Tap in a wrench
Die in a wrench
Tap in a wrench for creating female threads (left), and die in a wrench for creating male threads (right).

Taps and dies are tools used to create screw threads, which is called threading. Many are cutting tools; others are forming tools. A tap is used to cut or form the female portion of the mating pair (e.g. a nut). A die is used to cut or form the male portion of the mating pair (e.g. a bolt). The process of cutting or forming threads using a tap is called tapping, whereas the process using a die is called threading.

Both tools can be used to clean up a thread, which is called chasing. However, using an ordinary tap or die to clean threads generally removes some material, which results in looser, weaker threads. Because of this, machinists generally clean threads with special taps and dies—called chasers—made for that purpose. Chasers are made of softer materials and don't cut new threads. However they still fit tighter than actual fasteners, and are fluted like regular taps and dies so debris can escape. Car mechanics, for example, use chasers on spark plug threads, to remove corrosion and carbon build-up.


While modern nuts and bolts are routinely made of metal, this was not the case in earlier ages, when woodworking tools were employed to fashion very large wooden bolts and nuts for use in winches, windmills, watermills, and flour mills of the Middle Ages; the ease of cutting and replacing wooden parts was balanced by the need to resist large amounts of torque, and bear up against ever heavier loads of weight. As the loads grew ever heavier, bigger and stronger bolts were needed to resist breakage. Some nuts and bolts were measured by the foot or yard. This development eventually led to a complete replacement of wood parts with metal parts of an identical measure. When a wooden part broke, it usually snapped, ripped, or tore. With the splinters having been sanded off, the remaining parts were reassembled, encased in a makeshift mold of clay, and molten metal poured into the mold, so that an identical replacement could be made on the spot.

Metalworking taps and dies were often made by their users during the 18th and 19th centuries (especially if the user was skilled in tool making), using such tools as lathes and files for the shaping, and the smithy for hardening and tempering. Thus builders of, for example, locomotives, firearms, or textile machinery were likely to make their own taps and dies. During the 19th century the machining industries evolved greatly, and the practice of buying taps and dies from suppliers specializing in them gradually supplanted most such in-house work. Joseph Clement was one such early vendor of taps and dies, starting in 1828.[1] With the introduction of more advanced milling practice in the 1860s and 1870s, tasks such as cutting a tap's flutes with a hand file became a thing of the past. In the early 20th century, thread-grinding practice went through significant evolution, further advancing the state of the art (and applied science) of cutting screw threads, including those of taps and dies.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, thread standardization was evolving simultaneously with the techniques of thread generation, including taps and dies.

The largest tap and die company to exist in the United States was Greenfield Tap & Die (GTD) of Greenfield, Massachusetts. GTD was so vital to the Allied war effort from 1940–1945 that anti-aircraft guns were placed around its campus in anticipation of possible Axis air attack[citation needed]. The GTD brand is now a part of Widia Products Group.


From top: Bottoming, plug and taper taps (US usage), or plug, second and taper (UK usage).
Various taps.
A tap and "T" wrench
Various tap handles (wrenches).

A tap cuts or forms a thread on the inside surface of a hole, creating a female surface that functions like a nut. The three taps in the image illustrate the basic types commonly used by most machinists:

Bottoming tap or plug tap
The tap illustrated in the top of the image has a continuous cutting edge with almost no taper — between 1 and 1.5 threads of taper is typical.[2][3] This feature enables a bottoming tap to cut threads to the bottom of a blind hole. A bottoming tap is usually used to cut threads in a hole that has already been partially threaded using one of the more tapered types of tap; the tapered end ("tap chamfer") of a bottoming tap is too short to successfully start into an unthreaded hole. In the US, they are commonly known as bottoming taps, but in Australia and Britain they are also known as plug taps.
Intermediate tap, second tap,[3] or plug tap
The tap illustrated in the middle of the image has tapered cutting edges, which assist in aligning and starting the tap into an untapped hole. The number of tapered threads typically ranges from 3 to 5.[2] Plug taps are the most commonly used type of tap.[citation needed] In the US, they are commonly known as plug taps, whereas in Australia and Britain they are commonly known as second taps.
Taper tap
The small tap illustrated at the bottom of the image is similar to an intermediate tap but has a more pronounced taper to the cutting edges. This feature gives the taper tap a very gradual cutting action that is less aggressive than that of the plug tap. The number of tapered threads typically ranges from 8 to 10.[2] A taper tap is most often used when the material is difficult to work (e.g., alloy steel) or the tap is of a very small diameter and thus prone to breakage.
Power taps
The above taps are generally referred to as hand taps, since they are manually operated. During operation, the machinist must periodically reverse a hand tap to break the chip (also known as swarf) that forms from cutting. This prevents the cut material from crowding and breaking the tap.
The most common type of power driven tap is the "spiral point" plug tap, also referred to as a "gun" tap, whose cutting edges are angularly displaced relative to the tap centerline.
A spiral point plug tap ("gun" tap).
This feature causes the tap to continuously break the chip and eject it forward into the hole, preventing crowding. Spiral point taps are usually used in holes that go all the way through the material, so that the chips can escape. Another version of the spiral point plug tap is the spiral flute tap, whose flutes resemble those of a twist drill. Spiral flute taps are widely used in high speed, automatic tapping operations due to their ability to work well in blind holes.
Forming tap
A quite different kind of tap is a forming tap. A forming tap, aka a fluteless tap or roll tap, forcefully displaces the metal into a thread shape upon being turned into the hole, instead of cutting metal from the sides of the hole as cutting taps do. A forming tap has lobes periodically spaced around the tap which actually do the thread forming as the tap is advanced into a properly sized hole, and the threads behind the lobes are slightly recessed to reduce contact friction. Since there is no need to provide space for chips, these recesses are much more subtle than a cutting tap's flutes and the tap appears very nearly just like a plain thread. Since the tap does not produce chips, there is no need to periodically back out the tap to clear away chips, which can jam and break a cutting tap if allowed to accumulate. This problem is particularly acute in blind holes, so thread forming is particularly suited to such applications. Forming taps only work in malleable materials such as mild steel or aluminum. Formed threads are typically stronger than cut threads. Note that the tap drill size is larger than that used for a cutting tap as shown in most tap drill tables, and an accurate hole size is required; a slightly undersized hole can break the tap. Proper lubrication is essential because of the frictional forces involved, therefore a lubricating oil is used instead of cutting oil.


Whether manual or automatic, the processing of tapping begins with forming (usually by drilling) and slightly countersinking a hole to a diameter somewhat smaller than the tap's major diameter. The correct hole diameter is listed on a drill and tap size chart, a standard reference in many machine shops. The proper diameter for the drill is called the tap drill size. Without a tap drill chart, you can compute the correct tap drill diameter with:

where is the tap drill size, is the major diameter of the tap (e.g., 38 in for a 38-16 tap), and is the thread pitch (116 inch in the case of a 38-16 tap). For a 38-16 tap, the above formula would produce 516, which is the correct tap drill diameter. The above formula ultimately results in an approximate 75% thread.

Since metric threads specify the pitch directly, the correct tap drill diameter for metric-sized taps is computed with:

where is the tap drill size, is the major diameter of the tap (e.g., 10 mm for a M10×1.5 tap), and pitch is the pitch of the thread (1.5 mm in the case of a standard M10 tap) and so the correct drill size is 8.5 mm. This works for both fine and coarse pitches, and also produces an approximate 75% thread.

Tap sequence

With soft or average hardness materials, such as plastic, aluminum or mild steel, common practice is to use an intermediate (plug) tap to cut the threads. If the threads must extend to the bottom of a blind hole, the machinist uses an intermediate (plug) tap to cut threads until the point of the tap reaches bottom, and then switches to a bottoming tap to finish. The machinist must frequently eject chips to avoid jamming or breaking the tap. With hard materials, the machinist may start with a taper tap, whose less severe diameter transition reduces the torque required to cut threads. To threads to the bottom of a blind hole, the machinist follows the taper tap with an intermediate (plug) tap, and then a bottoming tap to finish.

