How to Use a Drill to Drive Screws

How to Use a Drill to Drive Screws
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At one time, driving screws was a bit difficult—but approximately 30 years ago with the invention of battery powered, cordless drills/drivers, this all changed.

These days, the ever-popular drill/driver seems to be the “go-to” for everyone when faced with driving a screw or drilling a hole.

Still, in order to precisely and quickly power drive screws, you will need lots of practice, lots of patience, and knowledge of a few tricks.

Below, you will find tips and techniques that will help you increase the capabilities of your cordless drill/driver when it comes to driving screws. 

Back off Your Clutch

Back off Your Clutch 

First of all, you must understand that every drill and driver out there features a torque control, also referred to as a slip clutch. This is a collar that is adjustable and is located just behind the chuck. The numbers you see on this piece reveal the twisting power – or torque – that the drill is producing.

The higher this number, the more torque your drill/driver is using to drive the screw.
By taking the time to learn how to properly use the torque control, you will be able to drive the screws to the appropriate depth. This means that you won’t underdrive them, leaving their head sticking up or overdrive them, sending them straight through to the other side of your board. As you are driving the screw, the torque control is monitoring the torque that is being applied.

If the force that is needed to drive the screw exceeds the setting, your will hear your clutch disengage/slip. If this happens, the chuck will completely stop turning, but the motor of your drill will keep running.

Of course, you don’t want to be too hard on yourself; learning exactly how to set the torque control is going to take some time. However, a good rule of thumb is to start at about the middle. For example, if you have a drill/driver with 30 settings, try setting it to about 15 and try to drive your screw. If you hear the clutch slip before the screw is driven, you can rotate it to a higher number.

On the other hand, if you end up driving it too deeply, you should drop it to a lower number.
For most cases, you’ll want to use a higher setting if you are trying to drive a large, fat screw and a lower setting if you are trying to drive a small, thin screw. Of course, you will also need to consider the hardness of the material that you are driving the screw into.

After all, you don’t need a whole lot of torque to drive a screw into a softwood such as cedar, fir, or pine. However, if you end up hitting a knot or a gnarly section of the wood, you’ll need to increase the torque. On the other hand, if you are driving a screw into a hardwood such as mahogany, maple, or oak, you’re going to need a higher torque setting. 

Drill a Clearance Hole

Drill a Clearance Hole

While it’s true that the most important skill to have when using a drill/driver to drive a screw is gaining mastery of the torque control – a close second would be learning how to properly drive a screw without causing the board to split.

The very first step in this process is to take your drill and put a hole through the top of your board that is the same as or even a little bit larger than the screw shank’s diameter. This hole is known as a clearance hole will allow the screw to cleanly pass through the top of the board. This is critical because if there’s no friction on the top board, the two boards can be pulled tightly together by the screw.

Drilling a clearance hole is especially important when you are driving a screw close to the end of a board or close to the edge – as this is where you will most commonly find splitting.

Drill a Pilot Hole 

In addition to a clearance hole, you’ll want to consider drilling a pilot hole with your cordless power drill as the two work together. A pilot hole is a small hole that you drill into the bottom board. The reason for a pilot hole is to have a path for the screw to go into without causing the board to split.

Once again, it’s critical to take the time to drill a pilot hole if you’re working on the end or edge of a board. However, it’s also a great idea to use pilot holes if you are driving a screw into a thin board or hardwood. You must make sure that you use the proper size pilot hole to keep from snapping the screws; this is especially critical if you’re working with brass screws, which are known to be extremely soft.

When you are drilling clearance and pilot holes, keep in mind that the pilot hole in a hardwood piece will be a bit larger than one in softwood, due to the risk of splitting. 

Difference Between a Counterbore and Countersink 

These days, most people use flathead screws. After all, for most cases, you’ll want the screw head to be flush with the surface of your board, or just below the surface.

If you want the screw head to be flush with the board, you’ll need to use a countersink drill bit to bore a shallow hole. Again, this is necessary if you’re working with hardwood. Typically, if you’re working with softwood, the screw head can be flush with the board without taking this step.

On the other hand, if you need the screw head to sit just below the surface of your board, you need to drill what is known as a counterbore hole. You can do this by using a brad-point drill bit or a small spade bit. Once you drive the screw in, you can cover the counterbore hole with a wood plug or decorative button.

Try Using a Combo Bit

While it’s true that you can use a variety of drill bits to drill all of the holes you need to before you start driving the screws, you also have the option of using a combo bit.

With this tool you will save lots of time because you can do all you need to do with one motion. Combo bits come in a variety of sizes, from 4 to 10, and you can typically purchase them individually or in sets. 

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