A screw, or bolt, is a type of fastener characterized by a helical ridge, known as an external thread or just thread, wrapped around a cylinder. Some screw threads are designed to mate with a complementary thread, known as an internal thread, often in the form of a nut or an object that has the internal thread formed into it. Other screw threads are designed to cut a helical groove in a softer material as the screw is inserted. The most common uses of screws are to hold objects together and to position objects.
A screw will always have a head, which is a specially formed section on one end of the screw that allows it to be turned, or driven. Common tools for driving screws include screwdrivers and wrenches. The head is usually larger than the body of the screw, which keeps the screw from being driven deeper than the length of the screw and to provide a bearing surface. There are exceptions; for instance, carriage bolts have a domed head that is not designed to be driven; set screws have a head smaller than the outer diameter of the screw; J-bolts have a J-shaped head which is not designed to be driven, but rather is usually sunk into concrete allowing it to be used as an anchor bolt. The cylindrical portion of the screw from the underside of the head to the tip is known as the shank; it may be fully threaded or partially threaded. The distance between each thread is called the "pitch".
The majority of screws are tightened by clockwise rotation, which is termed a right-hand thread; a common mnemonic device for remembering this when working with screws or bolts is "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey." Screws with left-hand threads are used in exceptional cases. For example, when the screw will be subject to counterclockwise torque (which would work to undo a right-hand thread), a left-hand-threaded screw would be an appropriate choice. The left side pedal of a bicycle has a left-hand thread.
More generally, screw may mean any helical device, such as a clamp, a micrometer, a ship's propeller or an Archimedes' screw water pump.
Differentiation between bolt and screw
There is no universally accepted distinction between a screw and a bolt. Machinery's Handbook describes the distinction as follows:
A bolt is an externally threaded fastener designed for insertion through holes in assembled parts, and is normally intended to be tightened or released by torquing a nut. A screw is an externally threaded fastener capable of being inserted into holes in assembled parts, of mating with a preformed internal thread or forming its own thread, and of being tightened or released by torquing the head. An externally threaded fastener which is prevented from being turned during assembly and which can be tightened or released only by torquing a nut is a bolt. (Example: round head bolts, track bolts, plow bolts.) An externally threaded fastener that has thread form which prohibits assembly with a nut having a straight thread of multiple pitch length is a screw. (Example: wood screws, tapping screws.)
This distinction is consistent with ASME B18.2.1 and some dictionary definitions for screw and bolt.
The issue of what is a screw and what is a bolt is not completely resolved with Machinery's Handbook distinction, however, because of confounding terms, the ambiguous nature of some parts of the distinction, and usage variations. Some of these issues are discussed below:
ASME standards specify a variety of "Machine Screws" in diameters ranging up to 0.75 in (19.05 mm). These fasteners are often used with nuts as well as often driven into tapped holes. They might be considered a screw or a bolt based on the Machinery's Handbook distinction. In practice, they tend to be mostly available in smaller sizes and the smaller sizes are referred to as screws or less ambiguously as machine screws, although some kinds of machine screws can be referred to as stove bolts.
Hex cap screws
ASME standard B18.2.1-1996 specifies Hex Cap Screws that range in size from 0.25–3 in (6.35–76.20 mm) in diameter. These fasteners are very similar to hex bolts. They differ mostly in that they are manufactured to tighter tolerances than the corresponding bolts. Machinery's Handbook refers parenthetically to these fasteners as "Finished Hex Bolts". Reasonably, these fasteners might be referred to as bolts but based on the US government document, Distinguishing Bolts from Screws, the US government might classify them as screws because of the tighter tolerance. In 1991 responding to an influx of counterfeit fasteners Congress passed PL 101-592 "Fastener Quality Act" This resulted in the rewriting of specifications by the ASME B18 committee. B18.2.1 was re-written and as a result they eliminated the "Finished Hex Bolts" and renamed them the "Hex Cap Screw"—a term that had existed in common usage long before, but was now also being codified as an official name for the ASME B18 standard.
Lug bolts and head bolts
These terms refer to fasteners that are designed to be threaded into a tapped hole that is in part of the assembly and so based on the Machinery's Handbook distinction they would be screws. Here common terms are at variance with Machinery's Handbook distinction.
