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Drive A Screw Like A Pro

Filed Under: Tools, Essential Skills, Know-How

Ever wish you knew a carpenter's secrets to driving screws perfectly every time? We did too -- so we asked one. Here's what he revealed about this tricky technique.
Here's a scenario that may sound familiar: You're using a drill/driver to drive a screw into drywall or wood when the bit at the tip of the tool just starts spinning inside the screw's head....thuda-thuda-thuda. Before you know it, the screw head is stripped and you have to start over.

Well, I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that once you hear your driver making that sound, that means head's been s stripped (also called "reamed" in carpenter lingo), and the screw is pretty much unusable. The good news is that once you know the right way to drive a screw, you'll never have this problem again.

Many people struggle with getting the screw threads started in the first place. They do everything right in terms of holding the power driver and applying firm, consistent, in-line pressure, but the screw tip just skates on the surface of the wood instead of augering down. Frustrated, people often push too hard and tip the screw over.

One solution is easy and works particularly well in drywall. Hold the screw to the driver tip with your thumb and index finger about 3/4 inch from the work surface. Then, all at once, push the tool and screw into the work surface firmly, jabbing the screw tip in. It doesn't take much force at all, but it's a great way to sink the screw threads enough to catch once you pull the driver's trigger. This method works well on soft-woods too, and obviously, works better with sharper screws (some screw tips are sharper than others.)

Once you've gotten the screw started, it can be tricky to keeping it going. Here's how to keep the screw straight and steady as you work: Imagine a line passing from the screw tip up through the bit holder, through the tool and passing right over the top of your fist as you pull the tool's trigger. Hold this line straight and the screw should move directly into the surface.

It doesn't much to get for the hinge point between the driver tip and the screw head to get out of line. The good news is that misalignment is easy to fix once you can feel it happening.

Are You Not Using Enough Pressure?
Some people simply don't apply enough pressure to keep the driver bit in constant contact with the screw head the deeper it goes. Say you're driving a 3-inch deck screw. It goes in fine for the first inch or two but then...thuda-thuda-thuda. What happened?

The resistance (friction) inside the wood increases as more steel sinks inside it, which requires a commensurate increase in pressure from you to keep the tool in contact with the fastener. Solution, stay in-line and press harder. You'll get the hang of it.

Are You Using Too Much Pressure?
If you tip screws often or drive them too deep, you're pressing too hard. Ease back the pressure just a little.

Some people are too tentative with the trigger, fearing misalignment or overdrives (a bigger problem in drywall and cabinet projects where you need to set the screw just so). The solution is to pull trigger in short bursts, also known as "goosing" the trigger. Pull the trigger all the way, then let go all the way. There is too much resistance between the wood and the steel to drive a screw slowly in most cases, so go in quick bursts of full-on, full-off and you'll eventually get the hang of it and be able to set a screw just right.

Driver tips don't often break, but they do wear out. After a lot of steel on steel contact, the driver tip gets slippery. If you used to be able to drive a screw, but now the tip of the driver seems to skate inside the screw head, it's probably time for a new tip. You can often recognize a worn tip just by its appearance; driver tips are usually pretty shiny compared with the rest of the steel.

It might seem strange to practice driving screws like you're practicing free-throws, but technique is technique. Grab a box of screws and some scrap 4 x 4 and have at it. One reason carpenters get super proficient at these kinds of things isn't because we're magic, but because of our repetition. We drive pounds of screws per day, every week.

Here's the challenge: Now that you know where you might be going wrong -- and keep in mind you may be having more than one problem at once -- the key is to put all the solutions together so you solve problems on the fly and learn to drive screws like a pro.

Want to ask me a something about DIY technique? Leave your question in the comments below, and I may address it in a future post!


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  • Suza

    Another tip is that most don't realize is that screws change depth and width where you place the bit. Some screws come with bits you should use in the box. But there are fat,medium, and skinny heads and bits for screws. So having the bit that buries completely into the screw head helps. For more great free stuff including samples and coupons check out Http://

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