e.g. lag screws, are considered to have so much hold that this isn't an issue but they tend to be used where a very firm and reliable hold is needed. If you want to go the extra mile add the dowel as well. Or alternatively switch to a bolt and barrel nut, as show in this previous Answer or a conventional nut and bolt as shown in the first illustration here.

Further reading:
Fastener type chart on Bolt Depot.
Screws are Screws – Aren’t They? on Popular Woodworking.
Q & A: Why Predrill Screw Holes? on Popular Woodworking.

  • I learned about snapping brass screws the hard way - tried to use an impact driver on them. This was in a pre-drilled hole too! Should have pre-threaded the hole with a steel screw of the same size first, then installed the brass screws.
    – grfrazee
    Nov 4, 2015 at 12:55
  • 2
    Excellent answer! (Could someone remind me of how to award bounty points to answers?) I'm willing to use drywall screws for jigs or other things where brittleness/weakness aren't an issue, espcially where the screw is really just a clamp and the real strength comes from the glue or wood... but I wouldn't use them in something I cared about, and since I now have a pneumatic pin gun I should never be tempted to. I hope. :<)
    – keshlam
    Nov 4, 2015 at 13:47
  • 1
    Great answer. The only thing I would add is that deck screws are usually coated so that they don't react with pressure treated wood, and using non-coated screws might react with the wood.
    – Steven
    Nov 4, 2015 at 14:27
  • I get where you're coming from with the recommendation against drywall screws, but if you're only choice is the sorry excuse for wood screws that Home Depot/Lowes sells, and a box of drywall screws, the drywall screws are going to be better, hands down. If you can find a good supplier of wood screws, then by all means use the right tool for the job.
    – JPhi1618
    Nov 4, 2015 at 17:24
  • 1
    @FazJaxton, All the screws I have used from the big box stores seem to be very brittle and have low quality control. The threads are jagged, heads snap off easily and the heads strip easily. In other words, they are just "cheap" feeling. Sometimes you can find "brand name" screws there that are much better. I'm not sure where to buy quality screws other than just searching online - I wish I knew.
    – JPhi1618
    Mar 11, 2016 at 16:21

This one might be a little broad as it can greatly depend on the project.

In short no

There are hundreds of screw types, so sure, there are a bunch that would not work like drywall screws, sheet metal, roofing and pretty much all machine screws are out of the question as they will not bite properly or hold wood to wood1. Then you have to look at the part of the screw like the different head and types. Some are multi-purpose and other are meant to excel in certain materials and applications.

Are deck screws OK?

I use deck screws all the time as they just happen to be available for me and were designed to work outdoors (and with pressure treated wood which I use only for shelving and storage) which is where most of my projects end up. So for me it is an all around screw.

Wood screw, in general, are perfectly fine. That is not even a really specific category as there are different metals composites. That is true of all near all screws.

Does the type of metal/construction of the screw matter?

Yes, but it can change from project to project. Different metal compositions have different properties. Brass tend to have an allure for appearance and can cause less friction. Steel is valued for strength but is not as corrosion resistant compared to others. Stainless steel is a corrosion resistant (There are many grades there of as well). There are many other metals besides those with their owns strengths and fall backs.

While is possible to have the wrong screw for the job you need to overthink this. Features that are ideal and can be helpful for a wide range of projects would be self-drilling / tapping, countersink heads and Robertson or square head as they will be harder to strip of the common sockets (Personally I try to only use square head for that reason.). You can also get the combination Phillips and square head as well.

I see no issue with deck screws or basic wood screws for simple projects. Larger projects might need a little more consideration.

1 - I did make a simple planter box with drywall screws just to finish the container. It is still holding today just fine but I could have used better screws.

  • 1
    Plenty of wood workers dont even need screws and can just rely on simple joinery with option glue.
    – Matt
    Nov 4, 2015 at 4:16
  • 1
    I like deck screws since they usually have Torx or square drive heads, which are vastly superior to Phillips or flathead.
    – grfrazee
    Nov 4, 2015 at 12:52
  • @grfrazee I like them as it is easier to find them with type17 tips. Robertson all the way. I only use Phillips if there is nothing else or they are old brass. I have a bunch of slotted brass that I use for appearance only.
    – Matt
    Nov 4, 2015 at 12:54
  • 1
    Try Pozidriv instead of Phillips as Pozidriv connects better screw/drillbit. (unless you can find torx of course)
    – LosManos
    Nov 4, 2015 at 13:36
  • @LosManos I run into these but I still prefer robertson. I use my square bits on pozidriv anyway
    – Matt
    Nov 4, 2015 at 13:45

For general use screws, you can't beat the SPAX brand fasteners. They have a combination phillips/square drive head, drive well, and are quite strong.

For "fine" projects, I use brass screws for attaching hinges and catches, but none for joinery.

Generally, don't waste your time on the standard wood screws unless you absolutely have no choice.

  • 4
    Generally, don't waste your time on the standard wood screws unless you absolutely have no choice. Why, exactly? I find they work perfectly fine, and since they are designed specifically for wood, I can't think of a reason why they're a waste of time.
    – grfrazee
    Nov 3, 2015 at 22:04
  • I for one agree if "standard wood screws" is what they sell at the big box stores. The heads strip or snap off very easily and end up causing major headaches. Stay away from "cheapo" wood screws and find a supplier you trust.
    – JPhi1618
    Nov 4, 2015 at 17:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.