Lag bolts, also called lag screws, are basically "large wood screws". A typical lag bolt can range in diameters from 1/4" to 3/4", and lengths from 1" to 24" or longer, with coarse threads of a wood-screw or sheet-metal-screw threadform (but larger). The head is typically an external hex. The materials are usually carbon steel substrate with a coating of zinc galvanization (for corrosion resistance). The zinc coating may be bright (electroplated), yellow (electroplated), or dull gray hot-dip galvanized. Lag bolts are used to lag together lumber framing, to lag machinery feet to wood floors, and other heavy carpentry applications. These fasteners are clearly "screws" when defined by the Machinery's Handbook distinction. The term "lag bolt" has been replaced by "lag screw" in the Machinery's Handbook. However, in the minds of most tradesmen, they are "bolts", simply because they are large, with external-hex heads. In the United Kingdom, lag bolts/screws are known as coach screws though this can also refer to Carriage Bolts (Round head).
The US government made an effort to formalize the difference between a bolt and a screw because different tariffs apply to each. The document seems to have no significant effect on common usage and does not eliminate the ambiguous nature of the distinction between screws and bolts for some threaded fasteners. The document also reflects (although it probably did not originate) significant confusion of terminology usage that differs between the legal/statutory/regulatory community and the fastener industry. The legal/statutory/regulatory wording uses the terms "coarse" and "fine" to refer to the tightness of the tolerance range, referring basically to "high-quality" or "low-quality", but this is a poor choice of terms, because those terms in the fastener industry have a different meaning (referring to the steepness of the helix's lead).
Old USS and SAE standards defined cap screws as fasteners with shanks that were threaded to the head and bolts as fasteners with shanks that were partially unthreaded. This is now an obsolete distinction (but standard in UK).
Controlled vocabulary versus natural language
The distinctions above are enforced in the controlled vocabulary of standards organizations. Nevertheless, there are sometimes differences between the controlled vocabulary and the natural language use of the words by machinists, auto mechanics and others. These differences reflect linguistic evolution shaped by the changing of technology over centuries. The words bolt and screw have both existed since before today's modern mix of fastener types existed, and the natural usage of those words has evolved retronymously in response to the technological change. (That is, the use of words as names for objects changes as the objects themselves change.) Non-threaded fasteners predominated until the advent of practical, inexpensive screw-cutting in the early 19th century. The basic meaning of the word screw has long involved the idea of a helical screw thread, but the Archimedes screw and the screw gimlet (like a corkscrew) preceded the fastener.
The word bolt is also a very old word, and it was used for centuries to refer to metal rods that passed through the substrate to be fastened on the other side, often via nonthreaded means (clinching, forge welding, pinning, wedging, etc.). The connection of this sense to the sense of a door bolt or the crossbow bolt is apparent. In the 19th century, bolts fastened via screw threads were often called screw bolts in contradistinction to clench bolts.
In common usage, the distinction (not rigorous) is often that screws are smaller than bolts, and that screws are generally tapered while bolts are not. For example, cylinder head bolts are called "bolts" (at least in North American usage) despite the fact that by some definitions they ought to be called "screws". Their size and their similarity to a bolt that would take a nut seem linguistically to overrule any other factors in this natural word choice proclivity.
Other distinctions: Bolts have been defined as headed fasteners having external threads that meet an exacting, uniform bolt thread specification (such as ISO metric screw thread M, MJ, Unified Thread Standard UN, UNR, and UNJ) such that they can accept a nontapered nut. Screws are then defined as headed, externally threaded fasteners that do not meet the above definition of bolts. These definitions of screw and bolt eliminate the ambiguity of the Machinery's handbook distinction. And it is for that reason, perhaps, that some people favour them. However, they are neither compliant with common usage of the two words nor are they compliant with formal specifications.
Types of screws and bolts
Threaded fasteners either have a tapered shank or a non-tapered shank. Fasteners with tapered shanks are designed to either be driven into a substrate directly or into a pilot hole in a substrate. Mating threads are formed in the substrate as these fasteners are driven in. Fasteners with a non-tapered shank are designed to mate with a nut or to be driven into a tapped hole.
