Counterbore vs Countersink. Differences & Strength

The terms countersink and counterbore are considered by many people to be about the same thing. However, there are important differences between the two which makes it important to understand when to use one or the other.

What is the Difference Between a Countersink and a Counterbore?

Counterboring and countersinking are done on top of a drilled hole to allow the screw or bolt head to stay below the surface of the workpiece.
The most noted difference between a countersink and counterbore is the size and shape of the screw or the tool which creates the holes in the material. A counterbore hole is deeper and has a square-like shape where the shoulder of the screw head can seat. It also allows for the addition of washers to be used.
Counterbore vs Countersink diagram
A countersink will create a conical-shaped hole that is identical to the angled shape found on the underside of a screw which has a flat top. The hole can vary in depth so that the flat head can rest even with the surface or be driven in deeper and covered with a plug to hide its appearance.

Comparison Chart

Countersink Counterbore
Conical shaped head Cylindrical shoulder-type head
Generally less depth (depends on the angle) Deeper than countersink
Sufficient holding strength Provides stronger holding
Works best for PCB, woodworking, plastic, thin sheet metal, etc. Best for heavy-duty applications such as automotive, machinery, construction, etc.

So, while both are used to set a fastener below the surface of the material, the shape left behind at the bottom of the hole is different.

A counterbore will create a hole that is flat on the bottom. This will allow the bolt or screw that has a flat underside as opposed to the angled shape of a countersink to rest inside. A washer is often used in this situation. It should be noted that the hole created by a counterbore is normally larger than the head of the screw which allows for a washer to be placed.

Countersink vs Counterbore 3D illustration
Bothe countersinking and counterboring are done co-axial to the screw hole, the difference in their geometry.

Symbols for Counterbore and Countersink

The counterbore is denoted by a ⌴ shaped symbol whereas the countersink is denoted by ⌵ symbol (V-shaped).

  • Counterbore Symbol: ⌴
  • Countersink symbol: ⌵

Cutting Tool Bit

The cutting tool used for machining countersink hole is called a countersunk or a countersink bit. The 90deg countersink tool is also used to chamfer hole edges.
You can use a counterboring tool, end mill, or a flat drill to create a counterbore hole.

When to Use a Countersink Vs Counterbore?

This depends in large part on what material you are using to drill the hole. For metal and wood, both can be used to equal effect. It is why many people think of a counterbore and countersink as much the same thing with unimportant differences.

However, with a printed circuit board the differences become more pronounced. Because circuit boards have holes, how they are created is important to their function. It is why you need to know the difference when drilling into a printed circuit board.

A countersink is well-suited for printed circuit boards that will be placed in a device where space is at a premium. This is because the conical-shaped hole that is created for the countersink requires less depth and the flat screw-head surface can be flushed to the surface of the PCB.

Another advantage is that countersinks can be placed with greater precision which is important when working on small circuit boards such as those found in smartphones and watches. Countersinks can also be added with greater speed, making them preferable in most repair situations.

However, a counterbore has its place on printed circuit boards as well. While it does require more space and will not leave as smooth a surface compared to a countersink, it does create a stronger connection. You use a counterbore when you want to create a socket feature that needs to connect with strength and durability to last.

Countersink Vs Counterbore Strength

For a given screw size, the counterbore usually has more holding strength than the countersink. This is because the force applied by the ⌴-shaped bolt or socket cap screw head is parallel to the axis of the screw hole. On the other hand, the force delivered by the countersunk screw is dispersed at an angle.

The strengths of a countersink vs. a counterbore will depend largely on its specific use. There are determining factors when the difference may count in choosing which one is right for the task. For a countersink, you will need to know the following.

  • Diameter, Drill Angle, and Depth
  • Location of the Sink
  • Hole Shaft Diameter
  • Plating or Not Plated

The needs for a counterbore are similar, with the added caveat of the space that is available on the board and in the device. Plus, the strength of the connection that is created is another important consideration.

Spotface vs Counterbore

Spotface is very similar to a counterbore in geometry, but with less depth. Spot facing is done to clean the uneven or curved surface to provide a flat seating surface for the screw head. For example, forged and die-cast parts where the screw heat seating area is uneven.

This means in the case of spot facing, the screw head is usually protruding out of the workpiece surface. Whereas in a counterbore, the screw head is completely inside the bore.

How deep is a spot face?

There is no standard depth for spot facing. As a general rule, the spot face depth can be 1/32” to 1/16-inches (approximately 1 to 1.5mm). If you use a screw with a washer, the spot-face depth is equal to the thickness of the washer.

Which One is Better?

Put simply, a countersink is better if you want to retain a smooth surface, have a limited space to work with, and need the job done at a faster speed. It also looks more attractive, especially on a printed circuit board compared to a counterbore.

A counterbore is not nearly as neat, but it does create a better situation when you need to create a stronger connection. You will need more space to create a counterbore, but if you have it then it will be worth the effort. You can create a socket connection that will last longer and be more durable compared to a countersink.  

For wood and metal materials, the difference may not amount to much. Both can be used with similar effects. The only difference would be the type and strength of connection that you want to make in the material. The differences become greater when creating holes for connections in a printed circuit board. So, be sure to evaluate the situation properly before choosing between a countersink and counterbore for your needs.