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Bolt vs Screw: Pros, Cons, Types, & Uses

Bolt vs Screw

The terms “screw” and “bolt” are often used interchangeably. So, does that mean they are the same thing? No, not quite. While in many ways, these fasteners are, indeed, similar, they are quite different. In this guide, we’ll take a close look at both and talk about their biggest advantages and disadvantages.

We’ll also cover the most common uses for bolts and screws. Are bolts harder to work with, or not? What will cost you more—a bolt or a screw? What tools do you use for fastening? These are just some of the questions that we’ll cover today. We’ll start by learning about the ins and outs of bolts and then gradually move on to screws and discuss them in great detail. Finally, we’ll help you decide which option is best for you and why.

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New Bolts
Image Credit: Brett_Hondow, Pixabay

Screws were invented long before bolts. So, even though the concept is the same, bolts are the next step in evolution. They come with a nut and a washer and provide a tighter grip. This is their biggest advantage. And while they’re a bit pricier, bolts are well worth the investment for the right project. Are they easy to use, though? What’s the best use for bolts? Which one(s) should you pick? Let’s talk about that next.

How Many Types of Bolts are Out There?

The list is quite large and includes dozens of fasteners designed for specific tasks. With that said, there are five types of bolts that contractors and DIY fans most often use.

Here’s a quick look:
  • Carriage bolts: Short, with larger-than-average heads. Self-locking, they are best to use on wood-wood, wood-metal, and metal-metal.
  • Hex bolts: These can be distinguished by the six-sided heads and heavy-duty threads. Hex bolts are mostly used for machinery.
  • Specialty bolts: As the name suggests, these bolts are a bit different. They are available in various sizes and easily handle extreme pressure. Plus, specialty bolts are rust-resistant.
  • Lag bolts: AKA the lag screws, the lag bolts don’t come with a nut and have a pointy tip. You will, however, still need to pre-drill a hole for them.
  • U-bolts: The most advanced of them all, these bolts have a U-shape (hence the name) and come with two nuts.

Are Bolts Easy to Use?

A bolt is a mechanical fastener, and on its own, a bolt is useless: it needs a nut to lock the joint and hold two separate places tightly together. Furthermore, bolts can’t be driven in with a screwdriver. Instead, you’ll have to use a wrench or an Allen key to tighten or loosen the nut. Bolts usually take a bit more time to tighten compared to screws, but the difference isn’t that big. More importantly, bolts come in different sizes that you’ll only be able to “handle” with the right wrench.

That’s exactly why it’s so common to have a set of wrenches in the toolbox, not just one single tool. Alternatively, you can use a ratchet and sockets. Sometimes, a socket extension is necessary to access a hard-to-reach spot. But before you do any of that, make a hole for that bolt. It doesn’t have a sharp tip like a screw and relies on a pilot drill hole to “clear the path” for it. On the bright side, a bolt is much easier to disassemble than screws.

Image Credit: Edge2Edge Media, Unsplash

The Best Uses for a Bolt

Bolts can hold together not only wood but also metal, concrete, beams, and studs. The holding strength of bolts is unmatched among modern-day fasteners, and that’s their biggest selling point. Thanks to the strong combo of the nut, the washer, and the threads, bolts do, indeed, have an impressive grip. So, if you’re working on a project that relies heavily on the fastener, you should go with a bolt.

While the nut does most of the heavy lifting, it’s the washer that spreads the pressure/load over a larger area, making the bolt that much stronger and more reliable. In addition, this helps avoid wear. Finally, the nut and the washer do an excellent long-run job: the bolt won’t loosen due to vibrations or natural elements like humidity. Bolts are often used in wind and solar farms, nuclear plants, pumps, valves, and oil rigs.

  • Unmatched holding strength
  • Handles heavy-duty tasks
  • Very easy to disassemble
  • Reliable and long-lasting
  • A bit on the expensive side
  • Requires pre-drilled holes

tool divider Screws

Lag screws
Image Credit: Piqsels

Screws have been around for ages (since the 5th century, to be exact). Today, they are the most popular fasteners for holding two separate pieces together. And the idea behind them is very simple. There’s a shaft covered in threads and a head that fits specific types of screwdrivers. The holding strength of a screw lies within its threads. Screws are cheap, widely available, and don’t take a science degree to use.

Next, they are self-tapping and, in most cases, self-drilling. That means there’s no need to drill any pivot holes before driving screws in. How many types are there? How do you use them? Read on to find out!

How Many Types of Screws are Out There?

Just like bolts, screws are available in many variations. They serve different purposes, of course, but work the same way. You just grab a screwdriver, turn the head, and push the screw in.

Here are the five most common types:
  • Wood screws: Thanks to the coarse threads, wood screws have a very tight grip. And there’s a shank at the top to prevent the head from piercing into the wall.
  • MDF screws: Similar to the wood screws, the MDF variety pierces through medium-density fiberboard without splitting. That eliminates the necessity of drilling holes.
  • Drywall screws: Rather small in size, these screws won’t damage drywall and have an impressive holding strength. Certain types of drywall screws can’t penetrate metal—make sure to check this.
  • Double-threaded: The name says it all here: with double-threaded screws, you’ll get an extra-strong grip, and the screws will go in quicker than any other fastener out there.
  • Decking screws: Almost half of a decking screw is covered in coarse threads. The other half is a shank. If you want to secure decking boards to a deck’s joist, these screws will be an excellent choice.

