How to Choose and Use Concrete Fasteners, Masonry Screws

Updated: Dec. 15, 2023

Modern solutions for fastening wood and metal to concrete

masonry screwsFamily Handyman
Solve your concrete fastening problems with our favorite concrete anchors. We show you how to install light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty fasteners. Out of this group, you can pick the one that best solves your fastening problem.

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Overview: Types of Fasteners and How to Hang Things on Concrete Walls

Photo A: Light-duty

Good for wall hangings up to about 50 lb.

Photo B: Medium-duty

Good for wall hangings up to about 200 lb.

Photo C: Heavy-duty

Good for structural purposes and high strength.

At the turn of the last century, the homeowner (or carpenter, for that matter) didn’t have many fastener choices for joining wood or metal to concrete. The common solution was a hardened nail, or a wood plug with a screw driven in the center. Now, at the turn of this century, we find ourselves with more solutions than the typical homeowner needs. In this article, we’ll show you our favorite concrete fasteners that’ll solve most of the concrete-fastening problems you’re likely to encounter. We’ve categorized fasteners as light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty, but keep in mind that there are no hard boundaries here. Some concrete fasteners rated as light-duty can pass for medium, and so on. Also, some of the heavy-duty fasteners come in thinner and shorter forms for lighter-duty applications.

Get a Hammer Drill

All the fasteners shown here require a pilot hole to slip the fastener or anchor into. The best way to drill a hole into concrete, concrete block, mortar and brick is to use a hammer drill. A standard drill will do OK in soft brick and mortar, but it’ll just frustrate you and burn out bits in harder materials. DON’T BURN OUT YOUR FAVORITE 3/8-IN. DRILL. If you don’t have a hammer drill, borrow, rent or buy one. Most hammer drills have a switch or collar so you can change over from hammer drilling to regular drilling. You’ll find plenty of other uses for it. Did you know you can also use a cinder block fence instead of a concrete block?

Light-Duty: Plastic Anchors

Photo 1: Drill and insert plastic anchors

Mark and drill all the holes first, insert the plastic anchors, then mount the bracket with screws.

Photo 1A: Close-up of plastic anchors

Buy the proper screw size for the anchor size.

These are the fasteners you’ll buy and use most often. They’re great for fastening shelf brackets, towel bars, rake and shovel brackets, shower doors, pipe and conduit retainers, and most anything else lighter than 50 lbs. They require a pilot hole at least as deep as the screw will penetrate (keep in mind the thickness of the material you’re fastening). Each package will tell the hole size and the screw size (Nos. 4 through 12) that’ll work best.

Best uses:
Concrete, concrete block, mortar, brick, tile and stone.

How to use:
Drill a pilot hole at the proper location with a hammer drill and masonry bit to the depth your screw will penetrate. Tap the plastic anchor into the hole. It should fit snugly but drive in easily with a hammer. If the hole gets a bit large, use a bigger screw to push the plastic against the walls of the hole.

If the concrete is soft or crumbly, the plastic anchor may break free and turn as you turn the screw. To fix this problem, cut an extra anchor into lengthwise strips with a utility knife and (with the screw removed) drive the strips alongside the existing anchor.

Light-Duty: Soft Metal Shield Anchors

Photo 2: Drill and insert the metal shield

Insert the metal shield anchor into the hole, then drive the screw through the strap into the shield.

Photo 2A: Close-up of metal shield anchors

Soft metal shield anchors come in larger sizes than plastic anchors.

These anchors were the mainstay for many years, especially before plastic anchors were developed. They still work well today and are especially good in softer materials like brick and mortar that can’t take the stress from heavy-duty anchors.

Best uses:
Concrete, concrete block, mortar, brick, tile and stone.

How to use:
Use the same way you’d use a plastic anchor. Drill the correct pilot hole (see package instructions), tap the shield into the hole and screw the wood or metal piece to the wall.

At times, soft metal shield anchors can strip out, especially with larger diameters and when you apply too much torque with a wrench. Fastener failure is tough to repair. If the fastener becomes loose in the hole, remove it. Cut strips of wire solder and push them in alongside the anchor as you tap it back into the hole. The added thickness of the wire will help the shield grip the hole as you tighten the screw.

Light-Duty Anchors: Hammer-Set Anchors

Photo 3: Drive the anchor and pin

Drive the pin on the hammer-set fastener with sharp blows from the hammer. The fastener will slip into the hole and expand at the back to wedge the fastener against the concrete.

Photo 3A: Close-up of hammer-set anchor

The proper size pin comes with the anchor.

The best feature of hammer-set anchors is that they’re quick to install. You don’t have nuts and washers to fuss with; just drill the hole to the right depth and hammer it home. These are great for hanging 3/4-in. furring strips and metal brackets and straps.

Best uses:
Concrete, concrete block, mortar and brick.

How to use:
Hold your wood or other material in position and drill through it into the concrete to the correct depth. Slip in the anchor (Photo 3). To finish the job, strike the exposed pin with the hammer and drive it in.

