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The screw heads are sticking out. What to do before painting?

February 10, 2019
last modified: February 10, 2019

We just had custom kitchen cabinets made and installed and we are happy with them so far. On the top insides of the cabinets, there are structural horizontal rails holding the cabinets to the wall studs. All of these rails have screw heads sticking out by 1/8th inch and we tried to screw them tighter to be at least flush, if not counter-sunk, but--they--will--not--go--any--further. Frustrating.

So we are kinda screwed here. What can we do to cover the screw heads before painting such that the paint does not crack or experience issues?

I am worried about using caulk because my experience using caulk showed me that it shrinks, cracks, and shrivels up even when not exposed to water, sunlight or elements. And if it does that with paint on top, it will cause the paint to crack.

We will be using an alkyd paint (INSL-X Cabinet Coat) and a compatible primer, most likely oil-based Killz.

What should we do?

Comments (36)

  • sloyder

    They do sell plastic screw caps, but those screws should not be sticking out. I would call the installer to fix this issue.


  • Fori

    Is this in a spot that will even be visible?

  • paintguy22

    Paint won't crack if the caulk is dry before painting over it. I can't imagine how caulking over exposed screw heads will do anything to hide them though.

  • PRO
    Design Loft

    Can you post a picture of these screws. If they are round-headed screws, they won't counter-sink. If they are flat-head screws, they should have been counter-sunk.

    If they are rounded washer-head screws, they are meant to sit out from the rail. If I'm installing a glass door cabinet, I purposely paint these heads to match the interior cabinet colour so as not to be as noticeable.

    There are various ways to cover screw heads depending on the screw used.

    Screw Caps

  • rantontoo

    PhOto? I am confused...why are you seeing screwheads, are you seeing the rail?

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

    I’m confused too. There should not be screws sticking out. That is beyond questionable. There should not be unfinished cabinets in your kitchen either. They should have been finished by the cabinet maker off site. Then installed already finished.

    Podt some pictures please.

  • cat_ky

    Please post a picture. It is unclear where these screws are. Are they the screws holding the cabinet to the wall?

  • catinthehat

    It sounds to me like the cabinet hanging rail was installed on the inside of the cabinet where it is visible instead of on the outside on the back of the cabinet where you would never see it. On top of that, it sounds like the screws attaching the cabinet to the wall have been installed into drywall only, thus the reason the screws are just spinning and not actually going deeper into the exposed hanging rail. If my assessment is at all correct this is a poorly built cabinet and a dangerous installation...

  • PRO
    Design Loft

    It's highly unlikely that a custom built cabinet is using a rail system like you would see with Ikea or some other RTA's. It's more likely that the custom shop is using a standard construction method seen in the attached. #7 is a cross member or rail which is a 3-4" strip of wood in which the screw will go through into the studs. Screws will be visible. Caps have been designed to hide the screw heads. Some companies may use a solid 1/2", 5/8" or 3/4" back in place of the strip/rail which would allow screws to be placed anywhere on the back rather than only at the top or bottom where the rail is.

  • PRO

    If the cabinet is built with wooden hanging rails instead of a structural load bearing back, the rails should be dadoed into the cabinet sides on the cabinet exterior. The interior should be flat and smooth, with a thin non structural cabinet back providing a nice appearance. All of these box materials should be manufacturer prefinished with either melamine or a clear coat.

    Only the faceframes, doors, and exposed flush finished cabinet sides should require finishing. All finishing should also occur in the cabinet maker's finish room with proper ventilation and professional grade materials.

    There are a lot of things in this post that need to have pictures to better illustrate. Just the words alone leave a lot of questions from the flags raised here.

  • swiss_chard_fanatic

    I apologize. I'm probably using incorrect terminology. I'm reading this while at work and therefore am unable to post a picture tonite. I made a quick sloppy picture of the situation.

    The walls are actually plywood instead of drywall. The cabinets are plywood too. And there is another support "rail" beneath the cabinets.

    The screws are flat head 3" ones.

  • sloyder

    a real photo would be best.

  • ksc36

    Like these?

  • Fori

    The rail is on the inside, right? That's how mine are built. Mine were prefinished so I just have screws showing. Unless your doors are glass and you don't plan on filling your cabinets with stuff, ignore them. Nobody is gonna accidentally rub the paint off like they might on a door jamb.

  • PRO

    Drywall screws is the nail in the coffin. Plus no proper spacing for an inside corner. The glue smears at the joins. You are dealing with a complete and total hack. Have him take those down and give your money back. Buy IKEA.

  • THOR, Son of ODIN

    Oh. My.
    Protruding screw heads are the least of the problems here.

    There are much better ways to design a corner cabinet so the corner is useful.


  • ghostlyvision

    How are doors supposed to fit on those cabinets?

