In Depth: Fasteners
Manufacturers are focused on improving efficiency and reducing jobsite costs.
A fastener is not just a fastener, even though that’s an all-too-common opinion held by many users, both pros and consumers. The reality is that there’s a vast difference in quality, finishes and applications for fasteners—a message that many manufacturers want to make sure is out there in the marketplace.
“The biggest misconception about fasteners is this general idea that a nail is a nail and a screw is a screw,” says Roger J. Dankel, Simpson Strong-Tie President, North American Sales. “It is critically important to select a fastener material and/or coating that’s suitable for the intended application, materials, and environment.”
Unfortunately, the perception is that all premium exterior fasteners are more or less the same, says Paul Redwood, Huttig-Grip’s Vice President of Pro Sales.
“Various coating technologies provide meaningful variances in corrosion resistance, which translates to different levels of value over time,” Redwood says. “In addition to this, various design combinations of the recess, thread and point create meaningful performance enhancements while driving the fasteners.”
Differences in fasteners are more than just skin deep, explains Law Winchester, Intercorp National Sales Manager.
“Many users think if a screw looks the same it must be the same,” he says. “Fact is the manufacturing process has several intricate details into the production of fasteners. We have had relationships with some of our factories from the very beginning due to the [quality control] procedures that are in place. We also do quality control inspections annually overseas. When we bring on a new manufacturing partner we visit the facilities to make sure they are capable of maintaining our standards before we put the Strong-Point name on it.”
The perception among both pros and consumers that a fastener is just a fastener couldn’t be farther from the truth, says MiTek’s Fasteners Product Manager, Brent Kreutzer.
“A fastener is not just a fastener,” he says. “MiTek comes from a tradition of structural engineering, and the ProSeries line has structural values. It’s code compliant and highly engineered. Although we also offer fasteners for attaching deck boards, ProSeries is something different. It’s tested and designed for applications like attaching ledger boards to rim joists, fastening through multi-ply LVLs, and attaching trusses to top plates.”
There’s a lot more that goes into choosing the correct fasteners for a project that might not be considered by a builder, says Jim Miller, President and CEO of Screw Products, Inc.
“When people are fastening materials together such as wood nowadays versus nailing, it’s for the long term. You want the fastener to outlast the life of the project, you never want screw failure,” he says. “Wood, composites and other materials expand and contract, you need a fastener that’s going to withstand that movement. You must use a fastener that is designed in such a way that the material can move without the fastener shearing off. So, it’s not only the performance of the fasteners you can feel while driving it, there’s much more to consider…over time you don’t want a failure from a broken or corroded fastener.”
Dankel echoed the importance of finding the right fastener for the job.
“There are many different products that will do similar jobs, but the difference in how well they do that job can have a huge impact on the finished project,” he says. “Labor is one of the biggest costs a contractor has, and the cheapest initial option may not be the best labor-saving choice. Often a small investment on the front end for a premium or innovative solution can lead to lower install costs and bigger money savings in the long run.”
Another common misconception about fasteners is that the category doesn’t change much from year-to-year, and that the problems of years past will only continue. In truth, the manufacturers and distributors in the segment are making innovations in quality and ease of use every year.
“I think in general we find that pros sometimes accept pain points of a product and they don’t think it’s possible for it to be improved on,” says Craig Christiansen, Marketing Manager for GRK Fasteners. “They tend to accept their pain points. And so, until you provide them an option or show them that, they just don’t think it’s possible to solve those problems.”
After extensive study through field visits, surveys and focus groups with contractors, GRK announced plans to launch improvements to its R4 multipurpose framing and decking screw in December.
The new R4 will have three major improvements to the line, all designed to improve productivity and efficiency. The first, the Fast Bite tip, helps the screw immediately engage the wood and avoid spin when starting.
“Today contractors tend to work around that by almost stamping the wood with the screw with their drill driver,” Christiansen says. “If you’re not doing that, what tends to happen is it requires contractors to really sort of apply a lot of pressure or force to engage that wood. If you’re doing precision kind of stuff that could cause problems, the Fast Bite tip immediately engages into the wood with very minimal pressure.”
The second change is an improved fit between the bit and the head of the screw, with its new Precision Fit.
“Today’s screws…there tends to be a little bit of play in those bits and you can get wobble from going to start a screw,” Christiansen says. “And again, that doesn’t start fast, or you have to apply more pressure to get it to start, or your screw will tend to walk on you a little bit.”
The third is an updated thread to improve drawing power of the screws. “We’ve made some improvements so that rather than clamping two boards together toward the end with the head, the screw tends to draw the boards together as it’s driving, and then you have no gap on the first drive,” Christiansen says. “With our improved thread, we’re now getting the driving power from the beginning.”
Midwest Fastener Corporation is also seeing increased demand for features that improve durability and performance, says Marketing Manager Jason DeVries.
“Our Saberdrive exterior screws now feature a proprietary XL1500 coating for extreme performance,” DeVries says. “The XL1500 coating was developed in direct response to demand for a durable, high-performance coating.”
SPAX has also introduced several new options recently, including its HCR-X corrosion-resistant exterior fasteners in Flat Head and Wafer Head design styles, a new generation of POWERDECK stainless steel deck screws, all with SPAX’s drive system TStar plus and structural 5/16″ Diameter Powerlags in longer lengths.
Those products are all reflecting important trends in the segment, says SPAX President Eric Rohrschneider, including the Industry moving toward T-Star in general, away from Phillips for its higher torque.
