Should You Screw Down Bed Slats: Analysis, Options, and Tips

The method used to fasten slats to the bed frame is almost always what determines if a foundation will develop squeaks and creaks in the middle of the night.

Nobody wants to spend a substantial chunk of change on a foundation and mattress only to be kept up at night every time you or your significant other moves.

Wood bed slats should be screwed down with glue between the slats and the frame. Two screws are better on each end to help prevent twisting movement. Drill holes first with a wood drill bit about the same size as the screw threads. This reduces the likelihood of splitting the wood slats.

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Scott Boyd

Bed Slats Not Fastened on Frame Rails

Some frames have slats that only sit on the rails unfastened. This is a cheap and poor design that will most likely be noisy when in use. One possible way to keep the unfastened slats from moving is to cut spacers using 1” x 3” lumber and place them between each gap in the slats over the rails.

This will stop the slats from moving forward and backward, but it does not prevent movement from side to side when weight is added.

If you choose these methods rather than directly fastening the slats to the rails there may be squeaks and creaks when the sleeper moves at night

One option to reduce or eliminate the noises is to place furniture felt between the slats and the rails. This won’t increase the structural strength of the foundation, but it is a decent option.

But, if you are going through this much work you may as well fasten the slats with screws which will work at least as well or better, and increase the strength of the bed as well.

This method requires lumber and a saw (this is the one I have had forever)

If you want to start from scratch and build a cheap homemade bed frame then check out my article here.

How to Screw Down Bed Slats

To screw down bed slats requires a drill with a Robertson or Philips bit, a 50-pack of 2”-2.25” interior tapered wood screws (like these), and two drill bits. In the first slat drill a hole a bit slightly smaller than the screw thread, countersink (like this) with a larger bit, add glue, install a screw, and repeat.

Screws rely on a different fastening technology. The threads are wider than the screw shaft and these threads cut into the wood.

There are different types of screws, some with thin treads for products like installing plywood subfloor underlay for tile flooring.

Some have much larger threads for better holding power for holding structural wood framing together for building a roof for example.

TIP: Use screws with a thread length of at least 1.5” longer than the width of the slat. This provides substantial fastening power. So if your slats are 0.5” thick then 2” screws will work and 2.25” for slats 0.75” thick.

TIP: Position the first slat and drill the first hole through the slat and about 1.5” into the bed frame. Then apply glue to the screw and install it tight. The glue helps to prevent the screw from backing out.

TIP: The heads on screws can damage a mattress if they stick up from the wood slats. Use a countersink or a large drill bit and drill down approximately 0.25 inches so the screw head is lower or flush with the top of the wood slat.

Repeat as necessary for each screw. Use tapered head screws rather than pan or bolt head screws.

TIP: If the slats fit tightly into the bed frame with each end touching the frame this can cause squeaks and creaks when the foundation flexes. A simple fix is to trim 0.25” off of each slat and install them so that the ends have a gap between them and the frame.

TIP: Another solution is to use furniture felt instead of glue between the slats and frame.

If you are starting to think that maybe buying a new bed is a good idea then consider checking out my article Build or Buy a Bed Frame here.

Fastening Bed Slats with Nails

Many people wonder if it is better to fasten slats with screws or nails and the answer depends on the tools available. Many homes have a hammer in the garage or a drawer so this might be the first option considered. Nails have tremendous lateral strength, but screws have superior holding power.

Nails are more smooth than screws and they get their holding power by pushing the wood fibers out and down creating tiny wood prongs that prevent the nail from backing out.

But if the wood is slightly wet these fibers will shrink when they dry, reducing the force of the wood fibers on the nail.

Lumber is used to build frames and is most often kiln-dried lumber purchased from a hardware store, lumber yard, or wholesaler.

Kiln-dried lumber must be 19% moisture or less to meet government requirements.

These regulations are in place to kill any pests and insects that may be in the wood.

This is for your comfort and also to prevent the spread of insects around the world.

Two lumber yards in my area of 4,000 people ship lumber to the USA and around the world. Countries don’t want invasive insects entering their countries.

Disassembling the Bed and Slats

Another disadvantage of nails is if you ever want to disassemble the bed for a move or change it is much more difficult and you will likely do damage.

The best way to do this is to remove the nails you will have a difficult time without destroying the slats. Screws can be backed out using a screwdriver or a drill with a Robertson (square) or Philips (cross) bit.

To remove slats fastened with screws you can use a drill and bit to back the screws out, even if glue was used.

TIP: If the screw won’t back out then hold a screwdriver on the screw and strike it with a hammer. This can “break the seal” of the glue and wood and allow it to back out.

To remove ones fastened with nails you need a hammer and a flat pry bar (see the best type of pry bar for this operation here). Follow these steps:

  1. Lift the foundation onto its side and lean it against a wall so it doesn’t fall over while you are working on it.
  2. Place the flat pry bar between the slat and the frame.
  3. Hit the pry bar with a hammer until the bar enters the cavity about half an inch.
  4. Pry down on the bar to break the seal.
  5. Continue prying up and down and inserting the bar until it hits the nail.
  6. Once the gap between the slat and frame is about one-quarter of an inch you can try going around to the other side and hammer the wood slat back into place against the frame.
  7. If the nail head stays up you can use the hammer to pull the nails.
  8. If the nail heads stayed flush with the slat then you will have to go underneath and hammer the slats up until the nails are out of the frame.
  9. Do the same to the other side of the slat.
  10. Remove the nails if they are still in the slat so you don’t step on the nails while barefoot or wearing construction slippers.
  11. Repeat.

What Screw to Use for Bed Slats

The best screws to use are two-inch standard interior wood screws with a bugle (tapered) head and course threads like this. In Canada select the type requiring a square Robertson bit and in the USA and UK a Philips bit (cross). The metal should be high-quality zinc oxide steel or better otherwise the screw heads may twist off.

The screws you want are in the middle of the above two examples.

Standard tapered head wood for interior use is adequate and can be found at any local hardware store and some discount stores such as Dollarama.

However, the quality of these will likely be poor quality. You get what you pay for.

While in Thailand I found that the nails and screws here are HORRIBLE. Super weak. Also, the wood is all hardwood here so that is also a factor.

But I have to pre-drill most holes for nails and screws. Otherwise, I bend 3.5” nails unless I strike the head perfectly each time.

And the screw heads don’t twist off here, the metal is so soft that the bits strip the head long before the screw reaches the necessary depth.

And when trying to remove the damaged screw with a hammer the head then pops off. The only option then is to drive the screw shaft into the wood or use a hacksaw to cut it flush and try again.

If you want to try a new cheap and comfortable sleeping solution check out my article here on sleeping in hammocks when camping, hiking, in the backyard, and even in the house.

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