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What Are Self-Tapping Screws? What Are They Used For?

Lag screws

If you love woodworking or DIY, you probably have to use screws for your projects frequently. You’ve probably come across self-tapping screws as they have various applications. These screws are perfect for combining different materials or screwing areas with access from one side only.

Although many people have heard about them, many tend to mix them up with self-drilling screws, as they can be similar. That’s why we want to shed some light on self-tapping screws and explain everything about them.

Keep reading to get acquainted with self-tapping screws and their uses.

divider 7How Do They Work?

Self-tapping screws form their own hole and tap their own threads when driven into different materials. People mostly use them in masonry materials, steel, plastic, brick, and wood. They are available in various screw head designs, although the most common ones are self-tapping screws with a slotted head. Depending on the application, the tips and threads of these screws come in an array of patterns.

As self-tapping screws have sharp threads, they eliminate the need for a tap. However, the pilot hole will need to be smaller than the diameter of the screw so that the material can keep the screw secure.

Before using self-tapping screws for your project, you need to know which type of screw you’ll need. Once you purchase it, mark the position where you’ll use the screw and drill a pilot hole smaller in diameter than the actual size of the screw. That way, the screw will fill the cavity, and its threads will cut into the material when you screw it in. If you make the pilot hole too large, the threads of the self-tapping screw won’t have a surface into which they can “bite.”

You’ll need to place the screw into the hole and turn it once or twice by hand. Once you finish, take a drill or screwdriver to screw it in place. While doing that, ensure you place the screw straight and that it’s not screwed in too tight.

structural screws
Image Credit: SERSOLL, Shutterstock

What Are The Different Types of Self-Tapping Screws?

When it comes to different types of self-tapping screws, there are two varieties you can use depending on the action they execute while you turn them in. Although both varieties form their own threads when you screw them into the chosen material, there’s a difference in how they do it.

Below are more details regarding both types.

Thread Forming Self-Tapping Screws

This type of self-tapping screw displaces material such as wood, plastic, or metal without disconnecting it. People typically use them when they need better loosening of the materials. As no material gets removed, there’s a fit without gaps. These screws don’t need special devices that will prevent loosening, but there are limited materials that can support them:

  • Soft steel
  • Aluminum
  • Wood
  • Non-ferrous metals

The majority of people consider these screws stronger than thread-cutting self-tapping screws as they compress the grain of the material rather than cutting it away.

Thread Cutting Self-Tapping Screws

This type of self-tapping screw has a cutting edge formed from flutes crafted into its threads. That way, the material is removed while you screw the thread-cutting screw inside. Because of that, these screws are more versatile, and you can use them on more materials than thread-forming screws. They provide an excellent thread fit with vibrational resistance and decent holding power.

These screws are also easier to install and assemble or disassemble, which is why you can use them on metal and wood.

MDF screws
Image Credit: Edinaldo Maciel, Shutterstock

Self-Drilling Screws

We also want to mention self-drilling screws, although some people consider them a type of self-tapping screws while others don’t. The reason is that all self-drilling screws are self-tapping, but not all self-tapping screws are self-drilling. While self-tapping screws tap their threads, they can’t drill through the materials, so they need a pilot hole.

On the other hand, self-drilling screws can tap and don’t need a pilot hole. These are not an actual type of self-tapping screws, but as they can tap themselves, it’s essential to bring them up.

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Where Are They Used?

Self-tapping screws will help you by eliminating some steps during the installation process. Most people use these screws when screwing into materials such as metal, wood, and plastic, but because of their sharp points and threads, they can act like cutting knives for any medium.

Here are some of the most common uses of self-tapping screws:

  • Roofing: Many roofing companies use self-tapping screws to gain smooth framing work. It’s an excellent option for roofing materials such as wood, metal, and even asphalt.
  • Gutter installation: Attaching a gutter can be a tough job, so many people use self-tapping screws for gutter installation to reduce the time to install regular screws. These screws keep everything in place while withstanding weather conditions and resisting corrosion.
  • Sheet metal works: The drill-like tips of self-tapping screws make them a perfect option for working on metal sheets. They are used for making furniture and construction, and in the automotive industry, they have various applications.
deck screws
Image Credit: On SET, Shutterstock

Advantages of Self-Tapping Screws

The design of self-tapping screws will allow you to reduce preparation and installation time on various projects, and they have various benefits, which we’ll list below.

  • Saving you time and money: As there’s no need for extra preparation and installation, self-tapping screws will save you time and money on your projects.
  • Quick and uncomplicated installation: Self-tapping screws that provide a self-drilling design are easy and quick to install, allowing you to finish the project more rapidly.
  • Excellent security: These screws provide an excellent grip, and you’ll be able to manage them easily, without worrying about their strength.
  • Outstanding penetration: These screws provide superior penetration even without putting too much pressure.
  • Durable: One of the main reasons people love self-tapping screws is due to their durability. You can reuse them numerous times while they will remain intact.
  • Weather and corrosion-resistant: They are an excellent option for outdoor work as they are resistant to corrosion and wet weather.
  • Less mess while working: When using standard screws, drilling creates a lot of mess, while the mess will be reduced if you use self-tapping screws.
  • Clean appearance: A self-tapping screw won’t be visible if you screw it into a surface, which will provide a clean and discreet appearance.

Disadvantages of Self-Tapping Screws

Like every other product, self-tapping screws are not perfect, and they have a couple of disadvantages, so check them out below.

  • Not the best option for thick metal
  • Threads can strip when you remove the screw
  • Increased friction

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Should I use self-tapping screws?

If you’re dealing with projects that require the use of screws but you’d like to save time and effort on that part of the process, you should definitely try out self-tapping screws. They are durable, reliable, and weather-resistant, which will come in handy for outdoor projects. They are also easy to install, and you can use them on various materials.

wood screws
Image Credit: Pixabay

Where can I use self-tapping screws?

You can use self-tapping screws on materials such as metal, plastic, aluminum, wood, and brick. It’s best to use them for products that you’ll need to frequently disassemble and assemble back, as they will make that process much more manageable.

What is the difference between wood screws and self-tapping screws?

One of the major differences between wood screws and self-tapping screws is that you can use self-tapping screws on various materials, while wood screws work only on wood surfaces.

Compared to self-tapping screws, wood screws have sharper tips and threads to penetrate deep into the wood. While most wood screws are partially threaded, self-tapping ones have threads throughout the screw.

wood screws
Image Credit: Piqsels

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A Quick Reference Guide

Self-tapping screws are a popular option for people who want to finish their projects quickly but efficiently. Before choosing the type of self-tapping screw you need to use, remember to select the appropriate variety for your needs.

When to Use Thread Forming Self-Tapping Screws When to Use Thread Cutting Self-Tapping Screws
When you don’t want to remove any of the material you’re working on When you want to remove the material during installation
When working on lighter materials When working on stiff materials
When higher stress resistance is required When lower stress resistance is required

divider 7Conclusion

If you want an efficient type of screw that will help you finish your projects promptly but still gain a durable end product, self-tapping screws should be in your tools and materials list. They work well for many materials and come in various shapes and sizes, so everyone should be able to find a self-tapping screw that will work for their requirements.


Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

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