The screwdriver is the most commonly used household tool and the first home improvement instruments that children are introduced to. Although the tool has a very simple design and function, choosing the perfect screwdriver can be a bit of a chore since they are dozens of varieties now available in the market.
Table of Contents
- History of Screw Drivers
- Common Types of Drives
- Styles of Screwdrivers
- Screwdriver FAQ
- What Screwdrivers Should I Buy?
History of Screw Drivers
The origin of screwdrivers dated back to the century when the tools were made to tighten the newly-invented screws in engines of war and suits of armors. The screws during that time consisted of a sharp threaded needle with a slot cut in the head for tightening. As screws evolved, so did screwdrivers, as, without the right head, it would be virtually impossible to remove a specific type of screw.
However, not many things have changed about the screwdriver since the Middle Ages and the only innovations in the past several centuries have been in the material used and the shape of the drives and the handle designs. Despite this (or maybe, because of this) the screwdriver remains one of the most important tools in the manufacturing and home improvement industry.
Here’s everything you need to know about screwdrivers:
Common Types of Drives
Most of us have heard of a few different types of screwdrivers but in reality, there is a wide range, containing dozens of different versions of drives, to choose from. Here are some of the most used types:
The slotted drivers, also known as the flat head, flat blade or straight drivers, are the oldest forms of screwdrivers and are worked on screws with a simple slot spanning the width of the screw.
These blades are flat-planed and come in different sizes to accommodate in screws of various sizes. Usually, you will see two sizes, the 5.5 mm and the 8 mm screwdriver in your home tool kit. The slotted screwdriver also gave birth to many different versions, which we will discuss below.
High quality slotted screwdrivers have almost parallel tapered tips that help to grip the slot tightly and prevent slippage. Care must be applied when using this screwdriver as hard pressure can cause the screwdriver to slip and scratch the surface of the material or embed itself in your hand.
Cabinet makers prefer to use slotted screws as they take pride in aligning the slots up to make their work look really neat.
There are two main categories of slotted screwdrivers:
- Flared Slotted Screwdrivers: A flared screwdriver has a tip that is slightly flattened so that its width is wider than the shaft.
- Parallel Screwdrivers: A screwdrivers with the edge the same width as the driver shaft. This feature is very useful when loosening or tightening screws inside pre-drilled holes.
The Phillips screwdriver is also known as a crosshead, because of its cruciform head; however, superior quality drivers, the tip is somewhat rounded. These screwdrivers are made to fit into screw heads which are made in the West and do not have sharp tips like slotted screws.
The Phillips screwdriver has an angled tip with thinner blades which means you can slot the driver deeper into the screw head without risking the driver slipping out from the sides, as can happen with slotted drivers. This also means you can exert a greater torque on the screwdrivers. Because of this, Phillips screwdrivers are used in almost every field and are the most preferred kind of drivers.
The Pozidriv is considered to be an upgraded version of the Phillips screwdriver and was made to reduce the risk of the drives camming out when high pressure is applied.
The Pozidriv is characterized by four shallow lines radiating from the center. The tip is smaller and blunter than that of Phillips screwdriver and contains ribs among the blades. The increased contact with the screw head means you can apply more turning force without the danger of the driver slipping out.
The Pozidriv system is very efficient and is less likely to break the screw head or the tip when the correct pressure is applied. These screwdrivers usually come in sizes from 1 to 3.
These trademarked screwdrivers were once popular in the security and manufacturing field but have now become very common in commercial fields as well.
The screwdriver features a blade shaped in the form of a recessed six-pointed star but with the sharp angles rounded off. This improves the contact area between the screwdriver tip and the screw head and provides improved torque. Because of this, the screwdriver can withstand maximum torque and does not easily slip out or break.
Torque screwdrivers come in size ranging from 0.03’’ to 0.81’’ and are designated form T1 to T100 numbers. The most common sizes used in the building are from T15 and T25.
Hex drivers have a hexagonal recess rather than a blade and a tip, hence the name hex drive. They are also known as a hex key, hex socket or Allen wrench. It is an unusual hybrid form of screwdrivers which is used to fasten bolts rather than screws. The straight handle of the hex socket means you can turn the bolt with very little space required.
The most common use of hex drivers is bicycle maintenance as well as assembling furniture. However, using a T0-handle Allen wrench is a better choice when doing these tasks since it offers higher torque application than what comes with a narrow screwdriver handle.