Fasteners with a tapered shank (self-threading screws)
Fasteners with a non-tapered shank
|American name||British name||Description|
|anchor bolt||A special type of bolt that is set in wet concrete, with the screw threads protruding above the concrete surface.|
|breakaway bolt||A breakaway bolt is a bolt with a hollow threaded shank, which is designed to break away upon impact. Typically used to fasten fire hydrants, so they will break away when hit by a car. Also used in aircraft to reduce weight.|
|cap screw||The term cap screw refers to many different things at different times and places. Currently, it most narrowly refers to a style of head (see the gallery below). More broadly, and more commonly, it refers to the group of screws: shoulder screws, hex heads, counter-sunk heads, button heads, and fillister heads. In the US, cap screws are defined by ASME B18.6.2 and ASME B18.3. In the past, the term cap screw, in general, referred to screws that were supposed to be used in applications where a nut was not used, however the characteristics that differentiated it from a bolt vary over time. In 1910, Anthony defined it as screw with a hex head that was thicker than a bolt head, but the distance across the flats was less than a bolt's. In 1913, Woolley and Meredith defined them like Anthony, but gave the following dimensions: hex head cap screws up to and including 7⁄16 inches (11.1125 mm) have a head that is 3⁄16 inches (4.7625 mm) larger than the shank diameter; screws greater than 1⁄2 inches (12.7 mm) in diameter have a head that is 1⁄4 inches (6.35 mm) larger than the shank. Square head cap screws up to and including 3⁄4 inches (19.05 mm) have a head 1⁄8 inches (3.175 mm) larger than the shank; screws larger than 3⁄4 inches (19.05 mm) have a head 1⁄4 inches (6.35 mm) larger than the shank. In 1919, Dyke defined them as screws that are threaded all the way to the head.
A socket cap screw, also known as a socket head capscrew, socket screw or Allen bolt, is a type of cap screw with a cylindrical head and hexagonal drive hole. The term socket head capscrew typically refers to a type of threaded fastener whose head diameter is nominally 1.5 times that of the screw shank ( major) diameter, with a head height equal to the shank diameter (1960 series design). Forged heat-treated alloy examples are high strength fasteners intended for the most demanding mechanical applications, with special alloy formulations available that are capable of maintaining strength at temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees F (587 degrees C).
In addition to the 1960 series design, other head designs include low head, button head and flat head, the latter designed to be seated into countersunk holes. A hex key (sometimes referred to as an Allen wrench or Allen key) or hex driver is required to tighten or loosen a socket screw. Socket head capscrews are commonly used in assemblies that do not provide sufficient clearance for a conventional wrench or socket.
|carriage bolt||A carriage bolt, also known as a coach bolt, has a domed or countersunk head, and the shank is topped by a short square section under the head. The square section grips into the part being fixed (typically wood), preventing the bolt from turning when the nut is tightened. A rib neck carriage bolt has several longitudinal ribs instead of the square section, to grip into a metal part being fixed.|
|elevator bolt||An elevator bolt is a bolt similar to a carriage bolt, except the head is thin and flat. There are many variations. Some do not have a square base, but rather triangular sections of the flat head are folded down to form "fangs" that cut into wood and hold it secure.|
|eye bolt||An eye bolt is a bolt with a looped head.|
|hex cap screw
|A hex cap screw is a cap screw with a hexagonal head, designed to be driven by a wrench (spanner). An ASME B18.2.1 compliant cap screw has somewhat tighter tolerances than a hex bolt for the head height and the shank length. The nature of the tolerance difference allows an ASME B18.2.1 hex cap screw to always fit where a hex bolt is installed but a hex bolt could be slightly too large to be used where a hex cap screw is designed in.|
|Fine adjustment screw||The term fine adjustment screw typically refers to screws with threads from 40-100 TPI (Threads Per Inch) (0.5mm to 0.2mm pitch) and ultra fine adjustment screw has been used to refer to 100-254 TPI (0.2mm to 0.1mm pitch). These screws are most frequently used in applications where the screw is used to control fine motion of an object.|
|machine screw||A machine screw is generally a smaller fastener (less than 1⁄4 inches (6.35 mm) in diameter) threaded the entire length of its shank that usually has a recessed drive type (slotted, Phillips, etc.). Machine screws are also made with socket heads (see above), in which case they may be referred to as socket head machine screws.|
|plow bolt||A plow bolt is bolt similar to a carriage bolt, except the head is flat or concave, and the underside of the head is a cone designed to fit in a countersunk recess. There are many variations, with some not using a square base, but rather a key, a locking slot, or other means. The recess in the mating part must be designed to accept the particular plow bolt.|
