Drywall Screws vs. Wood Screws: How To Choose the Right One

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Drywall and wood screws are designed for different purposes. You can sometimes ask one to do the job of the other, but not often. Allen Bolt Nut

Drywall Screws vs. Wood Screws: How To Choose the Right One

Although wood screws are better than drywall screws for woodworking projects, carpenters like me occasionally use drywall screws for wood projects anyway. They’re inexpensive and come in large quantities, so I always have a few on hand — something I can’t always say about wood screws.

You never want to use drywall screws in the woodshop. But if you’re doing something like repairing wood trim around the house, you might sub in drywall screws assuming can do a pretty good job in a pinch. Jay Sander, owner of Castle Dream Construction in Baltimore, Maryland, would advise against that.

“Carpenters rarely use drywall screws for woodwork,” he says. “Think of them as the wrong tool for the job. You wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer a nail, right?”

Josh Kou of North Castle Hardwoods in Chicago has a slightly different point of view. “I would use them for fixing lightweight plyboards or making small repairs,” he says. “They are thinner than wood screws and made of a harder material, ideal for gripping flat boards onto wall studs.”

How about the other way around? “Using wood screws for drywall isn’t ideal either,” says Sander.

Screws designed specifically for holding drywall to wood framing. You’ll find them at any building supply outlet. I like to purchase them by the pound at a local hardware store.

Drywall screws are manufactured from tempered or stainless steel, which makes them hard, and their black phosphor coating resists corrosion.

They feature a sharp point that bites easily, a narrow shank and a flat head with a rounded underside. The latter makes them easy to sink in drywall and creates a depression you can fill with joint compound. You drive them with a #2 Phillips driver.

Most, but not all, drywall screws have threads that extend all the way to the head. That feature can be problematic for wood projects. The full threading can actually push wood apart instead of pulling it together as you tighten, Sanders says.

The best tool for driving these into drywall is a screw gun. It works like a screwdriver, but comes with a collar around the drive bit that prevents the screw from sinking deeper than necessary. In my experience, a standard variable-speed drill with a Phillips driver, operated with a light touch, works just as well.

Wood screws are made of softer metal alloys and come in a wider selection of lengths and gauge sizes than drywall screws. Unlike drywall screws, which mostly have Phillips heads, today’s wood screws are more likely to have Torx (star-shaped) or square heads to resist stripping. This means you need to keep a selection of drivers on hand, which I find annoying.

Wood screw threads are finer than W-type drywall screws and the threads don’t extend all the way to the head, so they grip better in wood. They’re also far less likely to snap when you drive them into hard wood.

“Using wood screws for drywall isn’t ideal,” Sanders says. “While they are sturdy, their fine threads might not bite into the soft drywall paper.”

Though traditionally made from steel alloys or brass, now you can find stainless steel, aluminum and even titanium wood screws. Exterior steel wood screws often have an enamel coating to resist corrosion.

Gauge sizes range from #4, which is really thin, to #10. The gauge you use depends on the amount of holding power you need. You generally want a wood screw long enough to sink at least halfway into the wood where you’re fastening something.

“I usually pre-drill if I am using wood screws close to the end of a piece of lumber to prevent splitting, as it’s simply good practice,” says Kou.

A pilot hole makes it easier to start the screw and prevents splitting, which is especially important for hard woods. Some wood screws have ribs on the underside of the head to make sinking it easier. For screws that don’t, I usually use a countersink bit after drilling the pilot hole.

No. “When I’m putting up [drywall], if I run out of drywall screws then it’s time to stop,” Kou says. Besides potentially tearing drywall paper, wood screws aren’t as corrosion-resistant and are more likely to rust than drywall screws.

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Drywall Screws vs. Wood Screws: How To Choose the Right One

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