All About Nails, Screws, Bolts, and Nuts

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Mechanical fasteners (left to right): nails, screws, bolt with washer and nut, and wall anchors.

The Fix-It Club offers basic information on a more than 250 household repairs. Most repairs require mechanical fasteners. Your home has hundreds of fasteners in it, holding walls together, binding appliance components, keeping the floor from moving underfoot, and even fastening sleeves on to clothing.

All fasteners have a single function: to hold two or more things together. When they don't, something's broken. That's when you need free help from the Fix-It Club.


Nails are thin, pointed metal fasteners driven with a hammer to join two pieces of wood. There are dozens of varieties of nails, depending on the specific purpose. There are special nails for masonry, roofing, finishing, and other common applications.

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Types and sizes of nail fasteners.

Nails are classified by the size of the shank and the shape of the head. Fix-It Guides refer to specific types of nails needed. The most common type is called common nails, with large, flat heads for secure fastening. Next is finish nails with smaller heads that aren't so obvious if flush to or below the wood's surface. Nails are sized by length, indicated by a d or "penny." A 4d nail is 1-1/2 inches long; an 8d nail is 2-1/2 inches long.

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Types and sizes of screw fasteners.


Screws are pointed-tip, threaded fasteners installed with a screwdriver. The type of screwdriver used depends on the type of screw head: Round- and pan (flat)-head screws require a straight-tip screwdriver; Phillips-head screws require a Phillips screwdriver; and square-head screws require a square-drive screwdriver. Wood screws fasten wood, and sheet-metal screws fasten metal. Screws are sized by length. Screws are stronger than nails and easier to remove.

Bolts and Nuts

Bolts are flat-tipped, threaded fasteners that use a threaded nut to attach wood or metal together. A washer may be placed under the bolt head or the nut for a firmer fasten. Bolts are classified by the type of head. Stove bolts and machine screws (actually bolts) are turned with a screwdriver. Hexagon- and square-head bolts are held in place with a wrench while the nut is turned to tighten. A carriage bolt's head imbeds itself into the wood when the nut is turned. Bolts are sized by length and thread. Bolts are stronger than screws.

Nuts, usually square or hexagonal blocks of metal with threaded holes, screw onto bolts to hold something together.

Anchors are additions to bolts or screws that help anchor a fastener in a hollow wall or door. Other handy fasteners include lag bolts, which are bolt heads with screw bodies.

Thread is a fastener for clothing and upholstered furniture. Thread is a long strand of fabric installed with a needle, either by hand or by a sewing machine. Thread is sold by fabric (cotton, nylon, polyester, etc.) and thickness (Tex or T). Cotton-wrap polyester is used for jeans and poly-wrap polyester for a wide variety of clothing. T-18 thread is light weight and T-50 is medium weight. Thread needles are rated by the eye size, shaft length, and purpose.

Fix-It Tip

Velcro can be used for many quick fixes. You can use it to fasten toys, fabric, shoes, wall decorations, and many other things. Velcro is a trademark name for nylon fabric that can be fastened to itself. The back sides of the Velcro are fastened permanently to the object to be fastened, and the front sides of the Velcro adhere to each other when they touch.

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