|Similar to a sheet metal screw, but it has a drill-shaped point to cut through the substrate to eliminate the need for drilling a pilot hole. Designed for use in soft steel or other metals. The points are numbered from 1 through 5, the larger the number, the thicker metal it can go through without a pilot hole. A 5 point can drill a 0.5 in (12.7 mm) of steel, for example.|
|self-tapping machine screw||A self-tapping machine screw is similar to a machine screw except the lower part of the shank is designed to cut threads as the screw is driven into an untapped hole. The advantage of this screw type over a self-drilling screw is that, if the screw is reinstalled, new threads are not cut as the screw is driven.|
|set bolt||tap bolt||A bolt that is threaded all the way to the head. An ASME B18.2.1 compliant set/tap bolt has the same tolerances as an ASME B18.2.1 compliant hex cap screw.|
|set screw||grub screw||A set screw is generally a headless screw but can be any screw used to fix a rotating part to a shaft. The set screw is driven through a threaded hole in the rotating part until it is tight against the shaft. The most often used type is the socket set screw, which is tightened or loosened with a hex key.|
|stripper bolt||A shoulder screw differs from machine screws in that the shank is ground to a precise diameter, known as the shoulder, and the threaded portion is smaller in diameter than the shoulder. Shoulder bolt specifications call out the shoulder diameter, shoulder length, and threaded diameter; the threaded length is fixed, based on the threaded diameter, and usually quite short. As a rule, socket head shoulder screws are produced from alloy heat-treated steel for maximum strength and wear resistance. Common applications for shoulder screws include rotating mechanism joints, linkage pivots, and guides for the stripper plate of a metal forming die set. In the latter application, the term stripper bolt is often substituted.|
|stove bolt||A stove bolt is a type of machine screw that has a round or flat head and is threaded to the head. They are usually made of low grade steel, have a slot or Phillips drive, and are used to join sheet metal parts using a hex or square nut.|
|tension control bolt||A tension control bolt (TC bolt) is a heavy duty bolt used in steel frame construction. The head is usually domed and is not designed to be driven. The end of the shank has a spline on it which is engaged by a special power wrench which prevents the bolt from turning while the nut is tightened. When the appropriate torque is reached the spline shears off.|
|thread rolling screws||These have a lobed (usually triangular) cross-section. They form threads in a pre-existing hole in the mating workpiece by pushing the material outward during installation. In some cases the properly prepared hole in sheetmetal uses an extruded hole. The extrusion forms a lead-in and extra thread length for improved retention. Thread rolling screws are often used where loose chips formed by a thread cutting operation cannot be tolerated.|
Other threaded fasteners
Superbolt, or multi-jackbolt tensioner
A superbolt, or multi-jackbolt tensioner is an alternative type of fastener that retrofits or replaces existing nuts, bolts, or studs. Tension in the bolt is developed by torquing individual jackbolts, which are threaded through the body of the nut and push against a hardened washer. Because of this, the amount of torque required to achieve a given preload is reduced. Installation and removal of any size tensioner is achieved with hand tools, which can be advantageous when dealing with large diameter bolting applications.
Hanger screw or hanger bolt
A hanger screw is a headless fastener that has machine screw threads on one end and self-tapping threads on the other designed to be driven into wood or another soft substrate. Often used for mounting legs to tables. Also known as a dowel screw.
Screws and bolts are usually made of steel. Where great resistance to weather or corrosion is required, like in very small screws or medical implants, materials such as stainless steel, brass, titanium, bronze, silicon bronze or monel may be used.
Galvanic corrosion of dissimilar metals can be prevented (using aluminium screws for double-glazing tracks for example) by a careful choice of material. Some types of plastic, such as nylon or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), can be threaded and used for fastenings requiring moderate strength and great resistance to corrosion or for the purpose of electrical insulation.
Often a surface coating is used to protect the fastening from corrosion (e.g. Bright Zinc Plating for steel screws), to impart a decorative finish (e.g. jappaning) or otherwise alter the properties of the base material.
Selection criteria of the screw materials include: size, required strength, resistance to corrosion, joint material, cost and temperature.
