Everything About Drywall Screws and How to Use Them

Everything About Drywall Screws and How to Use Them

Drywall
DIY
By Mateos Glen Hayes November 02, 2022

Drywall first came to prominence in American homebuilding during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Since then it has revolutionized home construction by providing a very simple and affordable wall covering that could be made much faster than traditional plaster and lath. 

The result was dramatically lower costs both in labor and material, and so it’s no wonder that this material became very popular with home developers during the post-WWII American housing boom. 

Get A Small Projects and Repairs Quote

Drywall’s Weakness 

Even though drywall is easily repairable and affordable, there are some downsides. Specifically, drywall is known for one significant weakness; it’s weight retention. Drywall simply isn’t that good at supporting heavy weight. That means that if you put an ordinary screw or nail into drywall you will not be able to hang anything even moderately heavy on it. Plus, these kinds of unsecured nails or screws can easily be pulled out of the drywall either by hand or by a heavy item. 

Naturally, this means anything heavy and valuable, like say, a prized framed painting, won’t be able to actually hang securely without the risk of it falling and getting damaged. A nail that is driven into a stud behind the drywall may be more robust, but this isn’t an ideal solution since studs won’t always line up perfectly for you to use them for hanging something up. This is where drywall screws come in.  

Screws and Anchors

Anchors are the plastic ‘sheath’ that holds the screw firmly in the wall.

Anchors are the plastic ‘sheath’ that holds the screw firmly in the wall.

If you look up drywall screws, you will inevitably also see articles talking about drywall anchors, so let’s go through what those are. Basically, the drywall anchor is a small sleeve made either of plastic or metal that acts as a sheath for the drywall screw. Typically, screws for drywall and their anchors come together in the same package. 

When installing the drywall screw, you first make a hole for the anchor, drive in the anchor, and then put the screw into this “sheath”. Once the screw enters this “sheath”, the drywall anchor is designed to expand around it, thereby adding pressure inside the hole and holding the screw firmly in place. These anchors provide quite an effective retention and allow a screw placed into drywall to support a lot more weight than without the anchor.   

Drywall Screw Types

Molly bolts work in a very similar way to expansion bolts but offer higher load ratings.

Molly bolts work in a very similar way to expansion bolts but offer higher load ratings.

The drywall screw is a DIYer's dream come true, making it possible to hang almost anything on your wall easily and for little to no cost. As such, there are many variations of screws for drywall, each with their own specialities, making the drywall screw even more practical. 

Expansion Anchors

This is what can be called the “classic” drywall screw as it is the most commonly used one and the easiest to find in stores. In fact, these are so common that most items that are designed to be installed in drywall - like towel racks - come with some free drywall screws and expansion anchors to make the job that much easier. 

Although originally made of nylon, these drywall screw sleeves are now made of plastic and are very simple to use. To top it off, they are also the most affordable expansion anchors, although this does come with the caveat that these can support the least weight at just 25 pounds.  

Get A Small Projects and Repairs Quote

Metal Anchors

Also known as Molly bolts, metal drywall screw anchors are essentially a stronger metal version of a garden-variety plastic drywall anchor. Molly bolts come in various sizes with some able to hold significantly more weight than regular expansion anchors. 

They work in basically the same way as expansion anchors, expanding to make a tight fit in the hole so the screw holds fast. Depending on your drywall, Molly bolts may be a better fit for your needs rather than regular expansion anchors, although those with more brittle drywall might want to avoid Molly bolts as they do cause more of a mess.    

The toggle anchor is designed to fold open when the anchor reaches the other side of the drywall, offering a strong hold.

The toggle anchor is designed to fold open when the anchor reaches the other side of the drywall, offering a strong hold.

Pull-Toggle Anchors and Toggle Bolts

To understand toggle bolts and pull-toggle anchors, you need to first know what a toggle anchor is. A toggle anchor is a metal folding piece that has a spring-loaded mechanism that keeps the toggle anchor folded open. Toggle anchors have a similar function to drywall screw anchors, but they hold bolts in drywall instead of screws. Toggle bolts can also hold significantly more weight than regular drywall screw anchors, with some rated to hold as much as 120 pounds.

The way toggle anchors function is also different. To use toggle anchors, you must first insert your toggle bolts on whatever object you want to put up (say curtain rails), then you attach the toggle anchors. Finally, the bolts are then installed via pre-drilled holes. Once the bolts are inserted the toggle anchors fold in half going through the hole and then unfold on the other side of the drywall, holding the bolt in place and allowing you to tighten it. 

