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Concrete Fasteners: 7 Types and How to Use Them

construction materials Nov 09, 2020

Fastening in concrete may seem intimidating, but with the right tools and the right fasteners, it’s actually an easy job. All concrete fasteners require pre-drilling, so get yourself a hammer drill, a set of masonry bits, and the right protective equipment (more on that below) before you begin your project. 

3 Pro tips for fastening to concrete from professional builder Jordan Smith 

  1. Correct hole size is crucial when pre-drilling. Make sure you drill one quarter to one half of an inch further than the length of your fastener. If you don’t pre-drill deep enough, you’ll wind up with a fastener that’s not flush against the surface you’re fastening because it bottomed out into the hole. 
  2. Always vacuum the concrete dust out of your pre-drilled hole, to ensure that your anchor fits all the way into the hole, and doesn’t bottom out against debris. Some hammer drills have this function built in; if yours doesn’t, you can use a shop vac. Be careful not to inhale the concrete dust while you do so. Never try to clear out concrete dust by blowing into the hole—the dust will end up in your face and in your nose. 
  3. Always wear the appropriate PPE when working with concrete fasteners. Protect your eyes from ricocheting fasteners; protect your ears from the noise of a nail gun; protect your hands and even your knees from strain and rough materials. 

How to choose the right concrete fastener

Choosing the right fastener will depend on the amount of weight you’re fastening, the type of concrete you’re fastening into (porous or solid), and the speed at which you ended to complete the job. 

Light duty fasteners

Poly-set anchors

While this plastic anchor may look similar to plastic drywall anchors, this type functions differently and works better for concrete. Instead of going through a drywall board and then expanding out on the backside, this actually expands in the hole. Poly-set anchors are great for concrete blocks, like you find in homes in Florida.

How to install a poly-set anchor
  1. Pre-drill a hole in the concrete.
  2. Set the poly-set plastic anchor into the pre-drilled hole.
  3. Screw the bolt into it—as you do, the anchor will expand in the hole and press against the concrete.

Hammer set anchors

Similar to a wedge anchor, a hammer set anchor is a metal device that you set into a pre-drilled hole and hammer in. The difference is that the bolt on a hammer set is not threaded. Hammer set anchors are also known as nail anchors. Their main advantage is speed and ease of use, and they’re best for solid concrete. Don’t use them in mortar. 

How to install a hammer set anchor
  1. Pre-drill a hole in the concrete.
  2. Vacuum the concrete dust out of the hole. Be careful not to inhale the concrete dust.
  3. Set the fastener against the hole, and hammer the pin in.

Why don’t structures fall down or come apart? Learn all about the stuff that holds building materials together in the MT Copeland online Fasteners and Adhesives course. Taught by professional builder Jordan Smith, the course covers topics ranging from nails and screws to glues and epoxies.

Medium Duty Fasteners

Sleeve anchors

A sleeve anchor has a similar functionality to a poly-set anchor, in that it expands in a pre-drilled hole and presses against the concrete. In the sleeve design, the bolt and the anchor are one device, and you simply tighten it into the hole. Sleeve anchors can handle more weight than poly-set anchors, and can also be used in brick and/or porous concrete. 

How to install a sleeve anchor
  1. Pre-drill a hole in the concrete.
  2. Set the sleeve anchor into the pre-drilled hole.
  3. Tighten with a flat head screwdriver until secure. 

Sleeve anchors also come in a heavier-duty version with a hex bolt head, which look similar to wedge anchors. 

Concrete screws

Concrete screws have a serrated cutting thread that starts small at the tip and then gets bigger and bigger towards the head. It actually cuts into concrete, and the threads sit in the pre-cut grooves that the tip end cuts. The advantage of concrete screws over other concrete fasteners is that they’re removable. They’re not well suited to mortar—stick to solid concrete uses.

How to install a concrete screw
  1. Pre-drill a hole that is the same width as the screw shank. 
  2. Tighten into the hole with a power screwdriver. 

 

Concrete screws like the Tapcon products shown here come with different heads. Jordan recommends a bolt head screw, rather than a phillips head, because they’re less likely to strip out. Different shank sizes can handle different weights; check the packaging for weight ratings. 

For heavier duty projects, you may pair a concrete screw with a chemical adhesive like epoxy 

“As your fasteners get bigger and bigger, oftentimes you’re going to go to more of an adhesive type fastener instead of just a mechanical, because concrete’s not like wood. It doesn’t have fibers. You’re not putting your threads in between fibers. You’re just physically forcing this metal to cut the concrete, and then it’s wedged from coming out by all of these threads.” --Professional builder Jordan Smith

Heavy Duty Fasteners

Wedge anchors 

Wedge anchors are a permanent, heavy-duty fastener for concrete. They can only be used in solid concrete—don’t use them in brick. They’re also permanent—don’t try to take them out.

How to install a wedge anchor
  1. Pre-drill a hole in the concrete.
  2. Vacuum the concrete dust out of the hole. Be careful not to inhale the concrete dust.
  3. With the nut attached to the end of the bolt (this protects the threaded connection from your hammer), drive the fastener into the hole with a hammer. 
  4. Tighten the top nut with a wrench, which pulls the stud up through your collet. Your collet expands and it wedges itself tight in the hole.

Powder-actuated fasteners

Although it might look like a common box nail, this type of fastener is specially designed to drive into concrete. You’ll use either a hammer or a gun to drive this fastener into the concrete. The Ramset gun is essentially a .22 caliber rifle that shoots the specialty nail into the concrete. Top-of-the-line gun drivers allow you to achieve great efficiency when you have to use a high volume of these fasteners on a project. 

Powder-actuated fasteners are commonly used to fasten base plates to a concrete slab. (You wouldn’t solely use this fastener to build a frame on a foundation—for that, there would also be anchor bolts coming up through the foundation for you to bolt the frame to. But for interior walls and for remodels, this is a good option.)

 

MT Copeland offers video-based online classes that give you a foundation in construction fundamentals with real-world applications. Classes include professionally produced videos taught by practicing craftspeople, and supplementary downloads like quizzes, blueprints, and other materials to help you master the skills.

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