Once you anchor hammer-set fasteners, there’s no easy way to remove them without destroying the material or the fastener. If the fastener works loose, leave it in place and drill another hole. Don’t use hammer-set fasteners in crumbly concrete or mortar. Use a plastic anchor instead.

Medium-Duty: Sleeve Anchors

Photo 4: Slide the sleeve into the predrilled hole

Mount grab bars and railing brackets to soft masonry like brick and concrete block with sleeve anchors. Slide the sleeve into the predrilled holes and tighten.

Photo 4A: Close-up of concrete sleeve anchors

Sleeve anchors have either a screw head (Photo 4) or a bolt head.

These concrete anchor bolts, or bolt anchors for wood, are available in several sizes and will hold up to 200 lbs. The sleeves pinch the sides of the predrilled hole and get tighter as you tighten the screw or bolt.

Best uses:
Concrete, concrete block, mortar and brick.

How to use:
First, drill the proper size pilot hole (3/8-in., 1/2-in., etc.) through the wood or metal and into the concrete. Slip the concrete sleeve anchor into the hole. Hold the object you’re fastening firmly against the wall because the anchor will draw it only slightly tighter as you tighten the screw or nut. Tighten the fastener until it’s secure.

If you overtighten the nut, the fastener will break or break the concrete around the hole. If this fastener fails, you’ll need to drill another hole a few inches away and try again.

Medium-Duty: Concrete Screws

Photo 5: Driver/concrete bit combo tool

A special bit and sleeve assembly lets you drill holes and drive screws quickly. Buy them at well-stocked home centers and hardware stores.

Photo 6: Drive the hardened screw

Predrill the right-size screw hole to the correct depth and drive the special hardened screw with a power screwdriver or drill.

Photo 6A: Close-up of concrete screw

Use a hex driver (Photo 6) to install these special hardened screws.

Using concrete screws is the fastest method for attaching furring strips, windows and doors, conduit clamps and electrical boxes. Drill the special-size pilot hole (see package for exact bit size) and drive the concrete screw’s super-hard, large profile threads into the concrete with a power screwdriver. Buy 3/16-in. dia. screws for lighter-duty and 1/4-in. dia. screws for heavier jobs. The beauty of this fastener is that if the piece needs to be removed, you can just back the screw out. They’re available in hex or Phillips drive heads.

Best uses:
Concrete and concrete block.

How to use:
Use a special bit in your hammer drill to drill a pilot hole through the workpiece (if it’s wood) and right into the concrete. Drive the screw with a power screwdriver. Hex heads are easier to drive but the heads will protrude slightly above the surface after tightening.

Not good for crumbly concrete or mortar. Keep some extra screw drive tips around; the screws are so hard that screw tips break often.

Heavy-Duty: Sleeve Anchors

Photo 7: Insert anchor into predrilled hole

Drill 1/2-in. holes, insert the anchors and tighten the nuts to fasten a 2×6 ledger board to concrete block.

Photo 7A: Close-up of sleeve anchor

Big cousin of the smaller version shown above. Don’t overtighten.

These anchors in the large 3/8-in. to 1/2-in. dia. versions are perfect for anchoring heavy, weight-bearing framing members such as deck ledger boards.

Best uses:
Concrete and concrete block.

How to Use:
Drill right through the wood and into the concrete with a masonry bit and hammer drill. Use a depth stop to get the correct depth and then blow the dust out of the hole with a turkey baster (don’t use your breath, because the dust will blow back in your face). Push the anchor into the hole and tighten the nut and washer to wedge the backside of the fastener against the concrete. Don’t overtighten. Try to get the anchor into the solid portion of the concrete block for added security and strength.

Overtightening can cause them to break free. Use a hand wrench like a socket and crank them tight. Don’t torque them like a lug nut on a car wheel. If the fastener fails, drill another hole a few inches away.

Heavy-Duty: Wedge Anchors

Photo 8: Bore hole and tap in the anchor

Bore a 1/2-in. hole through the wood and into the concrete to fasten wood plates to concrete floors. If you’ve got more than a few holes this size to drill, take it out on a rental drill and save yours for medium- and lighter-duty pilot holes.

Photo 8A: Close-up of wedge anchor

Wedge anchors are powerful and permanent.

These are extremely strong anchors for attaching framing members to solid concrete. They come in a variety of lengths and from 1/4 in. to 1 in. in diameter.

Best uses:
Concrete and stone.

How to use:
Drill a hole the size of the anchor through the wood and into the concrete. Thread the nut on a few turns and tap it into place with a hammer. Be sure the washer is in place and tighten the nut with a wrench.

Permanent. Once they’re in, you can’t get them out.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Drill/driver - cordless
  • Hammer
  • Hammer drill
  • Hearing protection
  • Safety glasses
  • Wrench set
Hex driver, percussion drill bits, drill/driver combo tool

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Concrete fasteners