Because they are bigger than regular drywall screw anchors, toggle anchors require bigger holes for proper installation. Pull-toggle anchors offer a solution to this by combining both metal toggle bolts and a plastic anchor, thereby allowing for a smaller hole. The pull-toggle anchor achieves this by using a plastic retainer to secure the anchor to the wall, meaning you don’t have to install the bolt and anchor as one piece.  

Drywall Screw Sizes

Drywall screws come in different lengths depending on drywall thickness.

Drywall screws come in different lengths depending on drywall thickness.

Length is a crucial detail for finding the right drywall screws for you. This is for the simple reason that drywall can be of differing thickness depending on the construction of your home. That being said, most homes today have drywall that is about ½ inch thick, although this can slightly vary from one home to another. 

There are, however, homes constructed with thicker drywall for fire resistance, and these typically have ⅝ inch thick drywall. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some ceilings and curvy walls will have drywall that is as thin as ¼ inches. Fortunately, you can find screw sizes to accommodate various drywall thicknesses in most hardware stores.   

What to Do if You Don’t Have a Drill

Drywall screws can be installed by hand with the help of a screwdriver.

Drywall screws can be installed by hand with the help of a screwdriver.

Most of the time, you will be using a drill to create holes for your drywall screws, but if you don’t have access to a drill, there are alternatives. These tricks allow you to easily and quickly install a sturdy drywall screw without the need for power tools. 

Self-Drilling Drywall Screws

This is the easiest way to install drywall anchors and screws without the need of a power drill. These drywall screw anchors come with a drill tip that is designed to work with a Phillips head screwdriver. All you have to do is use the screwdriver to drive the drywall screw and anchor it into the wall. 

These anchors are very easy to install and also quite simple to remove as well if you make a mistake. They can also support a decent amount of weight, rated at 40 pounds. There are even screws for metal studs that are self-drilling offering even more durability and load capacity. 

Make a hole for the drywall screw and anchor with a hammer and nail instead of a drill.

Make a hole for the drywall screw and anchor with a hammer and nail instead of a drill.

Nail and Hammer Method 

But if you don’t have a drill or self-drilling anchors, this method will allow you to install drywall screws by hand. First, you need to create the hole for the drywall screw to go into. To do this, you need a nail of a slightly larger diameter than your drywall screw. Drywall screws come in two gauges; #6 screw diameters are .1380 inches and #8 screw diameters are .1640 inches. 

Once you have your nail, use a hammer to drive it into the marked spot where your drywall screw will go. Once this is done, remove the nail with the hammer and install the drywall anchor by gently tapping it with the hammer so it goes into the hole. Lastly, drive your drywall screw into this hole with a screwdriver.   

Pro Tips

Always ensure that the drywall screws you use are within your required load ratings.

Always ensure that the drywall screws you use are within your required load ratings.

The best way to ensure trouble-free drywall screw installation is to thoroughly read the packaging your drywall screws came in. The packaging will often have additional information on load limits and what kind of drywall thicknesses the product will work best with. Also, don’t fret if you put a hole in the wrong place or damage your drywall as it is possible to repair drywall damage easily yourself. 

As a rule, you never want to install drywall screws in the ceiling unless they are specifically made for that purpose. This is because most expansion anchors will not be able to support much weight in a vertical application and can therefore easily fall out along with whatever they were meant to secure. 

Additionally, while pull-toggle anchors are generally better for ceiling installations, you need to also consider the load limit of your ceiling. Most ceilings have thin ¼ inch drywall and so their load tolerances are rather low. 

Always verify that both your anchors and drywall can support the required weight before installing drywall screws into the ceiling.

Always verify that both your anchors and drywall can support the required weight before installing drywall screws into the ceiling.

With these tips and pointers, you’re now thoroughly informed about the most important basics of drywall screws. These amazing innovations have made drywall that much better of a material, and with basic precautions, you can ensure your drywall screws hold firm and keep all your valuable hanging items safe. 

Get A Small Projects and Repairs Quote

MG

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes

comments

Under Construction - Coming Back Soon!

We are currently working on bringing you an improved experience. Please leave your name and email address and we'll let you know as soon as we relaunch.