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What Screws are Good for Fencing?

Rusted screws of a wooden fence.

It’s better to use screws on fencing instead of nails. Wood is still a living thing, even after cutting down a tree to fashion planks. It moves and can split under the right circumstances. Nails loosen with time and movement. Screws don’t. So what screws are good for fencing?

What Effects Screws Must Withstand?

Wooden fence painted red.

Homeowners put up fences to keep something in or to keep something out. What homeowners can’t control is the weather. While it’s rare for a vehicle to take out a fence (although it happens sometimes,) weather can wreak havoc with a fence. In cases like that, screws keep fences together when nails can’t.

Aside from sunshine, storms, and wind wrecking a fence, mold, mildew, and rot often cause wooden fences to fail. Splits in the wood happen when the wood expands to soak up moisture and shrinks back into place as it dries. This is where nails fail to keep it together; screws do. 

What You Should Know About Screws?

Illustrations of different type of screws.

Screws made of different materials have their own virtues. For example, deck screws are threaded with a tip, shank, and head. They’re designed specifically for use with treated wood, such as you’d find on a fence. They don’t cause corrosion on the screws nor stain the wood of the fence.

The other type of screw you’ll use on a fence is a wood screw. It’s made of carbon steel. The snag to that is the screw becomes corroded by the air itself and moisture. This means the best screw to use on fencing is deck screws.

Screw Materials

Artificial tooth with screws in blue background.

Other facets of screws are the materials used to make them. The most common metals are steel, aluminum, copper, and titanium. 

Steel is more durable but does tend to corrode in the right circumstances. Aluminum is lightweight and cheaper. Copper screws fight corrosion. Titanium screws are expensive, but they last longer and are also lightweight. Titanium screws anchor dental implants, too.

Other Screw Considerations

Stainless steel screws are a tad expensive, as are some of the other types, so most homeowners go with galvanized or coated steel screws. However, there’s a difference between galvanizing a screw and plating it with zinc. Here’s what you should know.

The Galvanizing Process

Screw covers with galvanized coating.

A screw is dipped in a vat of molten zinc. It soaks for a certain amount of time, is removed, and cools. As it cools, the zinc hardens, forming a protective shell on the screw.

The Zinc Coating Process

Metal screws with zinc coating.

A screw is placed into a vat of water, saline, and zinc. An electrical current is introduced to the mixture. The zinc ions bond with the screw, forming a zinc shell on the screw. 

The Coating Process

2 Screws with different type of coating.

Coating a screw is a bit like putting something in a centrifuge. The screw is covered with a powder or some other chemical mixture. It’s then spun around to remove excess materials. The coating process produces a screw with twice the protection of galvanizing or plating.

The Type Of Wood In The Fence

Now that you have down the type of screw and/or its coating or finishing process you want to use, we need to consider the type of wood in which the screws will be working. You chose the wood of your fence carefully, so let’s match it up with the right screw.

Cedar Fencing

Cedar wood fencing for a patio.

You have to use very specific screws with cedar due to the acids in the wood corroding the screws. Stainless steel is best, but it’s a tad expensive. If homeowners can’t go for that, then double-dipped galvanized screws or a polymer-coated screw is best.

Pressure-Treated Pine Fencing

Pressure-Treated Pine Fencing.

Pressure-treated wood for fencing comes in cedar, redwood, cypress, pine, and other flavors of wood. The term is all about the preservative the wood is treated with which prevents its deterioration. Most experts agree that galvanized deck screws are best for pressure-treated wood; they won’t corrode nor stain the wood.

The only other screw homeowners could use on their pressure-treated wood is stainless steel. While they’re expensive, think about the quality of the wood on which you’re using them. It only makes sense to use the best quality screws on the best quality wood fencing.

Untreated Wood Fencing

An old bicycle and natural wood fence.

Woodworkers say that galvanized screws are used on untreated wood fencing. The galvanization process helps with corrosion and not staining the wood.

Fencing Near Water

If you live on a river, lake, or the ocean, and you’re planning to put up a wood fence, then use silicon bronze screws. This metal is quite good at avoiding corrosion, rust, and salt. Wooden boat builders use these screws. Now, they’re a little more expensive than other screws, but considering boat builders use them, you’re good to go.

Tall, Heavy Fencing

An old house with high fences.

Homeowners putting up a six to eight-foot-high fence made of heavy planks need a completely different type of screw. The one that will take all that weight is the lag screw. It’s built differently. It has a hexagonal head but is driven using a wrench. They come in different metals, too, both uncoated and galvanized.

Pros And Cons Of Using Screws In Fencing

Everything has its advantages and disadvantages. Nails and screws do the same job, but screws are better because:

  •  Superior strength. Screws strongly join wood fence posts to the planks. Use wood glue along with screws, and you have an unbeatable fence.
  •  Safer application. Nail guns are dangerous for obvious reasons. Impact drivers are safe power tools and are owned by more people than nail guns.
  •  Easier to remove. Unscrewing a screw is way easier and less time-consuming than yanking out a nail with a hammer.

On the other hand, the disadvantages of using screws are:

  •  Stripping. Anything with threads can become stripped, which makes removing it frustrating.
  •  Expensive. Nails are a relatively cheap way of joining something. Screws are more expensive due to the manufacturing process.
  •  More time. Screws can be driven by power tools, yes, but tightening them takes more time than hammering a nail.

Do Screws Have A History?

You bet they do. It’s a bit foggy whether screws were used before the first century BCE, but it is known that wooden screws appeared about that time. They were generally used in producing olive oil and wine in the Mediterranean area.

The most basic metal screws, although rare, were used in Europe by the 1400s. When the Industrial Revolution hit the ground running, mass production of metal screws happened around the late 1700s. Special machines were invented to make varying sizes and the threads needed to make screws serviceable.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that various types of screw heads were introduced. The first was a square head popular for non-slipping during installation. The Model T used more than 700 of them. The more popular Phillips head screws came along in 1930, which gave users more durable and tighter screws.

Now, it’s the 21st century, and screws make up more of our lives than any other material. Check your smartphone, your laptop, and other electronics. The tiny screw may be taken for granted today, but it makes our lives easier. Not only that, but modern technology exists to make custom screws for any application needed.

Screws For Fencing FAQ

What Size Screws Should Be Used To Join Fence Panels?

The length of the screws should be compatible with the type of screw and the type of wood. For instance, to attach pre-assembled fence panels to the backer rails and/or posts, it’s recommended to use 3 ½ to 4-inch screws. For attaching individual fence panels or pickets to the backing rails, it’s recommended to use 1 ¼ to 1 ¾ inch screws.

How Many Screws Should Be Used?

That answer depends on the height of your fence. If you’re putting up the usual three to four-foot fence, then two screws per rail will be all you’ll need to screw the pickets to the backer rails. If the fence is six feet or over, you’ll need a screw for every backer rail, so figure on three to four screws.

Do Fence Posts Need To Be Set In Concrete?

No. In fact, concrete or cement can harm a wooden fence post.