The American Institute of Steel Construction ( AISC) 13th Edition Steel Design Manual section 16.1 chapter J-3 specifies the requirements for bolted structural connections. Structural bolts replaced rivets due to decreasing cost and increasing strength of structural bolts in the 20th century. Connections are formed with two types of joints: slip-critical connections and bearing connections. In slip-critical connections, movement of the connected parts is a serviceability condition and bolts are tightened to a minimum required pretension. Slip is prevented through friction of the "faying" surface, that is the plane of shear for the bolt and where two members make contact. Because friction is proportional to the normal force, connections must be sized with bolts numerous and large enough to provide the required load capacity. However, this greatly decreases the shear capacity of each bolt in the connection. The second type and more common connection is a bearing connection. In this type of connection the bolts carry the load through shear and are only tightened to a "snug-fit." These connections require fewer bolts than slip-critical connections and therefore are a less expensive alternative. Slip-critical connections are more common on flange plates for beam and column splices and moment critical connections. Bearing type connections are used in light weight structures and in member connections where slip is not important and prevention of structural failure is the design constraint. Common bearing type connections include: shear tabs, beam supports, gusset plates in trusses.
The numbers stamped on the head of the bolt are referred to the grade of the bolt used in certain application with the strength of a bolt. High-strength steel bolts usually have a hexagonal head with an ISO strength rating (called property class) stamped on the head. And the absence of marking/number indicates a lower grade bolt with low strength. The property classes most often used are 5.8, 8.8, and 10.9. The number before the point is the ultimate tensile strength in MPa divided by 100. The number after the point is 10 times the ratio of tensile yield strength to ultimate tensile strength. For example, a property class 5.8 bolt has a nominal (minimum) ultimate tensile strength of 500 MPa, and a tensile yield strength of 0.8 times ultimate tensile strength or 0.8(500) = 400 MPa.
Ultimate tensile strength is the stress at which the bolt fails. Tensile yield strength is the stress at which the bolt will receive a permanent set (an elongation from which it will not recover when the force is removed) of 0.2% offset strain. When elongating a fastener prior to reaching the yield point, the fastener is said to be operating in the elastic region; whereas elongation beyond the yield point is referred to as operating in the plastic region, since the fastener has suffered permanent plastic deformation.
Mild steel bolts have property class 4.6. High-strength steel bolts have property class 8.8 or above.
The same type of screw or bolt can be made in many different grades of material. For critical high-tensile-strength applications, low-grade bolts may fail, resulting in damage or injury. On SAE-standard bolts, a distinctive pattern of marking is impressed on the heads to allow inspection and validation of the strength of the bolt. However, low-cost counterfeit fasteners may be found with actual strength far less than indicated by the markings. Such inferior fasteners are a danger to life and property when used in aircraft, automobiles, heavy trucks, and similar critical applications.
SAE J429 defines the bolt grades for inch-system sized bolts and screws. It defines them by grade, which ranges from 0 to 8, with 8 being the strongest. Higher grades do not exist within the specification. SAE grades 5 and 8 are the most common.
The international standard for metric screws is defined by ISO 898, specifically ISO 898-1. SAE J1199 and ASTM F568M are two North American metric standards that closely mimic the ISO standard. In case of inch sizes the grade is dictated by the number of radial shapes plus a value of two. Inch-system bolts use integer values to indicate grades but metric bolts use numbers with one decimal. The two North American standards use the same property class markings as defined by ISO 898. The ASTM standard only includes the following property classes from the ISO standard: 4.6, 4.8, 5.8, 8.8, 9.8, 10.9, and 12.9; it also includes two extra property classes: 8.8.3 and 10.9.3. ASTM property classes are to be stamped on the top of screws and it is preferred that the marking is raised.
Screw head shapes
- Pan head
- A low disc with chamfered outer edge
- Button or dome head
- Cylindrical with a rounded top
- Round head
- A dome-shaped head used for decoration.
- Mushroom or Truss head
- Lower-profile dome designed to prevent tampering
- Countersunk or flat head
- Conical, with flat outer face and tapering inner face allowing it to sink into the material. The angle of the screw is measured as the full angle of the cons.
- Oval or raised head
- A decorative screw head with a countersunk bottom and rounded top. Also known as "raised countersunk" (UK)
- Bugle head
- Similar to countersunk, but there is a smooth progression from the shank to the angle of the head, similar to the bell of a bugle
- Cheese head
- Disc with cylindrical outer edge, height approximately half the head diameter
- Fillister head
- Cylindrical, but with a slightly convex top surface. Height to diameter ratio is larger than cheese head.
- Flanged head
- A flanged head can be any of the above head styles (except the countersunk styles) with the addition of an integrated flange at the base of the head. This eliminates the need for a flat washer.