Robertson screwdrivers, also known as square head drivers, are the least commonly used screwdrivers. However, it is quite popular in its country of origin, Canada, and has a very high torque tolerance, which is even sometimes considered to be the highest of all drivers.
Robertson drivers have a recessed square socket. Since there is no tip, it is highly unlikely that the Robertson screwdriver falls out of the recess, which means very high turning force can be applied. In fact, it is more probable that the bolt will snap off before the driver slips.
The screwdriver is most commonly used in the furniture and automotive industry because it is very durable. Although not found in basic home tool kits, they are included in comprehensive screwdriver sets.
The tip of the Tri-wing drivers somewhat resemble a pinwheel and is used to work screws that have triangular sockets with three wing extensions. Since these screws have such a unique slot, they are impossible to remove without tri-wing drivers.
These drivers were first manufactured to be used in aerospace engineering but can now be easily found in home electronics. Tri-wing drivers are expensive and not as easily available as other drivers. However, their biggest benefit is that they can be tightened to extremely high torque values.
Tri-wing drivers come in sizes ranging from 1 to 3.
Also known as TAs, these tri-angle screwdrivers have a triangle shaped tip for slotting into place on screw heads with triangular depressions. These drivers were used in the toys, electronics and appliances industry and were added for increased security. However, a hex screwdriver can also grip TA screws, so not many DIY kits contain tri-angle drivers.
Also known as 3-prong or Y-tip drivers, the Tri-point driver features a tip with three blades set at 120-degree angles, making a Y shape. The screws made to work with these drivers are very popular in the electronic industry and tech giants like Nintendo and Apple use them in their phones, gaming systems, and other devices.
The tri-point drivers also address the security issues that come with tri-angle drivers compatibility with the hex drivers. Tri-point screws can only be worked with tri-point drivers.
Not to be confused with the British term for a wrench, the spanner is also known as Snake-Eyes, pig-nose and drilled head driver. These strange screwdrivers are equipped with a two-prong tip — much like a barbecue fork — which is used to work flat-head screws with two tiny rounded depressions on either side of the head, making it virtually impossible to remove without a spanner.
Since they are very secure, these screwdrivers are usually used by maintenance workers on bus terminals, elevators, restrooms, and subways. Spanners are available in a size range of 4 to 12.
Also known as a bow tie driver, these tools are used to work screws which have a bow-tie-shaped slot. These screwdrivers are used throughout the automobile industry and were popularly used in old GM vehicles.
A clutch screwdriver comes with improved torque and can withstand the more turning force; however, these types of screws can also be loosened and tightened with slotted drivers. There is another security version which can be screwed by a slotted driver but cannot be loosened.
These types of screwdrivers are found in infrequently maintained places like prisons.
A bolster screwdriver consists of a type of nut welded to the top of the shaft beneath the handle. If a screw is stuck tight to a surface, you can loosen it by putting extra torque by turning the welded nut with the help of a wrench. This means this tool is able to withstand maximum pressure.
The Frearson driver, also known as the Reed and Prince, is quite similar in design to the Phillip screwdriver with some subtle changes. The tip of this screwdriver is equipped with a sharp point, unlike the Phillip driver that has bluntly rounded points. Moreover, the angle of the tip is closer to 45 degrees than Phillip drivers.
The unique shape allows the driver to exert more torque than a Phillips and to work on Frearson screws of all sizes as well as a large number of Phillip screws. Because of this, the screwdriver is used on nautical equipment.
Japanese Industrial Standard Screwdriver
These screwdrivers have a cruciform shape like Phillips but are singed to be resistant to camming out. The JIS screws can be found on many quality products imported from Japan. Even though the JIS screws can be opened by Phillips and Frearson drivers, the process is not easy and can damage or split the head.
JIS-compatible screws have a small dot near the slot which distinguished them from other screws.
Styles of Screwdrivers
The above screwdrivers were classified based on the screws they worked with; however, many of these also come with variations in their handles and shank. The alternative design helps to exert more torque and offer better clearance.
Here are some of the most popular styles:
These screwdrivers are powered by electricity, which means you don’t need to use your muscles to apply torque. They are also known as power screwdrivers and screw guns and can easily and quickly work a screw, especially those with broken heads.
