Should you Use Screws or Nails When Building a Deck or Fence?January 20, 2013
If at all possible, screw. Why?
Following are three reasons I think screws are usually the best choice.
1) Screws can be easily removed. I really believe this is reason #1 to use screws. You never know whether you will want to make a change or later down the road repair a damaged structure. If a fence has been nailed together using a framing nailer it is nearly impossible to remove the boards without breaking them.
2) Nails on decking backoff. Overtime deck boards will move and sometimes react to the weight of you walking on them. This bounce will pressure the nails upward, allowing for movement. Eventually the boards will feel like they are not attached. This may cause you to trip.
3) Screws are less destructive. When banging a nail, you are banging or at least shaking everything that nail is attached to. This banging can cause previously installed nails and other hardware to work themselves loose.
Here are some other important considerations when using screws to build a deck or fence.
When screwing you want a tight fit. Pilot your holes with a bit that is smaller than the screw. The bit to screw ratio is not a hard & fast rule. I make my choices depending on the hardness of the wood and the screw. For instance, I would probably make a bigger pilot hole for a soft metal screw like brass than I would for a stronger steel screw. A safe bet is to pilot a hole that is the diameter of the screw if it didn’t have threads. Look at a screw and I think you’ll know what I mean.
The width & length of the screw is important. Don’t use a bigger or longer screw than you need. Also, don’t use a smaller or shorter screw than you need. It’s not rocket science, so don’t pull out your slide rule, just use common sense.
When doing a lot of screwing, use protection. Wear eye protection and don’t strip your screws. Stripping the screw by damaging the head or the threads is unnecessary. Set your drill strength so that the drill stops when you get sufficient resistance. Impact drivers and cordless drills have these feature. On the drills, it is a collar that rotates. The impact drivers have a clutch which will “slip” as the resistance get high enough giving you time to react and stop driving.
Everything ages, but try not to let it affect your screws. Use screws that won’t corrode quickly. This is true with nails also. Over time, everything corrodes. Just fight this fact of aging by using coated screws. If you are using PT material the label on the container should have the letter acq.
SUMMARY: Choose to screw when possible. Of course it depends on the job. I’m not suggesting framers should screw when framing a house. And sometimes you have to use a finish nail and sometimes you just feel like really nailing something. But in terms of hold, a good screw can’t be beat.