Some varieties of screw are manufactured with a break-away head, which snaps off when adequate torque is applied. This prevents tampering and also provides an easily inspectable joint to guarantee proper assembly. An example of this is the shear bolts used on vehicle steering columns, to secure the ignition switch.
Types of screw drives
Modern screws employ a wide variety of drive designs, each requiring a different kind of tool to drive in or extract them. The most common screw drives are the slotted and Phillips in the US; hex, Robertson, and Torx are also common in some applications, and Pozidriv has almost completely replaced Phillips in Europe. Some types of drive are intended for automatic assembly in mass-production of such items as automobiles. More exotic screw drive types may be used in situations where tampering is undesirable, such as in electronic appliances that should not be serviced by the home repair person.
The hand tool used to drive in most screws is called a screwdriver. A power tool that does the same job is a power screwdriver; power drills may also be used with screw-driving attachments. Where the holding power of the screwed joint is critical, torque-measuring and torque-limiting screwdrivers are used to ensure sufficient but not excessive force is developed by the screw. The hand tool for driving hex head threaded fasteners is a spanner (UK usage) or wrench (US usage).
There are many systems for specifying the dimensions of screws, but in much of the world the ISO metric screw thread preferred series has displaced the many older systems. Other relatively common systems include the British Standard Whitworth, BA system (British Association), and the Unified Thread Standard.
ISO metric screw thread
The basic principles of the ISO metric screw thread are defined in international standard ISO 68-1 and preferred combinations of diameter and pitch are listed in ISO 261. The smaller subset of diameter and pitch combinations commonly used in screws, nuts and bolts is given in ISO 262. The most commonly used pitch value for each diameter is the coarse pitch. For some diameters, one or two additional fine pitch variants are also specified, for special applications such as threads in thin-walled pipes. ISO metric screw threads are designated by the letter M followed by the major diameter of the thread in millimeters (e.g., M8). If the thread does not use the normal coarse pitch (e.g., 1.25 mm in the case of M8), then the pitch in millimeters is also appended with a multiplication sign (e.g. "M8×1" if the screw thread has an outer diameter of 8 mm and advances by 1 mm per 360° rotation).
The nominal diameter of a metric screw is the outer diameter of the thread. The tapped hole (or nut) into which the screw fits, has an internal diameter which is the size of the screw minus the pitch of the thread. Thus, an M6 screw, which has a pitch of 1 mm, is made by threading a 6 mm shank, and the nut or threaded hole is made by tapping threads into a hole of 5 mm diameter (6 mm - 1 mm).
Metric hexagon bolts, screws and nuts are specified, for example, in British Standard BS 4190 (general purpose screws) and BS 3692 (precision screws). The following table lists the relationship given in these standards between the thread size and the maximal width across the hexagonal flats (wrench size):
|ISO metric thread||M1.6||M2||M2.5||M3||M4||M5||M6||M8||M10||M12||M16||M20||M24||M30||M36||M42||M48||M56||M64|
|Wrench size (mm)||3.2||4.0||5.0||5.5||7.0||8.0||10.0||13.0||17.0||19.0||24.0||30.0||36.0||46.0||55.0||65.0||75.0||85.0||95.0|
In addition, the following non-preferred intermediate sizes are specified:
|ISO metric thread||M7||M14||M18||M22||M27||M33||M39||M45||M52||M60||M68|
|Wrench size (mm)||11||22||27||32||41||50||60||70||80||90||100|
The first person to create a standard (in about 1841) was the English engineer Sir Joseph Whitworth. Whitworth screw sizes are still used, both for repairing old machinery and where a coarser thread than the metric fastener thread is required. Whitworth became British Standard Whitworth, abbreviated to BSW (BS 84:1956) and the British Standard Fine (BSF) thread was introduced in 1908 because the Whitworth thread was too coarse for some applications. The thread angle was 55°, and the depth and pitch varied with the diameter of the thread (i.e., the bigger the bolt, the coarser the thread). Spanners for Whitworth bolts are marked with the size of the bolt, not the distance across the flats of the screw head.
The most common use of a Whitworth pitch nowadays is in all UK scaffolding. Additionally, the standard photographic tripod thread, which for small cameras is 1/4" Whitworth (20 tpi) and for medium/large format cameras is 3/8" Whitworth (16 tpi). It is also used for microphone stands and their appropriate clips, again in both sizes, along with "thread adapters" to allow the smaller size to attach to items requiring the larger thread. Note that while 1/4" UNC bolts fit 1/4" BSW camera tripod bushes, yield strength is reduced by the different thread angles of 60° and 55° respectively.
