In this paper, an inverse biharmonic axisymmetric elasticity problem is solved by invoking measured out-of-plane surface deformation values at discrete locations around a preloaded bolt head, in order to calculate the underhead contact stress and joint clamp load that would have caused that out-of-plane surface deformation. Solution of this type of inverse problem promises to improve the automation process of bolted joint system assembly, especially in critical and safety-related applications. For example, a real-time optically measured joint surface deformation can be utilized for automating process control of bolted joint assembly in a reliable fashion. This would be a significant reliability improvement as compared to the commonly used method in mass production using torque-only control method in which there is wide scatter in the torque–tension correlation due to the normal scatter in frictional variables. Finite element analysis (FEA) method is used to validate the inverse problem solution provided in this paper.