What is an Adjustment Screw?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An adjustment screw is a screw which is used to make very small and precise adjustments. A variety of objects from embroidery hoops to heavy machinery are fitted with adjustment screws which are designed to be used to ensure that something works at an optimum level. Because adjustment screws represent a potential point of weakness as a moving part, they may be specially reinforced to stabilize the object they are adjusting, and it is usually possible to obtain replacements in event that a screw is damaged in some way.

Adjustment screws are used to change the tension on embroidery hoops.
Adjustment screws are used to change the tension on embroidery hoops.

With an adjustment screw, it is possible to carefully adjust things like spacing and tension. For example, on a pair of locking pliers, the adjustment screw is used to space the head of the pliers to the desired width so that when the pliers are close, they will lock in place at that width. On something like an embroidery hoop, the screw is used to loosen the hoop to insert fabric, and to tighten it back up again to restore tension and hold the fabric in place.

Adjustment screws are found on many types of heavy machinery to allow people to make precise adjustments as needed. Printing presses, for example, can use adjustment screws to adjust the level of the print bed for various needs, or to adjust the distance between the rollers on the press. The purpose of such screws is to allow people to make small compensations for natural variations and the wear which occurs over time.

Some adjustment screws are designed to lock, so that once they are adjusted, they will hold their positions. This may be done with an attachment which must be loosened to move the screw, or with a carefully engineered design which prevents the screw from moving unless someone uses a tool such as a screwdriver to move in. Locking maintains safety and reliability by confirming that the setting of the adjustment screw will remain the same until someone actively decides to change it.

On objects and equipment with adjustment screws, the screw and its function are usually discussed in the manual. It's important to read about how and when the screw should be adjusted. Failure to adjust the screw when needed can result in damage or make some tasks much more difficult than they need to be. The adjustment screw also needs to be kept clean and oiled so that it will move smoothly, as rough movement can interfere with very minute adjustments.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


What is a distance screw used for?


@cardsfan27 - Since you brought up cars, I remember when I was in high school and cars still had carburetors. To adjust the fuel intake, there were always a couple adjustable screws you could play with the get the engine purring just right.

I have to say, though, I much prefer the fuel injection systems we have today. They are much less trouble.


I didn't know what it was called until reading this article, but I have had to tweak a headlight adjustment screw before. I don't know what caused it, but the headlight on my car shifted out of place and was pointing slightly up. I'm sure it was very distracting to the other drivers until I fixed it.

The process was pretty easy, and was described in the owner's manual.


Another common place to find adjustment screws is on the bottom of washers and dryers. I have had the screws on my dryer misaligned before, and the whole machine started to shake and jump around. I thought the machine might decide to jump out the window for a few minutes!

Luckily the screw are easy to adjust, and I was able to fix the problem without any help.

I'm almost certain refrigerators have adjustment screws, as well.

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