Wood Tapping Techniques for Machine Screw Use

Making the ENV2 mount "tripod compatible" by tapping for a 1/4 - 20 screw.

My wooden Env2 mount tapped for a tripod

I’ve done several projects (my latest) where it was necessary to tap wood or MDF to use a machine screw.  There are several ways to accomplish this.  I’ll go over the several methods I’ve used, and two more standard methods that I haven’t yet experimented with.

Just Drill and Tap the Wood – Just tap it like you would a piece of metal.  Here’s a drill and tap set from Amazon for just over $20* that you can use for this or the next method of attachment.  Probably the weakest way here to attach a machine screw to wood, but it might be all you need.

MDF Geneva drive stopped

Note the putty on on the leftmost piece of MDF tapped for a set screw (from MDF Geneva Drive article)

Use Repair Putty as an Insert –  This may not be a standard technique, but I use and explain it in this post about making a MDF Geneva Drive.  There’s more detail in that post, but the basic idea is: cut a hole, insert putty, let dry, then drill and tap.  It seems to work pretty well, especially compared to tapping MDF.

One thing to keep in mind while putty tapping is that the putty doesn’t necessarily fall off of the tap as metal would.  If tapping feels “mushy,” remove the tap and clean the grooves.  Then reinsert and finish your tapped hole!

Update 3/10/2013: Per Farley’s excellent comment below, I tried tapping the putty by embedding a lubricated screw and pressing putty around it.  See the results in the video below:

Tee Nuts – One of the more popular ways to use wood with machine screws, these little devices are hammered or pulled into the wood from the opposite side.  I’d trust the strength of these over any of the other methods, as illustrated in this external article about installing tee nuts for use in rock climbing gym holds.

inserts-wood-magazineThreaded Insert – Another more conventional way to attach wood together using machine screws is using a threaded insert.  Just drill a hole and either thread of pound them into your wood.  These inserts can then be used with machine screws.  Similar inserts also work well with plastics such as polycarbonate.  Since I’ve never used this technique, here’s a little write-up from wood magazine about using these inserts.

Update 3/10/2013: Per Steve’s comment, I tried drilling the hole and putting super glue inside of it.  I’ve only tried it once (and had to drill the hole twice), but this seems like an excellent way to tap wood, maybe better than repair putty.  See the video below for more details.

So there you have it, how to use machine screws with wood.  Thanks for the suggestions, and please let me know in the comments if there are other good ways to tap wood for machine screws!

*I haven’t personally tried this set, but it looks OK for $20.


  1. Excellent.

    I would also like to add that you can very lightly oil the threads of a bolt you would like to use and insert into the putty within the hole. After cure, unscrew the bolt and sand the putty mound flush.

    Helpful if the bolt is going in at an unknown angle, if you don’t otherwise have a way to drill the pilot at the angle you want, if you don’t have a tap to match your bolt, or if you don’t have a bottoming tap for a blind hole.

    Of course, care must be taken to ensure that the oil does not contaminate the putty or substrate, and that the putty fills the threads completely.

  2. Steve Blandford

    Also you can drill your hole to tap the wood then saturate with super glue and let cure. then tap the hole. the super glue takes the threads pretty well.

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  5. One comment.. Threaded inserts, such as the type you buy at home stores, are pretty fragile as far as actually sinking them into the wood. I have used them quite a bit, and they really don’t hold up to twisting pressure required to sink them firmly. I have about 20% of them break somehow.

    I would HIGHLY recommend ever so slightly over tapping the hole so the threads engage very lightly or not at all, and applying epoxy mixed with a small amount of cabosil or fine sawdust before sinking the insert. The epoxy should ‘googe’ out of the sides and you then wipe it off with a rag, making sure to keep it out of the center hole.. I accomplish this by putting in a machine screw all the way flush with the bottom of the insert before sinking the insert, then wiping, removing the screw, and wiping again.

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