More and more screws are also being used in structural applications that are more demanding and require documentation and approval, he added. SPAX offers an extensive line of fasteners, all made in the USA, Rohrschneider says.
“All we manufacture are screws,” says Phill Moore, SPAX Vice President of Building Products. “Our focus since 1823 has been to innovate threaded fasteners to provide the highest performing, easiest-to-install products available to the professional market, saving time and money.”
The company’s patented thread serrations offer several benefits, says SPAX Marketing Director Robert Knecht.
The thread “cuts smoothly through wood and provides lower driving torque, prevents splitting (wood) and quicker installation without pre-drilling,” he explains. “This feature on POWERLAGS provides 40% less driving torque as compared to conventional lag technologies.”
U2 Fasteners has introduced more than 40 types and sizes of fasteners in 2018 based on demands from its users for flexible applications and options. One of the company’s most popular products has been its gold-coated screws for heavy-duty ground contact.
“Our customers requested a Chromium 6-free coating that could be used on applications that had a strong ACQ rating,” says Kurt Hogard, Vice President of Sales & Marketing. “Chromium 6 is listed on California’s Proposition 65 of synthetic chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. The IRC and IBC Building Code requirements increased from 0.4pcf to 0.6pcf ACQ and U2 fasteners coating surpassed the criteria.”
Simpson Strong-Tie has also rolled out several improvements and additions to its product line recently.
“New building materials continue to drive the development of fasteners,” Dankel says. “With advances in subfloor sheathing to decking products to structural components, innovation has continued across the fastener category. With skilled labor at a premium, contractors continue to search for and stay loyal to products that provide easy installation and lower installed cost. Industry consolidation has enabled many building material companies to increase product development resources and spend more on R&D, which is a great thing for the end user.”
Among those improvements is the company’s SawTooth fastener point technology which it has added to the full line of structural wood screws, providing low torque and faster starts to ease stress and fatigue on both the installer and the equipment.
Simpson Strong-Tie has also introduced its Strong-Drive WSV Subfloor screw, designed to reduce driving torque and increase installation speed when using the Quik Drive auto-feed screw driving system.
“The redesigned tip and thread pattern provide easy starts and up to 25% less torque for faster, easier driving,” Dankel says. “Less installation torque also means less wear and tear on tools and tool users. The holding power of WSV screws also reduces the gaps between joist and subfloor that cause floor squeaks.”
The company is addressing the decking market with new options as well. “Our new Deck-Drive DCU screw plug solution allows you to install decking without visible screw heads, leaving you with a clean, professional finish,” Dankel says. “The deck and trim plugs are made from a range of popular decking and trim materials, so you get exact color and grain matching. They’re designed for use with our Deck-Drive DCU Composite screws which can be installed by hand or with the labor-saving Quik Drive auto-feed system. They are also sold à la carte to help dealers mix and match their inventory and reduce issues associated with discontinued colors.”
With increased demand for hidden fastening systems, the company has redesigned its EB-TY Premium Hidden Deck-Fastening System to include a stainless-steel reinforcement plate.
“The plate provides additional holddown and pull-through capacity for the fastener, providing a secure connection when seasonal contraction and expansion occur,” Dankel says. “New features like chamfered lead-in edges and our new EB-GUIDE pre-drill accessory make installs easier than ever.”
Faster, safer and easier is the mantra of CAMO, a system that fastens deck boards on the edge and into the joist.
“The CAMO Marksman Pro is a system of guides, proprietary screws and drill bits that create a beautiful, fastener-free surface that is ‘barefoot approved’ for virtually any type of decking,” says Marketing Director Greg Palmer.
The Marksman Pro is designed to create a safer deck that won’t rack or come up because it’s fastened on both sides of the board. Contractors simply load the proprietary deck screws into the hand-held guides that position them to be driven into the edge of the deck boards and provide automatic gapping. Special driver bits are included with the screws to ensure depth of drive.
CAMO offers several guides including the Marksman Pro, Marksman Pro-X1, MarksmanPro-NB and the no-gap guide, Marksman Edge which range in cost from $20 to $50. They work with any decking material—composite, PVC, and most soft and hard wood species with variations to accommodate nominal 6″ boards as well as narrow boards.
CAMO also features a variety of spacing choices, including a no-gap option for treated wood decks that can also be used with secondary spacers when wider gaps are desired.
“CAMO’s comprehensive warranty not only covers the CAMO screws, but also the deck boards when installed with the CAMO system as an added assurance to the deck board manufacturer’s warranty,” adds Palmer. If the deck boards are damaged by CAMO fasteners when installed following the manufacturer’s installation instructions, CAMO will replace the damaged deck board.
For decks, docks and other outdoor applications, Intercorp has brought out its new 410 Stainless Steel Star Drive “Reamer” Self-Drilling Screws in 2-1/2″, 2-3/4″ and 3-1/4″ lengths, designed for areas where a highly corrosive atmosphere exists.
“The substrate that the deck boards are fastened to must be made from steel when using these new products,” Winchester says. “We continue to use our expertise in fastening to provide solutions and quality products to get jobs done. We have a precise, efficient quality control system in place that ensures our fasteners are made to perform at the highest level.”
Quality control is increasingly important these days and is a point of emphasis for PrimeSource Building Products.
“Our QC lab in Los Angeles allows us to confirm all fasteners we sell meet our brand promise,” says Michael Mc- Farland, Director – Specialty Fasteners. “PrimeGuard Plus and Pro-Twist screws are the primary focus today. The need to confirm the drill speed, holding power, ductility and corrosion-resistance allows us to make sure all screws we supply meet customer expectations.”