Shopping the screwdriver aisle at the hardware store can be intimidating, especially for the uninitiated. Do you need a flat head or a Phillips? What’s the difference between a 3/8-inch and a 7/16-inch? And do you need a full set, or can you make do with one “universal” model?
There are dozens of different kinds of screwdrivers and more cropping up all the time as manufacturers develop new types of screws. Luckily, there are really only a few varieties the average homeowner should keep on hand.
What is Screwdriver?
A screwdriver is a tool, manual or powered, used for driving screws. A typical simple screwdriver has a handle and a shaft, ending in a tip the user puts into the screw head before turning the handle. This form of screwdriver has been replaced in many workplaces and homes with a more modern and versatile tool, a power drill, as they are quicker, easier, and also can drill holes.
The shaft is usually made of tough steel to resist bending or twisting. The tip may be hardened to resist wear, treated with a dark tip coating for improved visual contrast between tip and screw or ridged or treated for additional ‘grip’.
Handles are typically wood, metal, or plastic and usually hexagonal, square, or oval in cross-section to improve grip and prevent the tool from rolling when set down. Some manual screwdrivers have interchangeable tips that fit into a socket on the end of the shaft and are held in mechanically or magnetically.
These often have a hollow handle that contains various types and sizes of tips, and a reversible ratchet action that allows multiple full turns without repositioning the tip or the user’s hand.
A screwdriver is classified by its tip, which is shaped to fit the driving surfaces slots, grooves, recesses, etc. on the corresponding screw head. Proper use requires that the screwdriver’s tip engage the head of a screw of the same size and type designation as the screwdriver tip.
Screwdriver tips are available in a wide variety of types and sizes (List of screw drives). The two most common are the simple ‘blade’-type for slotted screws, and Phillips, generically called “cross-recess”, “cross-head”, or “cross-point”.
Let’s discuss in detail various types of screwdrivers.
Types of Screwdriver Heads
Screwdrivers have three basic parts: the handle, shaft, and head. Screwdrivers are usually categorized by the type of head they have. Here are some common ones:
1. Phillips’s head screwdriver
The Phillips head screwdriver was created and patented by Henry Phillips in the 1930s and was originally used on the 1936 Cadillac. The great thing about it is that unlike the flat head screw (with a single ridge at its tip to slide into a screw with one slot), the Phillips screwdriver is self-centering.
Its “X” design won’t slip out of the X-slotted screw. Instead, it grips the screw firmly in the center, provided it’s the suitable size for the screw.
A Phillips screwdriver has a head with pointed edges in the shape of a cross, which fit neatly into the cross slots of a Phillips screw. You can buy a Phillips screwdriver in five different sizes, ranging from zero to four, with four being the largest.
If you like to build things yourself, you’ll probably need a few Phillips screwdrivers in various sizes, and having a cordless electric Phillips screwdriver in your toolset can really come in handy. Phillips screw heads allow a tighter fit than a flat head screw, which is why most factories and handymen use them. The screws tend to be lightweight and relatively small.
The trick is to match your screwdriver to the type and size of screws you’re using. Your choice of the screw depends on the type of job you’re doing. Use crosshead screws (which include both Phillips and posidrive screws) for most of your power driving. Use single-slot screws for carpentry and joinery. Use only a Phillips screwdriver for Phillips screws.
2. Flat-Head Screwdriver
A flat-head screwdriver is a screwdriver with a wedge-shaped flat tip, used to tighten or loosen screws that have a straight, linear notch in their heads.
This is arguably the most common tool on the planet—the ubiquitous flat-head screwdriver. Every junk drawer has one or two in it. While it comes in many shapes, the concept is always constant. There will be some sort of handle attached to a steel shaft that is flattened into a wedge shape at the tip. This flat tip is perfectly sized to fit into a screw with a straight head slot with a corresponding shape.
In terms of screwdriver technology, flathead screwdrivers are the most basic model. The blade is shaped like a chisel and (as you could probably guess) is flat. They fit into slotted screws, which have an indented line running through the diameter of the head.
Depending on the size, flathead screwdrivers can also be used like a multitool. You can use them to pull up nails or pry open cans of paint. That said, you won’t find many slotted screws in the wild these days as they’re the worst when it comes to camp-out.
