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What is The Difference Between a Bolt and a Screw

July 26, 2023

Planning to start your next construction project? Whether it’s an entertainment center, CNC machining parts, shelves for your workshop, or an ambitious construction project, necessitates some pre-planning. Screws and bolts, being the standard options, are often the go-to choice for many DIYers and professionals alike. But this leaves us with a frequent query: When should you use bolts instead of screws?


A cursory glance at a thesaurus might lead you to believe that bolts and screws are interchangeable, simply synonyms of one another. While it's tempting to categorize these fixings as the same for simplicity's sake, this could be a costly mistake. Bolts and screws, upon closer inspection, possess unique characteristics that a user should consider before making their choice.


When you first see them, bolts and screws indeed seem similar. Both are threaded fasteners featuring a head used for tightening. However, the details say otherwise, and a more thorough examination reveals their distinct differences.

Threading

One of the most immediate ways to distinguish between a bolt and a screw lies in their threading. A bolt typically isn't threaded all the way down its length, featuring a smooth, unthreaded shank. Contrarily, a screw is fully threaded right up to its head.


Screws are commonly installed into pre-existing threaded holes, barring the exceptions of self-tapping screws, which create their own threads as they're installed. Screws usually don't require custom nuts for securing since they're tightened directly into the hole using a screwdriver or driver bit. Screws are usually shorter than the thickness of the material they're being driven into. This prevents them from sticking out on the other side.


Bolts, on the other hand, are designed to partner with a suitable nut for installation. Unlike screws, the hole meant for a bolt is usually not threaded. Instead, the custom bolt is pushed through the hole, with a nut fastened on the other side to secure it. Therefore, a bolt will typically be longer than the thickness of the material it's used on as it needs to pass through the material to engage with the nut. The unthreaded part of the bolt embedded within the material lends extra strength, making it more resistant to shear forces compared to fully threaded screws. Bolts are generally fastened using a wrench or similar tool, which grips the head while the nut is tightened.

Advantages: Which One Weighs Heavy, A Bolt or a Screw?

The 'bolts vs. screws' debate stems from the simple fact that these two fasteners are designed for different purposes and materials, and therefore each holds its unique set of advantages.

Bolts: The Stronghold Custom Bolts

When it comes to sheer holding strength, bolts emerge as the uncontested winner. Their threaded design facilitates an exceptional level of holding power, outclassing screws and other fasteners. However, unlike screws, bolts require a custom nut and a washer for their installation.


The washer plays a significant role in distributing the load over a larger surface area, thereby minimizing wear and tear and preventing the bolt from loosening over time. The nut, on the other hand, secures the bolt in place, ensuring a sturdy and stable installation.

Screws: The Versatile Fasteners 

Screws’ threads provide a secure hold, making them an ideal fastener for a broad variety of materials, from wood and metal to drywall and even concrete.


Screws are distinguished from other fastening methods in part because they tap their own threads into the material at the time of installation. However, a pilot hole is still typically drilled before the screw is actually installed. It may seem counterintuitive to drill all the pilot holes at once, but doing so helps speed up the assembly process. 


For optimal results, consider using a cordless or corded power drill over a handheld screwdriver or the DIY 'hack' of using a nail. Power drills not only make the installation of screws more efficient but also simplify their removal, thereby enhancing your project's efficiency and the final outcome.

When To Choose Screws and Bolts?

The choice between screws and bolts for your project isn't as simple as picking the one you prefer.

The Role of Application

The primary determining factor in choosing screws or bolts is the application of your project. Bolts, with their formidable holding strength, are ideal for heavy-duty projects or those that need to be assembled and disassembled with ease. On the other hand, screws, which offer intermediate holding power, are the go-to fasteners for light to medium construction tasks, such as fencing or framing.

The Significance of Material

The material you're working with for your project is another critical element in deciding whether to use bolts or screws. For instance, materials such as plywood, press board, drywall, sheet metal, and deck planks typically require screws due to their nature and the level of holding strength required.


On the contrary, robust materials like concrete, studs, and beams are better suited for bolts, which offer superior holding power, vital for these denser, heavier materials. This usually comes handy with CNC machining parts. 


However, there are certain materials, like 2" x 4" lumber, that could require either screws or bolts, depending on the specific application. If a 2" x 4" is being used as a stud as part of a wall's framework, screws might be the better choice. But in an application like deck assembly, where more substantial load-bearing capacity is needed, bolts would likely be a better fit. Therefore, it's essential to consider the combination of the material's nature and the load it will bear when choosing between bolts and screws.

Conclusion

Understanding when to use bolts instead of screws boils down to evaluating your project's specifics. There's no universal 'right' choice – only the one that's right for your particular project. We hope this guide helped you differentiate between the two of the most used materials. And in case you are looking to buy screws or bolts from a reliable manufacturer, Maijin is here for you. So, go ahead and choose wisely!


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