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How to Read a Screw Thread Callout

You have a loose screw --the threaded fastener sort--and you


walk into the hardware store to obtain a replacement. There, you
encounter an entire aisle of screws, nuts, washers, and other
small hardware. Which one do you need? If you know a little bit
about how screw sizes work, the process of finding the right part
will be a lot easier.

A thread gauge, for


measuring thread pitch.

Steps

Read the numbers. They will look something like one of


1 these:

Many different sizes.

#4-40 x .5

1/4-20 x 5/8

M3-50 x 10

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Interpret the first number. The first number gives the


major, or largest, diameter.

The major diameter for the


threaded portion of the screw.
In Unified threads (measured in inches) there are
numbered diameters #0 through #10, with 0 the smallest and 10 the largest.
(Diameters #12 and #14 may also be found, but are usually on older equipment and
needed for repairs or restorations. #14 is close to, but not exactly the same as,
1/4-inch.) The major diameter in Unified threads = 0.060" + 0.013"*(numbered
diameter). So #2 has a major diameter of 0.086". The odd numbers exist, but the even
numbers are in far more common use.

For screws larger than a #10, the diameters are listed in fractional inches. For
instance, a 1/4-20 screw has a 1/4-inch major diameter.

For metric threads, e.g. M3.5, the number following the M is the major diameter of the
external thread in millimeters.

Interpret the second number. It has to do with the


3 distance between adjacent threads. It may be given as
the number of threads per unit length; or it may be given
as the distance between threads, also called the thread
pitch.

The distance between


adjacent threads, or thread
pitch.

For Unified threads, the number given is threads per inch. For instance, a 1/4-20
screw has 20 threads per inch.

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For metric threads, the thread pitch is given in millimeters per thread. Thus, an M2 x
0.4 screw has threads every 0.4mm. Although most metric fasteners have two or more
standard pitches (fine & coarse threads), the pitch is often omitted from a thread
callout, it is always helpful to carry a sample with you to the hardware store.
There are two major metric "industrial standards": DIN Deutsches Institut für
Normung (German) and the JIS Japanese Industrial Standards. Although these
standards are closely related and often identical, there will be cases where say a
JIS M8 bolt may not have the same pitch as a DIN M8 bolt.

Read the length, which is generally given after the "x".


4 The length of most screws is measured from the bottom of
the head, as shown. Note, however, that a flathead
screw, designed to sit flush in a countersunk material, is
measured to the top of the head.

The length of most screws is


measured from the bottom of
the head.

For unified threads the length is given in inches. A 1/4-20 x 3/4 screw is .75 inches
long. The length may be given in fractional inches or the decimal equivalent.

For metric threads, the length is given in millimeters.

Understand some other nomenclature that sometimes goes with screw threads.
5

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Thread classes refer to fit, how loosely or tightly the


screw fits in the nut. The most common thread
classes are 2A or 2B. A indicates an external
thread, such as on a screw or bolt. B indicates an
internal thread, such as on a nut. The 2 (or, far less
commonly, 1 or 3) describes the tightness of the fit.

Nuts have internal threads.

You may see the abbreviations UNC and UNF. These stand for unified coarse and
unified fine, respectively, and they refer to standard series of thread pitch. Each series
assigns a pitch to diameter. For instance, a #10 UNC screw has 24 threads per inch,
whereas a #10 UNF screw has 32 threads per inch. If a thread is specified by its
series, look for the pitch in a table.

Minor diameter is the smallest diameter of the thread, the innermost diameter. Major
diameter is the largest diameter of the thread, the outermost diameter. The diameter
given is typically the nominal major diameter of an external, or male, thread.

Keep reading. For a complete description of the screw, including the head and drive style
6 see the Wikipedia article in the external links section. It includes diagrams of different heads
and drives.

Tips

Screw thread callouts are not printed on the fastener. If you have an unknown fastener, a
thread gauge or screw checker can be a big help in determining its size. If no such instrument is
available, try screwing your fastener into a known, mating thread. Stop immediately if you feel
undue resistance, to avoid stripping threads.

Markings may appear on the fastener to indicate the grade or material, particularly if the
fastener is special, such as if it is an aircraft grade.

One way to check whether two screws are the same is to set
them side by side facing opposite directions. If their threads

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mesh, they have the same thread pitch. This is also a quick
way to check length. These screws are the same.

To read aloud, say these callouts as follows:

#4-40 x .5 -- Say "Four-forty by point five" or "Number four-forty by a half."

1/4-20 x 5/8 -- Say "Quarter-twenty by five eighths."

M3-50 x 10 -- Say "Em three fifty by ten."

This guide is for machine screws. Other threads, such as wood screws, follow slightly different
guidelines. Other thread series, such as the PG series and British Whitworth also exist, but they
are relatively rare.

The majority of machine screws are right-handed threads, meaning that the screw will turn
clockwise to insert and counterclockwise to remove. Remember, "righty, tighty; lefty loosie".
One common exception is the thread holding the left pedal on a bicycle to the crank arm.

Screws typically come in certain round-numbered lengths, so a 1/4 inch screw may be far
easier to find than a 5/32 inch screw.

Consult a size chart for more information.

A good rule of thumb with machine screws is that a minimum of three full threads should engage
the mating thread. If there are not at least three threads engaged in a thin material, use a nut or
other reinforcement.

Warnings

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When specifying a fastener, make sure that the fastener is adequate for the job and compatible
with the materials and environment.

Tapered pipe threads follow entirely different rules.

Metric standards are often very close to English standards and can often be confused.
Sometimes context can be helpful (e.g. If the hardware is from a non-American car, it's probably
metric).

Related wikiHows

How to Fix a Stripped Screw


How to Fix a Stripped Screw Hole
How to Reinstall Screws and Bolts
How to Use a Tap
How to Put Anchor Screws in a Wall

Sources and Citations

Size chart
Wikipedia article on screws
Thread classes
PG series

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