British Association screw thread
A later standard established in the United Kingdom was the British Association (BA) screw threads, named after the British Association for Advancement of Science. Screws were described as "2BA", "4BA" etc., the odd numbers being rarely used, except in equipment made prior to the 1970s for telephone exchanges in the UK. This equipment made extensive use of odd-numbered BA screws, in order—it may be suspected—to reduce theft. BA threads are specified by British Standard BS 93:1951 "Specification for British Association (B.A.) screw threads with tolerances for sizes 0 B.A. to 16 B.A."
While not related to ISO metric screws, the sizes were actually defined in metric terms, a 0BA thread having a 6 mm diameter and 1 mm pitch. Other threads in the BA series are related to 0BA in a geometric series with the common factors 0.9 and 1.2. For example, a 4BA thread has pitch mm (0.65mm) and diameter mm (3.62mm). Although 0BA has the same diameter and pitch as ISO M6, the threads have different forms and are not compatible.
BA threads are still common in some niche applications. Certain types of fine machinery, such as moving-coil meters and clocks, tend to have BA threads wherever they are manufactured. BA sizes were also used extensively in aircraft, especially those manufactured in the United Kingdom. BA sizing is still used in railway signalling, mainly for the termination of electrical equipment and cabling.
BA threads are extensively used in Model Engineering where the smaller hex head sizes make scale fastenings easier to represent. As a result many UK Model Engineering suppliers still carry stocks of BA fasteners up to typically 8BA and 10BA. 5BA is also commonly used as it can be threaded onto 1/8 rod.
Unified Thread Standard
The Unified Thread Standard (UTS) is most commonly used in the United States of America, but is also extensively used in Canada and occasionally in other countries. The size of a UTS screw is described using the following format: X-Y, where X is the nominal size (the hole or slot size in standard manufacturing practice through which the shaft of the screw can easily be pushed) and Y is the threads per inch (TPI). For sizes 1⁄4 inch and larger the size is given as a fraction; for sizes less than this an integer is used, ranging from 0 to 16. The integer sizes can be converted to the actual diameter by using the formula 0.060 + 0.013 * number. For example, a #4 screw is 0.060 + 0.013 * 4 = 0.112 inches in diameter. For most size screws there are multiple TPI available, with the most common being designated a Unified Coarse Thread (UNC or UN) and Unified Fine Thread (UNF or UF).
There are three steps in manufacturing a screw: heading, thread rolling, and coating. Screws are normally made from wire, which is supplied in large coils, or round bar stock for larger screws. The wire or rod is then cut to the proper length for the type of screw being made; this workpiece is known as a blank. It is then cold headed, which is a cold working process. Heading produces the head of the screw. The shape of the die in the machine dictates what features are pressed into the screw head; for example a flat head screw uses a flat die. For more complicated shapes two heading processes are required to get all of the features into the screw head. This production method is used because heading has a very high production rate, and produces virtually no waste material. Slotted head screws require an extra step to cut the slot in the head; this is done on a slotting machine. These machines are essentially stripped down milling machines designed to process as many blanks as possible.
The blanks are then polished again prior to threading. The threads are usually produced via thread rolling, however some are cut. The workpiece is then tumble finished with wood and leather media to do final cleaning and polishing. For most screws, a coating, such as electroplating with zinc ( galvanizing) or applying black oxide, is applied to prevent corrosion.
While a recent hypothesis attributes the Archimedes' screw to Sennacherib, King of Assyria, archaeological finds and pictorial evidence only appear in the Hellenistic period and the standard view holds the device to be a Greek invention, most probably by the 3rd century BC polymath Archimedes himself. Though resembling a screw, this is not a screw in the usual sense of the word.
The screw was later described by the Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum (428–350 BC). By the 1st century BC, wooden screws were commonly used throughout the Mediterranean world in devices such as oil and wine presses. Metal screws used as fasteners were rare in Europe before the 15th century, if known at all.
Rybczynski has shown that handheld screwdrivers (formerly called "turnscrews" in English, in more direct parallel to their original French name, tournevis) have existed since medieval times (the 1580s at the latest), although they probably did not become truly widespread until after 1800, once threaded fasteners themselves had become commodified, as detailed below.
