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What is a Tapping Screw?

By Troy Holmes
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are many types of screws used in construction and manufacturing today. A tapping screw is a special screw design that has self-drilling characteristics. These screws are used in sheet metal, steel, and wood. The benefit of a self-tapping screw is that the hole does not require pre-drilling before the screw can be used.

A self-tapping sheet metal screw is designed to secure objects to sheet metal. Sheet metal is typically used in airplanes, automobiles, metal tables, and shelving. The tapping screw works best for sheet metal because the screw design has the effect of pulling the metal tightly to the head.

The tapping screw comes in many different head designs. These include pan head, flat head, round head, hex head, and oval head. The head design is an important aspect for specific applications.

The flat head tapping screw is a screw design that has a flush flat head. This type of head design ensures the screw does not protrude above the secured object. The flat head screw typically requires a Philips screwdriver.

A self-tapping wood screw is a screw designed to secure wood objects. Some applications that require a self-tapping wood screw include shelving, furniture, and decks. These screws are unique because one can use them to drill into wood objects without causing a split in the material.

Using a flat head wood tapping screw is considered a best practice for deck building. These screws typically work more effectively than nails. The screws create an extremely tight connection between the deck boards and floor joist, which can reduce the warping effect of wood decks. These screws are also used in deck rails because they have the ability to connect thin rails without splitting the wood.

The thread design of a tapping screw is course and pitched at an angle. This pitch design forces the screw to drill into objects. Normal screws are smooth and require a nut for tightening.

The tapped screw is available in two formats. These are either thread-cutting or thread-forming screw designs. The thread-cutting design is meant to remove material as it is drilled. A thread forming screw is more difficult to remove because it creates a tighter bond to the material.

Tapped screws can also be used in steel applications. Steel screws are typically necessary in heavy equipment and tool applications. These tools are connected with special steel versions of tapped screws. Many automotive floor boards are connected with steel screws.

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Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Jul 12, 2011

I have built a few decks and the job goes so much easier if you use tap screws. The finished project looks better and it will last for years longer.

I remember the first deck I worked on we used just ordinary old finishing screws. The deck looked horrible honestly. The sun glinted off of the screw heads and they would get extremely hot on sunny days. Luckily the deck was for a family member and they didn't complain too much.

All the decks since I've used a tap screw exclusively while I was working on the job. It is really the only was to go. It is a lot faster and it just looks so much better. Any professional will agree with me.

By gravois — On Jul 11, 2011

@summing - You make a really interesting point towards the end of your post. Sometimes innovation and efficiency come from weird places. You point out how much time is save by using tapping screws but how many people would think to give this seemingly minor innovation all the credit that it deserves?

When we are thinking about progress we probably think about flashy new tools, ultra strong building materials and the addition of computers to so much of the building process. But very few people expect that adding a little guiding tap to the tip of a screw would save all people in all the trades so much time and energy? It is little advances like this that make the world move forward. Unfortunately they rarely get the credit that they deserve.

By summing — On Jul 11, 2011

I have been working in the trades for most of my life and I can't tell you how much easier my life got after they came out with tapping screws. For you young contractors out there it didn't always use to be this easy. Before tapping screws we had to drill all the holes our self or rely on some old journeyman tricks that were a lot less clever than they sounded. Thank God for these little screws. They make certain tedious jobs take about half as long as they used to.

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