Specifying Self-Drilling Screws: “Standard” vs. “Engineered”

In my past life as a Design Engineer, when specifying a screw the size of the screw was the key feature that I considered. In my mind, a #10 screw performed better than #8, and a #12 was better than #10 and all #10 screws were the same. But that is not always true. Just as a shoe size or a dress size may not be exactly the same for all brands, a screw of the same size from different manufacturers may perform differently. The head type, head design, thread design (fine, coarse, thread angle, pitch), thread type (like box threads, buttress threads, unified, square) and drill point type (like #1, #3, #5 drill point) can influence the performance of a screw. When innovatively designed, a #10 engineered screw can meet or exceed the performance of a #12 or #14 screw in loads and drill time and could result in cost savings. You can use fewer screws, which would mean labor savings. For example, our newly designed XU34B1016 screw, which is a #10 screw with 16 threads per inch, a hex washer head and a #1 drill point, that performs better than a #14 standard screw in lighter gauge steels.


What Are Self-Drilling Tapping Screws?

Self-drilling tapping screws, or self-drilling screws, as the name implies, drill their own hole, eliminating the need for predrilling, and form or cut internal mating threads.  They are  relatively fast to  instal compared to bolts or welds. Unlike pins, they do not require a thick support material to be used. They can be used in very thin steel, such as 26 gauge, up to steel that is ½” thick. Self-drilling screws may be a perfect choice for most applications involving cold-formed steel (CFS). They are most commonly used for CFS connections: either attaching CFS to CFS, wood to CFS or CFS to wood. They are a logical choice when the other side of the connection or material is not accessible.

Most self-drilling screws are made of steel wire that meets the specification of ASTM A510 minimum grade 1018 material as specified in ASTM C1513 standard. Self-drilling screws are heat treated  to case harden then so that they meet the hardness, ductility, torsional strength and drill drive requirements as specified in ASTM C1513 standard.  ASTM C1513 refers to SAE J78 for the dimensional and performance requirements of self-drilling screws.

Screw Selection

While selecting the screw, you need to figure out the head type that works for the application. For example, a flat-head screw would be a good choice for wood-to-steel applications, but for steel-to-steel applications, a hex head or a pan head may be a better choice. Similarly, the length of the screw should be sufficient to fasten  the members of the connection together. According to Section D1.3 of AISI S200, the screw should be at least equal in length to the total thickness of the material including gaps with a minimum of three exposed threads. The length of the drill point is another important feature to consider. It should be long enough to drill through the entire thickness of the material before engaging the threads. This is because thread forming occurs with fewer revolutions than  the drilling process.   if the drill point length is not long enough, the screw threads can engage the connection material and the screw can bind and break.


Some drill points also have “wings” to  drill a hole in the material that is larger in diameter than the threaded shank. Screws with this kind of point are mainly used for wood-to-steel applications. The blog post by Jeff Ellis titled “Wings or No Wings” provides some useful insights for screws with wings when used in shearwall applications.

The Test Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Standard and Engineered Screws

Per Section D1 of AISI S200, screws used for steel-to-steel connections or sheathing-to-steel connections shall be in compliance with ASTM C1513 or an approved design or design standard.

For ASTM C1513–compliant screws (per AISI S100), Section E4 provides equations to calculate shear, pullout and pullover of screws used in steel-to-steel connections. It also provides safety and resistance factors for calculating allowable strength or design strength. These equations are based on the results of tests done worldwide and the many different types of screws used in the tests. As a result, these equations seem to have a great degree of conservatism.

As discussed earlier, many factors, such as the head type and washer diameter, thread profile, drill point type and length, installation torque and the installation method affect or influence the performance of a screw. In order to qualify the screws as ASTM C1513–compliant or better performing, manufacturers need to have their screws evaluated per Acceptance criteria for Tapping Screw Fasteners AC118 developed by International Code Council – Evaluation Service. The criteria have different requirements depending on whether the intention is to qualify as standard screws or proprietary screws.  For proprietary screws, connection shear, pullout and pullover tests are performed in accordance with the AISI S905 test method. The shear strength and tensile strength of the screw itself are evaluated per test standard AISI S904. The safety and resistance factors are calculated in accordance with Section F of AISI S100. The pictures below are some test set-ups per AISI S905 and AISI S904 test procedures.

screws3 screws4 screws5

Another important consideration is corrosion resistance. AC118 has a requirement for testing the fasteners for corrosion resistance in accordance with ASTM B117 for a minimum of 12 hours. The screws tested shall not show any white rust after 3 hours or any red rust after 12 hours of the test. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind  that  hardened screws are prone to hydrogen embrittlement and are not recommended for exterior or wet condition applications. Also, these screws are  not recommended for use with dissimilar metals.  If self-drilling screws are to be used in exterior environments, the screws need to be selectively heat treated to keep the core and surface hardness in a range that  reduces the susceptibility to hydrogen embrittlement. Other fastener options for exterior environments are stainless-steel screws.

This table shows are some of our screw offerings for CFS applications. Our stainless-screw options can be found in  Fastening Systems Catalog (C-F-14) or at www.strongtie.com.


What are the screws that you most commonly specify? Share your screw preferences and your ideas on self-drilling screws in your comments below.

One thought on “Specifying Self-Drilling Screws: “Standard” vs. “Engineered”

  1. Cool! Engineered screw are innovative and useful in industrial construction to join together between tie beam, steel bar, flooring etc.This is different to other standard/ordinary screw if you notice the design.

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