These screwdrivers are run with small batteries, which means they come in compact designs. Although not as powerful as other screwdrivers, they can easily fit in your tool belt.
Corded screwdrivers come with an electric cord; however, they are not very popular as they need to be tethered to a nearby power source. However, they give out a constant power supply and are extremely efficient.
These screwdrivers are equipped with a rechargeable battery which means they come with the benefits of both electrical and battery-powered screwdrivers. Unfortunately, that also makes them bulkier and heavier and as the battery charge wears down, they lose torque as well.
Magnetic screwdrivers have a magnetic tip which holds the screw, allowing you to put in or pull out the screw with just one hand. More and more manual screwdrivers are now being built with magnetic tips.
Also known as watch or eyeglass driver, they are precision devices that work tiny screws on pocket watches and eyeglasses. Jeweler’s screwdrivers are mostly Phillips or slotted drivers.
A ratchet screwdriver allows you to apply torque only in one direction. Turning it in the opposite direction will allow the ratchet to disengage, allowing free rotation.
This allows you to keep hold of your screwdriver while you are turning it until your wrist reaches its maximum twist. You can then just leave the driver head in the screw and then once your wrist is ready, twist it back again.
This is very useful for projects where removing the screwdriver and then finding the screw head again is challenging.
The screwdriver is one of the most commonly found tools across the world. Used in projects both large and small, it’s also quite useful. If you’d like to learn more about how the screwdriver’s history and how it works, make sure to read some of the frequently asked questions listed below.
When and where was the screwdriver invented? Who invented it?
We don’t actually know who invented the screwdriver. The first screws and screwdrivers likely came into being around the same time in the first century AD. We do know, though, that the first metal carpenter’s brace (which is the predecessor to the screwdriver) dates back to 1744. We also know that the first Phillips Head screwdriver only dates back to the 1930s and was invented by Henry Phillips in the United States.
Are screwdriver handles insulated?
The answer to this question is a little more complicated than you might think. Given the sheer number of different models of screwdriver out there, it’s virtually impossible to come to any kind of consensus answer. The truth is that most screwdriver handles are insulated, with typical industrial models insulated up to one thousand volts. With that said, you should never trust that a screwdriver is actually insulated until you’ve confirmed the fact with the manufacturer.
How does a screwdriver work?
A screwdriver is actually one of the simplest tools that has one of the most unique functions. The tool is just a simple piece of metal, usually attached to a handle, that has a uniquely shaped head. The user inserts the head of the screwdriver into the slots on the tool and turns. The solid metal construction of the device prevents it from bending or spinning, so the object on the other end moves instead.
Can a screwdriver also be used as a chisel?
A screwdriver can probably be used as a chisel in a pinch, but doing so is not recommended. Not only can using a screwdriver as a chisel damage the screwdriver, but it’s very unsafe to do so. Remember, a screwdriver is not made to be hit against an object repeatedly, so it could break or splinter upon repeated contact. As such, a screwdriver should only be used as a chisel in an emergency.
What are screwdriver sizes?
Screwdrivers tend to be sized by two factors – the width of the screwdriver’s head and the length of its shaft. Both the length and width can vary wildly, with some screwdrivers only being millimeters wide while others might be almost an inch wide. Screwdrivers are sized both in metric and imperial measurements, so it’s always good to take a look at the scale of the screw you’ll be using before making a purchase.
How can I magnetize my screwdriver?
Magnetizing a screwdriver requires taking a few steps. First, you’ll want to ensure that your screwdriver is clean. Next, you’ll need to run a strong magnet from the bottom of the screwdriver shaft to the top. Do this a few times, then rotate the screwdriver a quarter turn. Continue running the magnet along the screwdriver until you have gone all the way around the tool.
What Screwdrivers Should I Buy?
Probably the biggest thing that factors into buying a screwdriver is the price. Cheap screwdrivers from unknown brands have problems with their tips which do not fit into any type of screws properly.
Cheap screwdrivers can also be made of soft material that cracks easily under increased torque. They can also damage the screw to the point that it becomes extremely difficult to remove it without damaging the work surface.
When shopping for screwdrivers, always make sure you buy ones form credible brands. You should also take a few screws you need to work with so that you can see if they can properly fit the screwdriver.
Never purchase screwdrivers that have tips that do not exactly match the screws you intend to use.