Can You Hammer in a Screw?

Most homes have a hammer lying around somewhere, and many have tried to drive a screw into a wall or cabinet using that hammer. Is this a wise route to follow, and what happens when you try it?

Can You Hammer Screws?

Hammering a Screw in wood

While it is possible to hammer screws into soft material, a hammer isn’t the right tool to drive in a screw since the screw won’t grip the material when you do that. A screwdriver is an appropriate tool to drive a screw.

However, you can get special hammer screws that can be hammered into soft metals. These are self-tapping metal screws that can create threads in pre-drilled pilot holes while driven by a hammer or press.

Why Should You Not Hammer Screws?

A screw works on the principle of a thread gripping into the material when it gets twisted into the material. Here, the hole the screw is driven into is as wide as the screw’s core shaft but narrower than the screw’s thread.

When driving a screw with a hammer, the thread gets pounded through the material, not allowing it to grip into the material. Here, the thread essentially widens the hole, which now doesn’t allow space for the thread to grip into the material. In this case, the screw will not be installed securely and will probably fall from the material.

What Happens if You Hammer a Screw In?

Soft Material: Wood & Plastic

Wood cracks when a screw is hammered into wood.
When a screw is driven in with a hammer, it could cause significant damage to the screw and workpiece. If the screw is hammered into hardwood, it could cause the wood to splinter.

Wall and Masonry:

Thinking of hammering a screw in the wall? If it’s driven into bricks or plaster, shards of paint and plaster of brickwork can chip off. This creates a larger hole and mess that must be repaired.
Hammer a Screw in Wall

Hard Material: Metal & Stone

If you try to hammer the screw in hard material, the screw could also be damaged in the process. The shaft could bend or snap, the head could snap off, and the thread could be warped and bent.

If the screw head snaps off while the screw is deep in the material, it’s a difficult task to remove the shaft from the material. Once the shaft is removed, the hole must be repaired before a new screw can be installed.

Repairing the Workpiece After Hammering in a Screw

Once you’ve hammered in a screw, you probably need to remove it and repair the damage before attempting to install a screw correctly.

If you’re working on wood, the repair is relatively easy. For small holes, you could use wood fillers or wood glue and sawdust.
To repair large holes in wood, you can drill a slightly larger hole and plug the hole with a wood dowel.

Quick and dirty method: Fill the hole with liquid wood glue and stick in some matches or toothpicks until the hole is filled. Snap or cut the match stick/toothpick off flush with the working surface, and lightly sand the surface to create a smooth finish. Once the glue is dry, you can install a screw there again.

The repair is somewhat trickier if you’re working on bricks or concrete. You can fill the hole with cement-based epoxy and leave it to dry before installing it again.

Note that these repaired holes aren’t necessarily suitable for installing weight-bearing screws since the substrate was damaged when the hole was created and repaired.

Right Tool to Use with Screws

A screwdriver is the best tool for driving a screw. There are several types of screwdrivers available, ranging from manual to electrical. Here is a quick overview of the types of screwdrivers and their applications.

Manual Screwdriver

A manual screwdriver is used to drive a screw by hand. These come in various sizes and can be flat-slotted or star-slotted. Some have magnetic tips that hold the screw in place more easily – these are ideal for driving screws overhead since they’re less likely to fall.

When installing a standard, flat-slotted screw, it’s best to use a manual screwdriver. Suppose you use an electric screwdriver on these. In that case, the bit will skip from the slot when it encounters any resistance, damaging the workpiece.

Delicate work also requires a manual screwdriver instead of an electric one. Examples include jewelry repairs or small-scale electronics, where it’s easy to over-torque the screw and damage the installation.

Electric Screwdriver

Electric screwdrivers are typically cordless and don’t exert as much torque as a drill. These screwdrivers are time savers, installing and removing screws far quicker than you could with a manual screwdriver.

These screwdrivers are a staple in most handyman toolboxes since they’re lightweight and portable, ideal for working in tight spaces. The electric screwdriver is the best tool for the job if you’re installing many screws all over the place and don’t require much torque.

Drill Driver

Cordless drill drivers have larger batteries than electric screwdrivers, which are far more powerful. These power tools can drill holes and drive screws very effectively. Reverse the direction of rotation, and you can use it to remove screws.

Drive drivers have a clutch mechanism that allows you to control the torque. When driving the screws into soft wood, set the clutch to a lower torque setting and do a test.

When installing screws into hard materials, such as hardwood or concrete, it may be necessary to apply force to the back of the drill to drive the screw into the material.

Impact Driver

Impact drivers are similar to drill screwdrivers, but they have an internal mechanism to deliver hammer blows along the drive axis. These power bursts drive the screw into the substrate without the operator applying any pressure to the tool. It’s a highly effective tool for sinking screws into tough substrates quickly.

If you’re sinking a screw using an impact driver, note that it’s very easy to apply too much torque to the screw, thus stripping it and potentially damaging the working surface. Work carefully and set the drill to a slower speed when installing screws.

When Can You Hammer a Screw?

In most cases, you shouldn’t use a hammer to sink a screw since the screw won’t fit securely, and you’re likely to damage both the screw and the workpiece. You can, however, use a hammer and a screw to tap a pilot hole before drilling a hole to sink the screw or installing a self-tapping screw.

One exception to this rule: if you’re using wall plugs to secure the screws, you can use a hammer to secure the screw inside the wall plug. Wall plugs are designed for the screw to slip in and then hook in the plug, securing the installation. These plugs expand once the screw is inserted, ensuring a secure fit suitable for weight-bearing.

Conclusion

A hammer isn’t suitable for sinking a screw since you’ll likely damage both the screw and the workpiece. However, if needed, you can use a hammer and screw to tap a pilot hole before sinking a screw.

If you don’t have a screwdriver and want to sink a screw, opt for using a nail and some wood glue. This will do less damage than when hammering a screw.