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Making Connections



A garden is more than just soil and plants. The built components decide the shape and structure of your landscape. Consequently there are many times when a gardener needs to attach one material to another. Knowing which fastener to use, and what tools to use them with is an important part of developing a well-constructed and safe garden.

Timber Fasteners

The most common materials for fastening timber are nails, screws and bolts.


Nails are useful for attaching smaller pieces of timber to larger pieces, such as decking boards for a back porch. They’re cheap and quick to use but they’re not suitable for timber subject to stresses. They can cause splitting so don’t use nails within 15 mm of the edge or 60 mm from the end of the timber, unless you pre-drill a pilot hole. Wherever possible nails should be at least three times as long as the thickness of the timber they are attaching.

Nail Types

Bullet head – general purpose timber screw

Twisted shank nail – for attaching decking and soft timbers

Galvanised clout – for attaching soft timber such as lattice


Screws are used in place of nails for fixing larger pieces of timber subject to greater stresses. Different head shapes include countersunk heads that sit flush with the surface, hexagon heads that can be tightened with a spanner, and round heads where the head is left exposed.

The coach screw is useful for landscaping work – it has a tapered screw thread and a hexagon head that can be tightened with a spanner. It is used for fastening metal to timber or timber to timber, such as gates, timber frames, pergolas and post supports.


Bolts are used to attach large pieces of timber such as retaining walls and pergola posts. To attach a bolt, first drill a hole slightly larger than the bolt into the pieces of timber that are to be fastened. The bolt is then fitted through the hole, and after a washer is fitted, a nut is tightened to secure the two pieces of timber together.

The two most useful bolts for landscaping work are:

· carriage bolts – a round-headed bolt with a square neck. The bolt is hammered into the timber and the square neck bites into the timber, holding it firm while the nut is screwed on. The round head gives a smooth surface finish.

· hexagon head bolts – the hexagon head allows tightening with a socket spanner.


Metal brackets of varying shapes and sizes can be used to attach large pieces of timber or more than one piece of timber. Gang nails are square pieces of metal with sharp protrusions that are attached using a hammer. Other fasteners such as triple grips and joist straps are used when attaching timber at right angles. These are attached with galvanised clouts.

Masonry Fasteners

Masonry anchors

Masonry anchors such as dyna bolts are used for attaching things like hanging baskets and gates into material such as bricks or stone. They work by placing the fastener through the material to be attached and into a hole in the masonry that is slightly larger than the anchor. By turning a screw into the anchor it expands and becomes wedged firmly into the hole.

The Tools


The most common type has a flat tip designed to fit into slotted head screws. Phillips head has a cross, non-slip pattern and is used for screws that need to be tightened more than slotted screws. Square shaft screwdrivers are designed for use with a wrench or spanner to hold the blade into the slot. Ratchets have an adjustable action – forwards and reverse – so that you don’t need to alter your grip. The stubby has a small blade and a large head for using in confined spaces.

Using Hammers

· *Hammers should be well-balanced and easy to hold

· Hold the hammer at the base, not up the handle

· Wear eye protection

· Hammer directly in line with the nail

· Use gentle pressure until the nail begins to grip

Using a Screwdriver

· Use the longest screwdriver convenient for the work – you are able to apply more pressure to a longer screwdriver

· The tip of the screwdriver should be the same width as the screw slot and it should fit snugly into the slot. If the tip is wider, it may damage the timber; if it is smaller, it will be difficult to get a good grip on the screw.

· Hold the screwdriver in line with the screw to prevent it slipping and damaging the timber.

· Rubbing soap or parrafin wax onto the screw will reduce friction and make driving easier.

· Always drill a pilot hole to receive the screw – this helps prevents splitting.

Using drills

When drilling a hole for a screw or a bolt, the drill and the drill bit must be suitable for the job. If you’re drilling a small hole in a small piece of softwood or even an aerated concrete brick, a cordless drill will be suitable, but for drilling into hard timber or masonry, a power drill is essential.

Tool Maintenance

All the tools used for fastening need to be in proper working order at all times:

· Metal-handled hammers need a secure rubber grip; timber-handled hammers should be regularly oiled and without splinters.

· The head of the hammer should be clean and the face smooth. This can achieved by rubbing the face against a piece of sandpaper.

· Screwdrivers should be used only for driving home screws (not for opening paint tins!).

· Electric drills should be regularly serviced and not used if the cord is frayed or if conditions are wet.

· Always put your tools away after use! They should be stored in a clean dry place.

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