There are flat-head screwdrivers in many sizes, so choose the one in your toolbox which most closely matches the job you need to do with it—meaning the one whose blade best fits the screw slot. The slots in flat-head screws don’t just require a wider tip as the size of the screw increases, it also needs to be thicker.
Flat-head screwdrivers vary in thickness proportionate to their width, which should give you an excellent grip in the slot of a screw. The principal drawback of a flat-head screwdriver is that it’s prone to slipping out of the screw slot, so choosing a screwdriver that fits just right is key to correct use.
Sizes: Flathead screwdrivers come in standard sizes, usually in fractions of an inch. Some common sizes are 1/8-, 3/8- and 1/4-Inch.
3. Allen Wrench, Hex key, hex Head screwdriver
Even if you’ve never intentionally purchased a screwdriver, you might have one of these floating around in your junk drawer. If you do, it probably came with your Ikea or other put-it-together-yourself furniture. They’re also great for bike repairs.
Hex or Allen keys may not look like the typical screwdriver with a distinct head, shaft and handle, but rather an L-shaped piece of metal with hexagonal ends. They fit into hexagon-shaped holes in screws.
Sizes: Allen wrenches usually come in standard sizes. 1/16-, 3/16- and 5/16-inch hex wrenches are common, but you can find them in many sizes. You can also find them in European sizes, measured in millimeters. Sometimes hex wrenches come in the package of screws they’re intended to be used with, so you may not need to worry about sizing at all.
4. Torx screwdriver, Star bit screwdriver
Torx is a brand name. The head of a Torx screwdriver is a six-pointed star. You’ll find Torx screws on bikes, computers, car parts, and more as they become more popular. Because of their shape, they’re particularly resistant to camming out. Many woodworkers are fans of these for that reason.
Sizes: Torx screwdrivers come in whole-number sizes, usually stylized with a “T.” Sizes T10 and T25 are common.
5. Japanese Industrial Standard
These are cross-shaped and look a lot like Phillips’s head screwdrivers. Occasionally, they can be used interchangeably.
Always consider the Japanese Industrial Standard screwdriver if you do not want to compromise the screwdriver quality. The Japanese rules dictate that electronic equipment and related devices should always be high-quality.
The JIS driver has the same cruciform shape as the Phillips screwdriver. It is then a great choice to deal with the camming-out of screws whenever you use it more often.
The driver is suitable for opening the JIS-compatible screws. The best part is that such screwdrivers are highly durable and will not damage easily. As such, you will always like the value of money you get with the screwdrivers.
6. Tri-Wing and Tri-Point Head screwdriver
You’ll often find these in small sizes. According to Popular Mechanics, tri-wing or tri-point screws are used on electronics namely Microsoft, Apple, and Nintendo products to encourage owners to seek professional repairs.
Do not confuse this one with the Tri-Wing screwdriver. This one comes with a tip having three Y-shaped blades placed 120 degrees apart. Unlike the tri-angle screwdriver, it is impossible to open a tri-point screwdriver using a hex driver. You simply need a tri-point driver for the job.
You will likely notice that this screwdriver is common in the tech industry. This is for people who work on electronic appliances all the time. The same can be great for those in the aerospace field too. Mobile repair shops would invest a lot in such screwdrivers as the tri-point screws are common in smartphones.
The screwdriver has a tri-wing shape important for getting into the triangular sockets and screws. This type of screwdriver has many industrial applications, especially in the aerospace industry. This is because a lot of precision work is required in such industries.
It is hard to use any other type of screwdriver to remove a tri-wing screw. If you have home appliances with such screw types, then there is the need to get yourself a tri-wing screwdriver.
7. Robertson Head screwdriver
These square-headed screwdrivers are popular in Canada. Looking at the Roberson screwdriver’s design, you will notice that it has a recessed squared socket on its tip. This recessed socket is essential so that you can apply a very high turning force to the screw head without it slipping.
The screwdriver is common in Canada, as pointed out in the heading. The biggest reason it is a preferred screwdriver is because of the maximum torque tolerance it can handle. You will likely find it common with mechanics or carpenters living in Canada.
8. Pozidriv Head screwdriver
This also looks like a Phillips. Pozidriv screws are eight-pointed. They have a cross-shaped slot, plus a shallower, X-shaped slot imposed on top. They’re popular in Europe.
The Pozidriv screwdriver was invented to solve the camming-out problem. This is where the screwdriver tends to slip out of the target screw head each time you apply more torque. It often leads to injuries or scratching of the surface.
