Ask any seasoned carpenter or DIYer what tools take up the most room in his or her toolbox, and the answer is probably “screwdrivers.” Since there is no single universal screw that is suitable for use in framing, decking, or woodworking, it’s imperative to have a variety of screwdrivers and screwdriver bits ready to insert or remove any type of screw you come across. And then, on top of that, odds are you’ll find the need for both manual and powered screwdrivers for around-the-house maintenance and woodworking projects. If you’re just getting started equipping your toolbox, pay close attention to the following types of screwdrivers.
Screwdrivers have only two purposes: to insert screws and to remove them. While types of screwdrivers are defined by tips that match the specific design of specific screw heads, you’ll find additional variation in how the screwdriver operates. Understanding these design differences will allow you to choose the best method for working with screws in any given project and with any type of screwdriver.
• Manual screwdrivers—the hand tool’s most recognizable variation—consist of a thick handle and a cylindrical steel shank that ends in the working tip of the screwdriver (which, in some cases, features an interchangeable bit in order to match a number of screw head patterns). Because the handle is larger than the tip, it takes only moderate twisting force to turn a screw. When using a manual screwdriver, you’ll have to lift the screwdriver from the screw head after every turn of the screw and reposition it before the next turn.
• Ratcheting screwdrivers save time and reduce the need to lift and reposition the screwdriver tip after every turn. An internal ball-bearing mechanism allows the user to make multiple turns of the screw through an easy back-and-forth wrist action. The ratcheting action can be changed from one direction to the other by switching a button on the screwdriver, so that a DIYer can both insert screws (clockwise motion) and remove screws (counter-clockwise motion).
• One specific ratcheting screwdriver called a Yankee screwdriver operates on a spring-loaded ratcheting principle. Instead of using wrist action to turn the screwdriver, you’d simply position the tip of a Yankee screwdriver in the screw head and push firmly toward the screw. The pressure causes the screwdriver shank to turn; when you release it, the tension spring inside pushes the handle back to its starting position. Yankee screwdrivers have been around since the late 1800s, but you can still find them in DIY stores.
• With the advent of the drill and the ability to swap drill bits for screwdriver bits, the converted drill screwdriver was born. Powered drill/screwdrivers greatly reduce the time it takes to insert or remove screws, which are swiftly replacing nails in many building and remodeling projects thanks to the strong hold in wood that their ribbed sides provide.
• Some power tool manufacturers have improved on the standard drill by manufacturing designated power screwdrivers, or screw-insertion tools geared to specific applications. Drywall screw guns, for example, are used only for hanging drywall, while subflooring screw guns work specifically with collated screw coils.
At the end of the day, whether you prefer a manual screwdriver or a power drill, the most important factor is to match the screwdriver tip to the screw head.
SCREWDRIVER TYPE: Flat/Slotted
While flat head screws aren’t used extensively in residential construction anymore, you can still find them in furniture construction, small cabinetmaking projects, and on some electrical applications—and that makes flat head screwdrivers good for more than just prying lids off paint cans. You’ll need them to install plate covers on outlets and switches and in other instances where it’s important not to over-tighten a screw.
Flat-head screwdriver bits are available for ratcheting screwdrivers and drills, but it’s a good idea to keep a handful of flat manual screwdrivers in your tool bag. They’ll come labeled by both the size of the tip and the length of the steel shank. Tip sizes vary, from fractions of millimeters (which are tiny enough to tighten eyeglass screws) up to an inch or larger (fit for industrial size screws). When matching a screwdriver to a flat screw, pick one that matches the width and depth of the slot on the screw head in question.
Best For: Tightening and loosening slotted screws. Craftsman’s 5-piece Slotted Screwdriver Set comes with five tips in varying sizes that will fit the most common slotted screws a DIYer is likely to encounter ($14.95 on Amazon). The screwdrivers feature both short and long shanks, so you’ll be able to reach screws in even tight spots.
SCREWDRIVER TYPE: Phillips
Phillips screws, identifiable by a flared “+” on their heads, are widely used for construction and woodworking purposes. The screwdrivers and bits that fit Phillips screws are labeled “Ph,” followed by a number ranging in increasing size from 0000 up to the number 4, but the driver sizes do not correspond with Phillips screw sizes; you’ll have to physically match the driver tip to the specific screw. A manual or ratcheting screwdriver works fine for when you have just one or two screws to install, but construction projects notoriously use a number of screws. Opt for a power drill with interchangeable Phillips bits for the most efficient build.
Best For: Multipurpose building and remodeling, especially drywall installation. If you plan on hanging a lot of drywall, check out the DEWALT 6-Amp Drywall Screwdriver ($70 on Amazon). This corded power screwdriver is specifically designed to install Phillips drywall screws. Plus, it allows the user to pre-set the screw depth and eliminate chances of under- or over-inserting a drywall screw.
SCREWDRIVER TYPE: Hex Key
Hex-head screws are typically small and commonly found in doorknobs, towel bars, faucet handles, even some mechanical installations and require a hex key screwdriver (also called an Allen screwdriver) to tighten or loosen. Screwdrivers and bits range in size to fit hex-head screw recesses from around 0.03” to 3/8”. Allen-type screwdrivers, or wrenches, are often L- or T-shaped manual screwdrivers, although Allen bits are available for both ratcheting screwdrivers and drills.
Best For: Installing small fixtures, such as towel bars. As with all manual screwdrivers, it pays to have a variety of tip sizes available so you don’t have to run to the hardware store to get a single size screwdriver. Xcelite’s 11-piece Allen Hex Screwdriver Set comes with a set of nine interchangeable Allen bits in sizes ranging from 0.050” up to 3/16”, as well as an optional extension bar for reaching into restricted spots ($47.30 on Amazon). With such a complete set, you’ll never need to buy another Allen wrench or screwdriver!
Screwdriver Type: Robertson
The Robertson screw offers the distinct advantage of reduced screwdriver slippage. Also known as the “square recess screw,” this screw head was developed in the early 1900s by a Canadian inventor who was tired of damaging slotted screws every time the screwdriver tip slipped out of the slot. Though a great improvement, it didn’t catch on in the US until power drills began being used as screwdrivers. Today, the Robertson screw, which ranges in recess size from 1/16” to 3/16”, is extensively used in construction and remodeling projects. You can find manual and ratcheting square recess screwdrivers, but the Robertson screw is most often inserted and removed using a power drill. One of the most common uses for the Robertson screw is in the installation of subflooring, which goes a lot quicker if you use a power drill and a Robertson screw bit.
Best For: Use with a power drill for woodworking and construction. If you’re looking for a good set of square recess bits to fit your power drill, try Picquic’s Robertson Bit Set ($7.49 on Amazon). It comes with four bits in graduated sizes for use with the most common size Robertson screws.
Screwdriver Type: Torx
Quickly becoming a favorite of builders and serious DIYers, the Torx screw—sometimes called the star screw—features a 6-point recessed star tip in sizes that range from 0.031” to 0.81” and are designated by “T” numbers (from T1 to T100). Common building sizes are T15 and T25, and, whatever screw size, there’s a corresponding Torx screwdriver or screwdriver bit to fit.
Manual and ratcheting Torx screwdrivers are available but power drill users like Torx screws for the same reason they like Robertson screws, because they resist slippage with power application. Torx screws are commonly used for structural framing, finish work and even as wood-to-concrete fasteners.
Best For: Multiple DIY and building purposes. For an all-around bit set, consider Tonsiki’s 11-piece Torx Drill Screwdriver Set ($12.95 on Amazon). It features magnetic bits that assist in keeping the screws in place on the drill tip.