There were many forms of fastening in use before threaded fasteners became widespread. They tended to involve carpentry and smithing rather than machining, and they involved concepts such as dowels and pins, wedging, mortises and tenons, dovetails, nailing (with or without clenching the nail ends), forge welding, and many kinds of binding with cord made of leather or fibre, using many kinds of knots. Prior to the mid-19th century, cotter pins or pin bolts, and "clinch bolts" (now called rivets), were used in shipbuilding.
The metal screw did not become a common fastener until machine tools for their mass production were developed toward the end of the 18th century. This development blossomed in the 1760s and 1770s along two separate paths that soon converged: the mass production of wood screws [meaning screws made of metal to be used in wood] in a specialized, single-purpose, high-volume-production machine tool; and the low-count, toolroom-style production of machine screws (V-thread) with easy selection among various pitches (whatever the machinist happened to need on any given day).
The first path was pioneered by brothers Job and William Wyatt of Staffordshire, UK, who patented in 1760 a machine that we might today best call a screw machine of an early and prescient sort. It made use of a leadscrew to guide the cutter to produce the desired pitch, and the slot was cut with a rotary file while the main spindle held still (presaging live tools on lathes 250 years later). Not until 1776 did the Wyatt brothers have a wood-screw factory up and running. Their enterprise failed, but new owners soon made it prosper, and in the 1780s they were producing 16,000 screws a day with only 30 employees—the kind of industrial productivity and output volume that would later be characteristic of modern industry but was revolutionary at the time.
Meanwhile, English instrument maker Jesse Ramsden (1735–1800) was working on the toolmaking and instrument-making end of the screw-cutting problem, and in 1777 he invented the first satisfactory screw-cutting lathe. The British engineer Henry Maudslay (1771–1831) gained fame by popularizing such lathes with his screw-cutting lathes of 1797 and 1800, containing the trifecta of leadscrew, slide rest, and change-gear gear train, all in the right proportions for industrial machining. In a sense he unified the paths of the Wyatts and Ramsden and did for machine screws what had already been done for wood screws, i.e., significant easing of production spurring commodification. His firm would remain a leader in machine tools for decades afterward. A misquoting of James Nasmyth popularized the notion that Maudslay had invented the slide rest, but this was incorrect; however, his lathes helped to popularize it.
These developments of the 1760–1800 era, with the Wyatts and Maudslay being arguably the most important drivers, caused great increase in the use of threaded fasteners. Standardization of threadforms began almost immediately, but it was not quickly completed; it has been an evolving process ever since. Further improvements to the mass production of screws continued to push unit prices lower and lower for decades to come, throughout the 19th century.
The development of the turret lathe (1840s) and of automatic screw machines derived from it (1870s) drastically reduced the unit cost of threaded fasteners by increasingly automating the machine tool control. This cost reduction spurred ever greater use of screws.
Throughout the 19th century, the most commonly used forms of screw head (that is, drive types) were simple internal-wrenching straight slots and external-wrenching squares and hexagons. These were easy to machine and served most applications adequately. Rybczynski describes a flurry of patents for alternative drive types in the 1860s through 1890s, but explains that these were patented but not manufactured due to the difficulties and expense of doing so at the time. In 1908, Canadian P. L. Robertson was the first to make the internal-wrenching square socket drive a practical reality by developing just the right design (slight taper angles and overall proportions) to allow the head to be stamped easily but successfully, with the metal cold forming as desired rather than being sheared or displaced in unwanted ways. Practical manufacture of the internal-wrenching hexagon drive ( hex socket) shortly followed in 1911. In the early 1930s, the Phillips-head screw was invented by Henry F. Phillips.
Threadform standardization further improved in the late 1940s, when the ISO metric screw thread and the Unified Thread Standard were defined.
Precision screws, for controlling motion rather than fastening, developed around the turn of the 19th century, were one of the central technical advances, along with flat surfaces, that enabled the industrial revolution. They are key components of micrometers and lathes.
Other fastening methods
Alternative fastening methods are:
- pins (dowel pins, taper pins, roll pins, spring pins, cotter pins)
- pinned shafts (keyed shafts, woodruff keys, gibb-headed key)
- clinker (boat building)#Fastening the centre-line structure
- joinery (mortise & tenon, dovetailing, box joints, lap joints)
- clinch fastening.