Some find the Pozidriv screwdriver as an improved version of the Philips screwdriver. This is because it has four additional lines from its center, important for improving its grip. The tip of this screwdriver is, however, a bit blunt because of the design. This means you have to apply more torque if you want the screwdriver to work smoothly.
The design makes it an ideal choice if you want to improve the speed at which you complete the tasks. You are likely to find this type of screwdriver common in Western countries. It helps the user work more accurately and waste less time.
Types of Screwdrivers
The different types of screwdrivers are typically determined by the drive tip shape which corresponds with the specific head type of a given screw. However, other screwdriver types are application-specific or are intended for particular industries.
Some of the most common types of screwdrivers are detailed in the sections below.
1. Phillips Screwdriver
Also known as cross-head screwdrivers, Phillips’s screwdrivers are one of the most common types. The Phillips screwdriver is another option for many applications you might have to handle. It is also called a crosshead because of its angled tip design.
You can say that it is a more advanced form of the slotted screwdriver. The chances are you will mostly use it on products from European countries. People like such a screwdriver as it offers more grip compared to some other options. You can also apply more pressure without worrying it might slip out of the slot as the slotted screwdriver.
Due to its overall efficiency, the screwdriver has rapidly replaced the use of slotted screwdrivers in different devices.
2. Torx or Star Screwdriver
The Torx screwdriver is known for its efficient design. You can easily tell it apart from the others due to its flower-shaped design. Its efficiency has made the screwdriver popular in commercial and electrical fields. However, the same can still be a nice choice for DIY projects too.
If you want to get the best Torx drivers, consider the size options from 0.03 inches to 0.81 inches. They will have a wide range of applications generally. The Torx screwdriver design helps it have more contact space between its tip and the screw head. As such, you can apply more torque without necessarily damaging the screwdriver head or tip.
A good example is when you want to open an Xbox one controller. You will have to undo a lot of such Torx screws.
3. Insulated Screwdrivers
Also known as safety screwdrivers, insulated screwdrivers are important for taking safety precautions in potentially hazardous scenarios. They are constructed from non-conductive materials such as rubber. VDE screwdrivers are also designed with safety in mind. VDE is an internationally accredited institution that tests tools to certify that they meet the necessary safety standards. These tools are ideal for electricians.
4. Torque Screwdrivers
Not to be confused with Torx, a screwdriver with torque is similar to a torque wrench. Both are used to apply a specified torque which is meant to be just enough but not too excessive. They are ideal for tightening screws sufficiently without breaking the material they are fastening and inversely tight enough so they do not fall out. A torquing screwdriver has a torque-limiting clutch that allows a limit on how much force is applied beyond a certain threshold.
5. Flathead Screwdriver
The slot or flat-headed screwdriver is probably the most common form of hand tool. It has a flattened tip used for screws with a straight linear intrusion across the head. Flat blade screwdrivers are multi-purpose and can typically be used for a range of applications.
6. Tri-Wing Screwdriver
These are used for specific devices such as consoles, mobile phones and cameras. They often feature quite small tips to enable use with smaller screws and components.
7. Pozidriv Screwdriver
Pozidriv screwdrivers are essentially an upgraded version of Philips. They were designed to reduce cam-out, which is the process where a screwdriver slips out of the screw head when more torque is applied.
8. Hex Screwdriver
Allen keys or wrenches are more popular tools for loosening or tightening hex screws. However, hexagon screwdrivers exist to serve the same purpose and hex-head tools are often included in sets.
9. Square Screwdriver
The square-headed screwdriver fits screws with a square-shaped recess. It was invented to reduce the cam-out issue of the slotted screws and therefore speed up the fastening process.
10. Electric Screwdrivers and Impact Drivers
As the name suggests, this type of screwdriver needs electricity to power its operation. Many people enjoy using them since they are easy to use and faster in operation.
The impact drivers are best suited for driving the long screws. This makes your job easier when handling tough and bigger projects. They can also do basic drilling tasks you might have in mind.
Newer models now come with LED light for illuminating your work area so that you work easily. The electric screwdrivers and impact drivers come in different forms. The most common options are listed below.
Cordless– The cordless screwdrivers are a top choice for professionals who do not have much time to work on a project.
Also, DIYers would enjoy the use of cordless screwdrivers as they stand out as a handy tool. With this one, you will enjoy the freedom of being portable while at the same time recharge the battery when it gets low.