Then we’ve got the machine (designed for metal) and masonry (work well on concrete) screws, yet they’re not “classic” screws as their tips aren’t sharp. Yes, you’ll have to drill holes for them. Sheet metal and security screws are also available, but they’re slightly less popular.

Are Screws Easy to Use?

There’s nothing hard about driving a screw into a wall, floor, or any other surface. Screws are easier to work with than bolts and even nails. When dealing with a nail, you can hurt yourself with the hammer. Bolts, in turn, take some getting used to. Screws, on the other hand, are very intuitive. As long as you’ve got the right screwdriver (say, a Phillips one), you’ll be able to push them in without applying too much pressure or force.

Overall, screws are quite reliable and last for a long time. But they aren’t at all resistant to shear force. When there’s pulling from one side, screws break/snap rather quickly, and there’s little you can do about that.

structural screws
Image Credit: SERSOLL, Shutterstock

The Best Uses for a Screw

The biggest selling point of screws is their flexibility and versatility. That’s exactly why they’re equally popular among contractors and DIY enthusiasts. In contrast to bolts, most screws have very short shanks. As a result, they are suitable for a wide range of applications. And, just like bolts, these fasteners can handle a long list of materials/surfaces, including wood, press boards, plywood, drywall, and sheet metal.

They’re not that great on stone or concrete, though, but do hold drywall panels in place tightly. There are many task-specific screws out there, like the decking, MDF, wood, machine, and drywall screws. They are each specifically designed and manufactured to perform different tasks. Screws are mostly used in processing equipment, heat exchangers, fans, various plants, tanks, and heat exchangers, not to mention home-based applications (like hanging a picture).

  • Versatile, flexible, and easy to use
  • Available in different shapes/sizes
  • Penetrates MDF and drywall without splitting
  • Perfect for basic DIY work
  • Not suitable for concrete or stone
  • Tends to snap under shear force

tool divider What Do Bolts and Screws Have in Common?

Screws and bolts come from the same family. They are both mechanical fasteners that are used for joining two separate pieces together. This can be wood, metal, drywall, or anything else. Both screws and bolts have threads (a helical ridge). However, while with a screw, most of the shaft is covered in threads, the same is not true for a bolt. With it, only a small part of the shaft (20–30%) is threaded. The rest is what’s known as a shank.

But no matter which fastener you pick, it will come with a head (except for the security screws) that’s used for tightening. You will need different tools for that, though. Lastly, most bolts and screws are crafted from metal. It can be steel (regular or stainless), aluminum, brass, and even bronze. Visually, they look very much alike, despite the obvious difference in the size/length of the threads and the heads.

Are Bolts More Expensive Than Screws?

Yes, bolts cost more than screws simply because they’re sold with nuts and washers. Obviously, the manufacturer uses more metal to make them. On top of that, bolts require a bit extra space to store, which also affects the price. Another important factor: people usually buy screws in large sets; the same can’t be said about bolts. With that said, certain screw types (like the double-threaded or the security screws) can cost just as much or even more.

Before you make an order (if you’re buying online), don’t hesitate to contact customer support and learn exactly how much you’ll have to pay. This will avoid confusion when the customer thinks they’re buying a pack (bolts + nuts + washers) but it turns out the company/manufacturer is selling them separately.

Bolt and screws
Image Credit: Roberto Sorin, Unsplash

What is the Right Option for You?

Are bolts better than screws? Or is it the other way around? You can’t really pick a winner in this competition. It all comes to their specific properties and uses. If you’re not sure which option is best for you, check out our quick comparison table. For certain projects, a bolt will be the obvious pick, while in other situations, you’ll want to go with a screw.

Screws are best for quick, relatively simple projects. They are versatile, cheap, and easy to get your hands on. Bolts, in turn, are the go-to choice for heavy-duty construction and boast above-average holding strength. So, if you like to work with wood, metal, and other materials, you should have both screws and bolts in the toolbox!

When to go with bolts When to go with screws
It’s a heavy-duty, high-pressure project It’s a light/medium DIY project
Holding strength is a top priority Versatility is what you’re looking for
You’re working with concrete and stone You’re working with MDF and drywall
You’re looking for a reliable fastener You’re on a somewhat tight budget

tool divider Conclusion

Alright, that is everything we had to share! Along with nails, screws and bolts are the most commonly used fasteners and come in many different shapes. We’ve got big and small, wide and thin, shanked, and threaded bolts and screws. The heads are also available in various designs and sizes. So, which options will be best for your next project? That entirely depends on what you’re working with!

Bolts and screws are similar in many ways, but they aren’t identical. They both have their pros, cons, and best uses. So, put the knowledge from our guide to good use, choose wisely, and we’ll see you next time!

Featured Image Credit: Robert Ruggiero, Unsplash


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