Screws are part of a family of threaded fasteners that includes bolts and studs as well as specialized screws like carpenter's wood screws and the automotive cap screw. The threads (or grooves) can run right handed or left, tapered, straight, or parallel. There are two types of screws, machine and wood screws. Both are made of metal, however the machine screw has a constant diameter and joins with nuts while the wood screw is tapered and grips to the actual wood surface.


Even though the concept of the screw dates back to around 200 B.C. , the actual metal screw that is known today was not developed until the Renaissance. Early screws had to be handmade, so no two screws were ever alike. The time consuming process of hand filing the threads into the screw form made mass production and use virtually impossible. In 1586, the introduction of the first screw-cutting machine by Jacques Besson, court engineer for Charles IX of France, paved the way for more innovations.

Inspired by earlier designers and makers of scientific instruments like microscopes, clockmakers and gunsmiths led the way in screw-cutting machine design. In 1760, Job and William Wyatt, two English brothers, filed a patent for the first automatic screw-cutting device. Their machine could cut 10 screws per minute and was considered one of the precursors to mass production machinery.

During the early nineteenth century, Englishman Henry Maudslay produced the method of screw manufacture still in use today. His machine was the first power-driven, screw-cutting lathe. In the United States, at the same time, David Wilkinson also built a screw-cutting lathe and was awarded the first American screw patent. New innovations followed soon after. In 1845, Stephen Finch developed a turret lathe, and soon after the Civil War, Christopher Walker invented a fully automatic lathe.

The first screw factory, Abom and Jackson, was opened in Rhode Island in 1810. By 1895 screw makers in America were forming unions and demanding a minimum wage of $1.75 per ten-hour day for a member and $1.25 for an apprentice. Smaller scale innovations continued to be made to improve efficiency. John E. Sweet devised the angular thread-cutting method to cut an entire thread from one side.

Today, machining of screws has been superseded by thread rolling. In 1836, American William Keane developed the thread rolling process, but at the time it had little success. The iron metal that was used to create the thread-rolled screws was too low grade and had the tendency to split during the die-cutting process. The eventual need to mass produce screws at a fraction of the cost of machining led to the reevaluation and establishment of the thread-rolling manufacture of screws.

Raw Materials

Screws are generally made from low to medium carbon steel wire, but other tough and inexpensive metals may be substituted, such as stainless steel, brass, nickel alloys, or aluminum alloy. Quality of the metal used is of utmost importance in order to avoid

The cold heading machine cuts a length of wire and makes two blows on the end, forming a head. In the head slotting machine, the screw blanks are clamped in the grooves around the perimeter of the wheel. A circular cutter slots the screws as the wheel revolves.
The cold heading machine cuts a length of wire and makes two blows on the end, forming a head. In the head slotting machine, the screw blanks are clamped in the grooves around the perimeter of the wheel. A circular cutter slots the screws as the wheel revolves.
cracking. If a finish is applied to the screw, it must be of a compatible makeup. Steel may be coated or plated with zinc, cadmium, nickel, or chromium for extra protection.


On a single thread screw, the lead and pitch are identical, lead is twice the pitch on a double thread model, and three times as much on a triple thread. The pitch of a screw is the distance between two threads (or grooves) from the same point on each thread. It is also more commonly known as the number of threads per inch or centimeter. The lead of the screw measures how far it is driven in for each revolution.

The Manufacturing

Machining is only used on unique designs or with screws too small to be made any other way. The machining process is exact, but too time consuming, wasteful, and expensive. The bulk of all screws are mass manufactured using the thread rolling method, and that is the procedure described in further detail.

Cold heading

Thread rolling

Quality Control

The National Screw Thread Commission established a standard for screw threads in 1928 for interchangeability. This was followed by an international Declaration of Accord in 1948, adopting a Unified Screw Thread system. The standards focus on three main elements: the number of threads per inch, the designated pitch and shape of the thread, and designated diameter sizes. In 1966, the International Standards Organization (ISO) suggested a universal restriction on threads to ISO metric and inch size ranges with coarse and fine pitches. Compliance with the ISO suggested standards has been global.

Where to Learn More


Brittania Company. Screws and Screw-Making. James H. Wood, 1892.

Camm, F. J. Screw Cutting. Cassell and Company Ltd., 1920.

Glover, David. Screws. Rigby Education, 1997.


Koepfer, Chris. "Technology Gamble Pays Off." Modern Machine Shop, February 1995, pp. 94-104.

Jennifer Swift Kramer

Also read article about Screw from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

For several years I have tried to find information on threads, screws, bolts, and plumbing threads. Your web site gave me much information about the threads.An excellant web site.

Thank You,

Gene B. Mayfield
Lucerne Valley, Ca

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