Corded– if you want more torque, you should consider the corded type of electric screwdriver. This will make such a model great for tough and industrial applications. You will always be limited to the length of the power cord.
11. Precision Screwdrivers
These screwdrivers are used for very small devices where extremely small screws are used. An example of this would be precision work on watches and mobile phones.
12. Triangle Screwdriver
Tools featuring a triangle screwdriver head are less common, but they are ideal for certain applications. The triangular screwdriver head is beneficial as its design makes it more secure and tamper-proof than alternatives. These tools are often used with appliances, toys, and electronics.
13. Magnetic Screwdrivers
Screws camming out is a common problem when working with different types of screwdrivers. If you have been experiencing such a problem, it is best to consider getting a magnetic screwdriver. Its tip is magnetic so that you do not lose the screw if you get it out of its hole or trying to get it in.
The magnetic tip operation makes it an ideal choice when working on electronics and watches having small screws that are easy to get lost. Keep in mind that watches will not function correctly if one of the screws is missing. As such, those who work on luxurious watches should consider investing in such a type of screwdriver.
14. Ratchet Screwdrivers
Ratcheting screwdrivers have a built-in mechanism that allows the application of force only in one direction while allowing free movement in the other direction. These hand tools function similarly to ratchet spanners.
The ratchet screwdriver will let you get maximum torque in a single direction. For this reason, the ratcheting screwdriver will be ideal for loosening or tightening a screw faster. The screwdriver can move only in one direction at any given time. Once you change direction, it will now send maximum torque to the new direction.
If you need to complete your work faster, then this is the screwdriver that you pick. It is a common choice for those who need to handle larger projects faster. Its performance and operation make it popular among professional mechanics and automobile manufacturers.
Screwdrivers come in many different sizes. As well as the standard large, medium and small, there are also stubby screwdrivers that are ideal for use in tight or confined spaces. The tip width and the length of both the blade and the overall tool are usually measured in millimeters (mm).
You should note that some sorts and brands may offer different sizing options to others. For instance, there are four standard Phillips screwdriver sizes. These range from #0 to #4, where #0 is the smallest screwdriver.
Some tools can also be classified by torx size. This is shown by the letter T followed by a number – for example, T10 screwdrivers. It ranges from miniature screwdrivers right up to T45 and beyond. This system can also be applied to screws, helping you choose the corresponding screwdriver for a particular-sized screw.
Parts of a Screwdriver
The three main parts that constitute a screwdriver are as follows:
- Shaft or shank
- Drive tip or bit
All three parts are made in a production process using machines to form the correct shape of material using an extruder and heat-treating it to achieve the desired tensile strength.
1. Screwdriver Handle
Screwdriver handles are used for gripping and are generally shaped to prevent rolling on flat surfaces. They can also be ergonomically-designed to improve comfort when gripping. The materials used in the manufacturing process have changed over time and there is now also more variety for tools intended for use in specific applications.
Most commonly, the handles are ergonomic and made of a composite of hard plastic such as cellulose acetate and rubber. They can also be covered in a non-slip, soft material like thermoplastic rubber to improve grip.
2. Shaft or Shank
The shaft or shank is commonly made of strong steel to ensure that bending or twisting deformation does not occur when applying force. The shaft will be rounded or hexagonal to allow a spanner or wrench to be used to apply increased torque. The shaft is generally different coloration and material to the drive tip which can be interchangeable.
3. Drive Tip or Bit
The drive tip can be an integrated part of the shank if it is not detachable. Alternatively, it can be an interchangeable part known as a driver – similar to drill bits. These are designed for use with multi-bit tools. The tip may also be known as the screwdriver head.
Screwdriver Uses and Applications
The screwdriver is one of the most essential hand tools in any tool kit. There are many situations and professions where a screwdriver is integral to carrying out a specific task revolving around loosening or tightening fasteners.
- Some of the most common uses of screwdrivers include:
- Electronics and electrical equipment
- Opening mobile phones
- Opening computers
- Mechanical and industrial production
- Woodworking and carpentry
- Metalwork and fastening wood to metal
- Flammable environments
It should also be noted that some specific types of screwdrivers are best suited to certain applications. For instance, the best electrician’s screwdrivers will be insulated to protect the user. Conversely, Phillips’s screwdriver uses are more varied as these tools are suitable for a range of general-purpose applications.