How to drive a screw (and not split the wood!)


How to drive a screw


You can drive a screw with or without drilling a pilot hole first. It depends a lot on the type of screw you use and the project you are building. There is nothing wrong with drilling a pilot hole every single time though if you aren’t sure.

For shop projects and larger construction projects made from 2x4s, I don’t bother drilling pilot holes. You can just drive the screws right into the lumber. It’s fast and efficient. You’ll have even better results with self-tapping screws.

For rough construction, you can usually just power screws into place without drilling a hole.

However, for finer woodworking projects, you risk splitting the wood without first drilling holes, especially near the end of a board.

How to drive a screw
When driving screws, drill a pilot hole to prevent the wood from splitting.

Drilling a pilot hole allows the threads of the screws to cut into the walls of the hole rather than forcing the wood fibers apart. This creates a stronger connection. Plus, a pilot hole will help the screw to drive in straight.

To drill a pilot hole, select a drill bit that’s the same diameter or slightly less than the shank of the screw you are going to use. Use your drill to bore into the wood about as deep as the length of your screw. Press the side of the drill bit against your finger to keep it from wandering and slowly squeeze the trigger to get it started. You don’t need to press a lot of weight into the drill, just let the bit do its job. Be careful not to blast through the other side! Keep the bit spinning as you back it out.

How to select the correct drill bit size.
How to select the correct drill bit size.

If you want the head of the screw to be flush with the face of the wood, use a flathead screw…one with a flat top and beveled sides on the head.

A flathead screw
A flathead screw

Use a countersink bit or a countersink to add a beveled recess in the surface of the wood that the head of the screw will fit into. This will give your project a professional appearance.

Use a countersink bit to create a tapered seat for the head of a wood screw.
Use a countersink bit to create a tapered seat for the head of a wood screw.
A countersink.
Perfect fit! Clean and professional looking,

I like to use an impact driver to drive screws in place. A drill will also work, or, if you like twisting stuff by hand, you can use a regular old screwdriver. Set the point of the screw into the hole, holding it as perpendicular as you can with your fingertips and slowly pull the trigger to twist it in. If you have a tiny screw or big fingers, you can use needlenose pliers to hold the screw while you get it started. The biggest mistake you can make that causes the driver to slip out of the head is not keeping it aligned with the screw. Make sure you don’t tip the driver one. Just twist the screw in and stop when it’s is fully seated.

Using needlenose pliers to hold a screw while driving it into place.




  1. Thanks, this has been really useful for me! I’m not going to make this mistake 1 more time!!
    I am getting started with this hobby and there is a lot to learn still. I am following a step by step guide from which is great for beginners.

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