Machine tapping

Tapping may either be achieved by a hand tapping by using a set of taps (first tap, second tap & final (finish) tap) or using a machine to do the tapping, such as a lathe, radial drilling machine, bench type drill machine, pillar type drill machine, vertical milling machines, HMCs, VMCs. Machine tapping is faster, and generally more accurate because human error is eliminated. Final tapping is achieved with single tap.

Although in general machine tapping is more accurate, tapping operations have traditionally been very tricky to execute due to frequent tap breakage and inconsistent quality of tapping.

Common reasons for tap breakage are:

To overcome these problems, special tool holders are required to minimize the chances of tap breakage during tapping. These are usually classified as conventional tool holders and CNC tool holders.

Tool holders for tapping operations

Various tool holders may be used for tapping depending on the requirements of the user:

Aids for hand-tapping (simple jigs and fixtures)

The biggest problem with simple hand-tapping is accurately aligning the tap with the hole so that they are coaxial—in other words, going in straight instead of on an angle. The operator must get this alignment close to ideal to produce good threads and not break the tap. The deeper the thread depth, the more pronounced the effect of the angular error. With a depth of 1 or 2 diameters, it matters little. With depths beyond 2 diameters, the error becomes too pronounced to ignore. Another fact about alignment is that the first thread cut or two establishes the direction that the rest of the threads will follow. You can't correct the angle after the first thread or two.

To help with this alignment task, several kinds of jigs and fixtures can be used to provide the correct geometry (i.e., accurate coaxiality with the hole) without having to use freehand skill to approximate it:

Heads for machine tool spindles

Generally the following features are required of tapping holders:

Tapping case studies with typical examples of tapping operations in various environments are shown on source machinetoolaid.com [1]

Tapping stations

Double-lead taps and insert taps need different speeds and feeds, and different starting hole diameters than other taps.

Tap drill sizes

Main article: Drill and tap size chart

Imperial tap and drill bit size table Metric tap and drill bit size table [5][6]
Tap Fractional drill bit Number drill bit Letter drill bit
0-80 364 - -
1-64 - 53 -
2-56 - 50 -
3-48 - 47 -
4-40 332 43 -
5-40 - 38 -
6-32 764 36 -
8-32 - 29 -
10-24 964 25 -
10-32 532 21 -
12-24 1164 16 -
14-20 1364 7 -
14-28 732 3 -
516-18 1764 - F
516-24 - - I
38-16 516 - -
38-24 2164 - Q
716-14 2364 - U
716-20 2564 - -
12-13 2764 - -
12-20 2964 - -
916-12 3164 - -
916-18 3364 - -
58-11I 1732 - -
58-18 3764 - -
34-10 2132 - -
34-16 1116 - -
Drill sizes are for 75% depth of thread.
Tap Metric drill Imperial drill
3 mm - 0.5 2.5 mm -
4 mm - 0.7 3.3 mm -
5 mm - 0.8 4.2 mm -
6 mm - 1.0 5.0 mm -
7 mm - 1.0 6.0 mm 15/64
8 mm - 1.25 6.8 mm 17/64
8 mm - 1.0 7.0 mm -
10 mm - 1.5 8.5 mm -
10 mm - 1.25 8.8 mm 11/32
10 mm - 1.0 9.0 mm -
12 mm - 1.75 10.3 mm -
12 mm - 1.5 10.5 mm 27/64
14 mm - 2.0 12.0 mm -
14 mm - 1.5 12.5 mm 1/2
16 mm - 2.0 14.0 mm 35/64
16 mm - 1.5 14.5 mm -
Drill sizes are for 75% depth of thread.

US Tap and Drill Bit Size and Reference Chart

Main article: Drill and tap size chart

A comprehensive reference for US tap and drill bit sizes can be found in the chart provided by Albany County Fasteners. This chart includes detailed specifications for machine screw size, threads per inch, major and minor diameters, and appropriate drill sizes for different materials.

