During a scene in Star Trek: Discovery season 3 episode 6 "Scavengers", Burnham mentions self-sealing stem bolts. This item has had a few mentions in earlier Star Trek series, beginning with DS9. It seemed to me that prior mentions typically occurred in scenes having a lighter sometimes comedic tone. This leads me to ask: is it a writer's in-joke, or perhaps a signal to not to take what is happening on screen too seriously?

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    If you’d ever had to manually seal a hundred regular stem bolts, Ensign, you’d know that self-sealing stem bolts are no joke. Now, let’s get that Heisenberg Compensator repaired. Dec 15, 2020 at 9:53
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    It had no mentions prior to DS9, actually. It was first used when Jake and Nog are in the middle of a Chain of Deals (TVTropes)
    – Machavity
    Dec 15, 2020 at 13:39
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    iirc they also cropped up in lower decks as a similar throwaway gag so, this past year or so at least, they seem to have become one
    – Tristan
    Dec 15, 2020 at 14:03
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    This kind of joke is common in many military and similar organizations. When I was in Boy Scouts I was once given a task to find some similar nonexistent item at a jamboree.
    – Barmar
    Dec 15, 2020 at 15:22
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    They're a real thing. During the hardening process, the buttress of the flange is preferentially heated to a lower temperature, thus increasing its relative ductility so that the appropriate torque on the head produces plastic deformation around the sealing interface. So it doesn't really seal itself, but the action of tightening it seals it. Dec 15, 2020 at 19:33

2 Answers 2


From Memory Alpha which is sourced from DS9 companion book.

Story-wise, stem bolts were quintessential MacGuffins, with a name that was pure technobabble. Peter Allan Fields, who "invented" them, admitted that he didn't have "the foggiest idea" what they were used for. According to Ira Steven Behr, the writing staff used them long after Fields' departure from the series as a tribute to the former producer. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 52)

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    Not exactly the level of technobabble you usually get from Star Trek writers though. A stem bolt is an actual bicycle part and I assume other objects that have parts called stems may be attached via bolts. Here's a SE question on that subject with a picture - bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/67173/replacing-stem-bolts
    – Eric Nolan
    Dec 15, 2020 at 16:19
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    DS9 was less technobabble dependent than Voyager obviously. I don't recall the specific episode but one of my favorite scenes is Sisko asks Worf to accomplish something and Worf starts explaining what exotic particle generator would work. Sisko informs Worf that was an order to go do it - not a request for a technobabble speech - Dismissed! Dec 15, 2020 at 18:20
  • I saw that MacGuffin reference on the wiki, but I don't think it quite addresses my question. I understand the point of it being a tribute, but it seemed to only pop up during lighter or more comedic moods. Compare with "plasma coils" which also gets referenced a lot, just as much a technobabble MacGuffin, but without any apparent correlation to mood.
    – Anthony X
    Dec 15, 2020 at 23:16
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    I'll trade you 100 self-sealing stem bolts for an upvote. Aug 21, 2022 at 10:56
  • @RobertColumbia If I had any upvotes I'd have my stem bolts. Nov 16, 2022 at 9:04

It appears so. According to Cirroc Lofton and Aaron Eisenberg (Jake and Nog) speaking on the 7th Rule DS9 podcast, just getting their tongues around the words "Self-Sealing Stembolts" initially caused much difficulty, to the great annoyance of director Les Landau, after that it became a recurring source of humour on that podcast.

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