  • sloyder

    drywall screws are the wrong screw to use, you need the cabinet washer style. Looks like an amateur install. Reminds me of the guy a contractor hired to install mine, the guy did not know what he was doing, and the contractor had to buy me a few replacement cabinets and get his top guy to fix the mess.

  • Fori

    What kind of computers do you guys have? I can't tell what those screws are on mine.

  • live_wire_oak

    That is a hackorama on multiple fronts. Sorry, but none of that is acceptable.He doesn't know what he is doing. Get your money back.

  • Daisy S
    Fori...yes, I can’t zoom in on those screws...also that type of blind corner is a pita, but not uncommon. I inherited two in my current home. My doors open just fine because they are not full overlay on front of cabinet. It has worked for nearly 30 years...but will not survive the kitchen remodel .
  • Fori

    Chard fan, if you're going to be putting doors on, don't even worry about them. Prime and paint over them if you paint the insides, or don't. Nobody will notice.

    I don't see glue smears. I see sanded wood filler. Why should that be a problem on the face frame of a painted cabinet?

  • swiss_chard_fanatic

    The only problem we are having with these cabinets is that the screws holding the top supporting rails in all of the cabinets will not go any further. The screws everywhere else do in fact countersink. The screws used looked like this one:

    I don't know why these won't sink in all the way in the support rails and a few other places, but will sink in mostly everywhere else.

    Our cabinets are plywood and the walls are not drywall; they are also plywood. Behind the plywood are studs. There is no drywall.

  • swiss_chard_fanatic

    No one has any ideas on why these won't sink in?

  • Fori

    Are they spinning or just refusing to move? Sounds like you have weird walls. Sometimes in weird walls, you just hit something hard.

  • michoumonster

    sometimes there might be a hard knot in the wood that makes it hard for the screw to sink in. the screws could also have gotten stripped. maybe you can try screwing into a new spot?

    swiss_chard_fanatic thanked michoumonster
  • ksc36

    If the screws are just going into plywood then at 3", they are too long. You are running out of thread. Try a thicker screw (if using the same holes) that is shorter.

    swiss_chard_fanatic thanked ksc36
  • PRO
    Open House Home Staging & Redesign, LLC

    These are inside the cabinets, correct? I'd just prime and paint as normal, making sure to monitor for drips on where the screws project slightly. Once everything is painted and the shelves are in it's highly unlikely you will even notice this.

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

    I’d urge you to go through and replace all of the drywall screws with proper cabinet installation screws with the larger heads, shown above. Drywall screws have no shear strength. The heads can snap off under sideways loading. This is what happens then.

    swiss_chard_fanatic thanked The Cook's Kitchen
  • catinthehat

    Swiss chard, see my response above regarding the screws. Your screws are spinning because they are not gripping into whatever is beneath. That is the only explanation. Since you say your walls are plywood behind, ksc36 is probably right regarding the shank length. Personally I wouldn’t trust any type of screw being fastened into just plywood. Purchase some GRK screws with a screw profile like ksc36 described.

    swiss_chard_fanatic thanked catinthehat
  • swiss_chard_fanatic

    catinthehat, are they designed to be able to countersink enough to just put a little spackle on top, and then prime and paint?

  • swiss_chard_fanatic

    My husband just informed me that he also tried 2" drywall screws of the same profile I posted earlier and they wouldn't countersink either.

  • PRO
    Design Loft

    Drywall screws are not designed to automatically countersink in anything but drywall. When needing countersinking screws, I will use flat head screws with nibs. These are designed to bite into the wood & countersink themselves. Link Here

    However, if you don't hit the stud, no screw will countersink.

    When attaching cabinets to the wall, I prefer to use round/washer-head screws, Link here

    These have better holding abilities. I prefer not to countersink my screws when attaching to a wall. When you countersink, you actually reduce the amount of wood that is between the screw head & wall the screw head could tear through the wood if too much weight is placed in the cabinet. More wood = greater holding. If you don't want to see the head, use caps or paint to match interior colour of cabinet.

    swiss_chard_fanatic thanked Design Loft
  • swiss_chard_fanatic

    Design Loft, thanks for that reply. What you said makes sense. But I have one more question. Lets say I did use those screws that you linked to. Will I have any problems with the paint covering those screws in a few years? I ask because when DH and I bought our house, there was a cabinet in the bathroom that had nails underneath the white paint, and the nails were rusting under the paint, and you could see the rust finding its way through the paint and creating a reddish brownish dark spot there. Why do some nails/screws rust under paint and others not?

    And I suppose then that the screws that did countersink, did so because they found a stud. So that makes me feel better; at least now I know that about a third of them found a stud.

    DH said that he can eliminate the entire problem of protruding screw heads by covering with a 1/4" wood layer and nailing that wood layer on top; he says the nails will countersink. And then we can Spackle, prime and paint. Perhaps we will go that route.

  • ksc36

    You're overthinking this....

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