US Tap and Drill Bit Size and Reference Chart[7]
Machine Screw Size Number of Threads Per Inch (TPI) Major Diameter Minor Diameter Tap drills Clearance Drill
75% Thread for Aluminum, Brass, & Plastics 50% Thread for Steel, Stainless, & Iron Close Fit Free Fit
Drill Size Decimal Equiv. Drill Size Decimal Equiv. Drill Size Decimal Equiv. Drill Size Decimal Equiv.
0 80 .0600 .0447 3/64 .0469 55 .0520 52 .0635 50 .0700
1 64/72 .0730 .0538/.0560 53 .0595 1/16 .0625 48 .0760 46 .0810
2 56/64 .0860 .0641/.0668 50 .0700 49 .0730 43 .0890 41 .0960
3 48/56 .0990 .0734/.0771 47 .0785 44 .0860 37 .1040 35 .1100
4 40/48 .1120 .0813/.0864 43 .0890 41 .0960 32 .1160 30 .1285
5 40/44 .1250 .0943/.0971 38 .1015 7/64 .1094 30 .1285 29 .1360
6 32/40 .1380 .0997/.1073 36 .1065 32 .1160 27 .1440 25 .1495
8 32/36 .1640 .1257/.1299 29 .1360 27 .1440 18 .1695 16 .1770
10 24/32 .1900 .1389/.1517 25 .1495 20 .1610 9 .1960 7 .2010
12 24/28/32 .2160 .1649/.1722/.1777 16 .1770 12 .1890 2 .2210 1 .2280
14 20/28/32 .2500 .1887/.2062/.2117 7 .2010 7/32 .2188 F .2570 H .2660
516 18/24/32 .3125 .2443/.2614/.2742 F .2570 J .2770 P .3230 Q .3320
38 16/24/32 .3750 .2983/.3239/.3367 5/16 .3125 Q .3320 W .3860 X .3970
716 14/20/28 .4375 .3499/.3762/.3937 U .3680 25/64 .3906 29/64 .4531 15/32 .4687
12 13/20/28 .5000 .4056/.4387/.4562 27/64 .4219 29/64 .4531 33/64 .5156 17/32 .5312
916 12/18/24 .5625 .4603/.4943/.5514 31/64 .4844 33/64 .5156 37/64 .5781 19/32 .5938
58 11/18/24 .6250 .5135/.5568/.5739 17/32 .5312 37/64 .5781 41/64 .6406 21/32 .6562
58 11/18/24 .6250 .5135/.5568/.5739 17/32 .5312 9/16 .5625 41/64 .6406 21/32 .6562
1116 24 .6875 .6364 41/64 .6406 21/32 .6562 45/64 .7031 23/32 .7188
34 10/16/20 .7500 .6273/.6733/.6887 21/32 .6562 11/16 .6875 49/64 .7656 25/32 .7812
1316 20 .8125 .7512 49/64 .7656 25/32 .7812 53/64 .8281 27/32 .8438
78 9/14/20 .8750 .7387/.7874/.8137 49/64 .7656 51/64 .7969 57/64 .8906 29/32 .9062
1516 20 .9375 .8762 57/64 .8906 29/32 .9062 61/64 .9531 31/32 .9688
1 8/12/20 1.0000 .8466/.8978/.9387 7/8 .8750 59/64 .9219 1-1/64 1.0156 1-1/32 1.0313
1+116 18 1.0625 .9943 1.000 1.000 1-1/64 1.0156 1-5/64 1.0781 1-3/32 1.0938
1+18 7/12/18 1.1250 .9497/1.0228/1.0568 63/64 .9844 1-1/32 1.0313 1-9/64 1.1406 1-5/32 1.1562
1+316 18 1.1875 1.1193 1-1/8 1.1250 1-9/64 1.1406 1-13/64 1.2031 1-7/32 1.2188


Five die sizes and types

A die cuts an external thread on cylindrical material, such as a rod, which creates a male threaded piece that functions like a bolt. Dies are generally made in two styles: solid and adjustable. An adjustable die may be adjusted either by an integrated screw or by a set of screws set in to the die holder (termed a "die stock"). Integral adjusting screws may be arranged to work axially, where the movement of the adjusting screw into a threaded hole in the die forces the slit section of the die open, or tangentially where a screw threaded in to one side of the slit bears against the opposite side of the slit. Dies without integrated screws are adjusted inside the die stock by radially-arranged screws. Two screws in the stock bear in to indentations on either side of the slit, tending to squeeze the slit closed, whilst a third screw with a tapered tip screws in to the slit forcing it open. Working these three screws against each other adjusts the die.

