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Tips and Techniques When Drilling Into Metal Studs

Steel studs are popular in both commercial and residential construction. As a contractor on a remodel project or installing metal studs on new work, you will need to know the proper method for drilling into metal studs. It is different from drilling into wooden studs.

Using the correct tools and a little practice, you will be able to do it like a pro. The following instructions show you how to drill holes in metal studs in order to get the best results.

Source: dassmetal.com

The Benefits of Using Metal Studs

Metal studs are less expensive and lighter than wooden studs, and are completely straight. They resist fire, insects, and decay, and are easy to assemble, to save both time and money.

  • They are light and hollow, making them easy to transport to construction sites. 
  • They do not require pest control, since they are termite resistant. 
  • They are long-lasting and handle torque and twisting from earthquakes and other natural disasters better than wood.
  • They are recyclable and lack VOCs, making them environmentally friendly.

Drilling Into Metal Framing Members

The need to drill into steel will usually be encountered when working on new steel-frame construction or remodeling work on a home with metal studs. In the trim stage of new construction work, the same drilling recommendations used for remodeling work should be followed.

Remodeling Work

1. Locate the stud.

Determine the exact location of the stud using a stud finder. You may be able to download a mobile app that will give it this capability. Metal stud spacing will be 16 or 24 inches on center, depending on whether the framing is load bearing or not. 

You will need to know the exact location of the stud, because metal studs are typically just 1 1/4 inches wide. Drilling near the edge could cause the hole to collapse or result in the failure of the drilled hole. For that reason, mark both edges of the stud to ensure that you will be drilling in the center.

Source: dassmetal.com

2. Use a bit specifically made for steel. 

Most drill bits will go through steel studs. However, using the incorrect bit may result in the bit being ruined or producing a rough, jagged hole. Bits made of titanium or cobalt are the best choice for metal drilling. They’re frequently colored bright gold or silver, and can easily pierce through steel studs several times over.

3. Drill at low RPMs. 

It is preferable to keep the RPMs low when drilling into metal studs, due to the fact that a high rpm will heat up the bit and cause it to break. The ideal rpm range is 700 to 1,000. When drilling into metal studs, it’s not a good idea to use a hammer drill, as it may damage the metal.

4. Use screws suitable for the task. 

To hang drywall, you don’t need to drill holes; drywall screws penetrate the metal without the need for pilot holes. Hang drywall on steel studs that have a 20- to 25-gauge rating using fine drywall screws. On 12- to 20-gauge studs, use self-drilling drywall screws, which have a sharper-than-average tip, and finer threads to avoid metal stripping and provide a better grip than standard threads. 

5. Installing wood base and casing. 

Baseboard or other wood trim requires pilot holes. Locate the stud, drill a 1/4-inch countersink hole in the trim only. This allows the head of the screw to rest below the surface of the trim. Then drive an 1/8-inch bit through the trim alone. Do not drill into the stud. Attach the trim to the drywall and studs using 1 1/2-inch self-drilling trim screws.

New Construction

In addition to the guidelines above, framing a new building will involve attaching steel to steel. Some fasteners may require drilling pilot holes, while others will not. Choosing the correct fastener is paramount for proper strength.

When attaching the steel studs to the metal channel, pan head framing screws are the best option, but many contractors use self-drilling, fine thread, drywall screws. 

Regardless of which you choose, make sure the screw has a pan head, not a bugle head. Bugle head screws will work, but the pan head will lay flat against the metal framing and provide greater support. Avoid coarse thread screws, as they will bore through the metal, making a hole too large to gain traction in. 

When attaching steel stud channel to concrete flooring, concrete screws work best for this application. These are usually self-tapping and will easily penetrate the metal, but you will have to drill a pilot hole in the concrete first.

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