Advances in screw technology a boon for builders

Posted Jan. 09, 2009, at 8:54 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:45 a.m.

About 25 years ago I got my first Makita cordless drill. Some time before that some brilliant person came up with drywall screws. The cordless drill and the drywall screw started a building revolution that is still going on today.

Carpenters used them for fastening pieces of wood together for all kinds of things along with hanging drywall. One of my favorite projects back then was building pine shelves for our kids. Some of them are still kicking around.

After we got going with this simple way to drive screws into wood, galvanized screws showed up. They made deck building a simpler process. Those original cordless drills that really got the job done were 9.6 volts. They were pricey for the times, but were well worth the cost. You could put screws into almost anything all day long with little effort and no blisters.

Perhaps I am naive, but I view these as some of the revolutionary technologies of the 20th century when one thinks of building construction.

In 2009, many builders and manufacturers are continuing down this path.

They are using newer, higher-strength screws to screw houses and other projects together. Several years ago, some screw manufacturers came up with another new fastener. It is a Torx head screw, with a larger-diameter wire and an anodized finish. I call them “gold screws” since the anodizing is gold-colored and they are worth their weight in gold to me. The most common and original version is manufactured by a company called GRK.

The Torx head, I believe, showed up first in cars and looks like a six-sided star. This particular fastener, which comes in a variety of sizes, was designed in Germany and is now manufactured in Canada. They cost between $5 and $6 a pound, and are well worth the cost. They are rugged, rust-resistant and easy to use. While dry-wall screws are fine for hanging drywall, they are brittle and weak for structural uses such as home construction.

Because I’ve rebuilt a lot of older homes and on occasion have had to undo something I just nailed together, the GRK fasteners are a welcome change. The Torx-drive head solidly holds the driver in place and there is almost never slippage or stripping of the screw head.

This is revolutionary, if you have ever tried to drive a Phillips head galvanized deck screw into pressure-treated lumber and stripped the head of the screw trying to get that deck screw in all the way.

The more significant factor in using screw fasteners over nails is something we call “pull-out strength.” I recently took apart a deck that was constructed indoors with ring shank-glue nails. These are some heavy-duty nails. Even though they have all the bells and whistles that a nail can have, I (being a relative weakling when it comes to destructive capabilities) could easily pull the fasteners out or beat the boards apart.

If a similar deck were screwed together with the structural screws, the wood would yield before the screw would come out.

When it comes to toe-nailing a stud into a plate (diagonal nailing), I always use screws. They work easily and are outrageously stronger.

But, I have to admit, the real beauty of using these fasteners is that the disassembly process is simpler. When I do something that I need to change, it is simple to unscrew the GRK fasteners since they engage the Torx head driver so well.

That is why there are always No. 25 Torx head drivers in my car, in my shop and hanging off the 18-volt lithium ion drill that is usually nearby any project that I have going on.

In 2009, failure is not an option with such structural fasteners, and that means that a 50-pound box of GRK screws always has to be with me on any job, too.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.

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