Integrated screws appear to be common in the US but are almost unknown in the UK and Europe.

The dies shown in the image to the right are adjustable:

Solid dies cut a nominal thread form and depth, whose accuracy is subject to the precision the die was made with, and the effects of wear. Adjustable dies can be slightly compressed or expanded to provide some compensation for wear, or to achieve different classes of thread fit (class A, B and more rarely, C). Adjustable taps also exist but are not common. These have a tip that is split through the flutes and an axial screw which forces the cutting edges slightly apart.

The work piece (blank) to be threaded, which is usually slightly smaller in diameter than the die's major diameter, is given a slight taper (chamfer) at the end that is to be threaded. This chamfer helps center the die on the blank and reduces the force required to start the thread cutting.[8] Once the die has started, it self-feeds. Periodic reversal of the die is often required to break the chip and prevent crowding.

Die nuts, also known as rethreading dies, are dies made for cleaning up damaged threads,[9] have no split for resizing and are made from a hexagonal bar so that a wrench may be used to turn them. The process of repairing damaged threads is referred to as "chasing." Rethreading dies cannot be used to cut new threads as they lack chip forming teeth.[10] However the external profile of a die does not strictly map to its function. Manufacturers of dies have produced models in a hex form which are intended for the creation of new threads.[11] These appear identical to solid dies in all aspects besides the external shape. Hexagonal thread cutting dies are used with a die stock with hexagonal holding features.


Main article: Cutting fluid

The use of a suitable lubricant is essential with most tapping and threading operations. Recommended lubricants for some common materials are as follows:

Carbon (mild) steel
Petroleum-based or synthetic cutting oil.
Alloy steel
Petroleum-based cutting oil mixed with a small amount (approximately 10 percent) of kerosene or mineral spirits. This mixture is also suitable for use with stainless steel.
Cast iron
No lubricant. A low velocity air blast should be used to clear chips.
Kerosene or mineral spirits mixed with a small amount (15–25 percent) of petroleum-based cutting oil. In some cases, products such as WD-40, CRC 5-56 and 3-In-One Oil are acceptable substitutes.
Kerosene or mineral spirits.
Kerosene or mineral spirits mixed with a small amount (10–15 percent) of petroleum-based cutting oil.


  1. ^ Roe 1916, p. 58.
  2. ^ a b c Smid, Peter (2003-03-01). CNC Programming Handbook. Industrial Press. ISBN 978-0-8311-3158-6.
  3. ^ a b "Taps: Technical information". Archived from the original on 2009-01-13. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  4. ^ Brown & Sharpe: Cam & Tool Design, p.11-12
  5. ^ "US Tap and Drill Bit Size Table". BoltDepot.com. Archived from the original on 2006-12-01. Retrieved 2006-12-03.
  6. ^ "Metric Tap and Drill Bit Size Table". BoltDepot.com. Archived from the original on 2006-11-10. Retrieved 2006-12-03.
  7. ^ "US Tap and Drill Bit Size and Reference Chart". AlbanyCountyFasteners.com. Retrieved 2024-03-06.
  8. ^ "Taps and Dies Terminology". TapDie.com. Archived from the original on 2006-11-19. Retrieved 2006-12-03.
  9. ^ "Types and Uses - Continued - 14256_231". www.tpub.com. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  10. ^ Keenan, Julian Paul (2005). ASVAB - The Best Test Prep. Research & Education Association. ISBN 978-0-7386-0063-5.
  11. ^ "High Carbon Steel 38 Piece Do-it-yourselfer Tap & Die Set". Vermont American. Retrieved 2022-07-02.