10 Screwdriver Types Every Toolbox Should Have
Every DIYer's toolbox needs screwdrivers, but which ones? Here's a rundown of the screwdriver types you're most likely to need around the house.
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Choosing a Screwdriver
If you do any type of DIY repairs around the house, the tool you’ll need most often is a screwdriver. Besides disassembling things and putting things together, a good screwdriver can serve many other purposes — prying, scraping, even retrieving objects from crevices.
Screwdrivers vary in type and size of slot, and they aren’t interchangeable. Even a DIYer with an extensive collection of screwdrivers in their toolbox may find himself or herself running to the hardware store to buy the exact tool required for the task at hand.
The best way to avoid this is by buying screwdrivers in sets rather than individually. And now, thankfully, screw manufacturers are more or less standardizing the heads of the most commonly used screws.
There are more than 10 screwdriver slot configurations. DIYers only need to worry about five, because the rest are for specialty trades.
What To Consider When Buying a Screwdriver
- Slot configuration: The most common are flathead, Phillips, Robertson, Torx and hex-head.
- Slot size: There are only three or four common sizes for Phillips and Robertson screwdrivers, but there are many more for flat-head, Torx and hex-head. Sometimes it takes trial and error to determine which size you need.
- Shank length: This can vary from a few inches to a foot or more. Longer shanks make for better torque, but lack of clearance may require a shorter shank.
- Handle width: Wider handles develop more torque but can be harder to hold.
- Grip: Rubber-coated handles are easier to hold also also provide extra electrical insulation.
- SAE/Metric: SAE stands for Society of American Engineers, which measures driver size in imperial units (fractions of an inch). Choosing between SAE and metric, which measures in millimeters, is only an issue when selecting hex-head screwdrivers.
- Cost: Quality drivers with shafts of vanadium steel or some other alloy cost more than steel shafts, but they’re worth it. They’re less likely to bend, distort or strip the screw head.
The original screwdriver. Old-timers used to call this a slot screwdriver until they realized every screw head has some type of slot. The paddle-shaped head fits into a single slot that extends across the screw head. If you’re working around an older house, you’re almost guaranteed to come across some of these linear-slot screws.
Flathead screwdrivers come in a wide range of sizes. If you don’t know which one you need, you’re better off buying a set such as this Craftsman Five-Piece Set. They’re some of the most essential tools, so you’ll find uses for the others sooner or later.
Invented in 1933, the Phillips screw head has a cross-shaped slot. The screwdriver that fits it comes to a dull point and has ribs that fit in the cross grooves. It’s the most common screw head in the U.S..
Sizes range from tiny to enormous. The most common sizes are #1, #2 and #3. If you don’t already own a Phillips screwdriver, the size you’re most likely to need is #2. This Klein Tools #2 Phillips Screwdriver features an easy-grip rubber handle and a precision-ground head that resists slippage.
The Robertson head, AKA the square head, dates back to 1907. Common in Canada and long regarded as a curiosity in the U.S., it’s becoming more widespread here because the square head resists slipping better than the Phillips head.
Robertson screwdrivers come primarily in four sizes: #0, #1, #2 and #3. You’re most likely to need a #2, followed by #1 and #3. Klein Tools’ #2 Square-Recess Screwdriver offers the same features as Klein’s fine Phillips screwdriver.
Hex-Head Screwdriver/Allen Wrench
Screwdrivers for hex-head screws are sometimes called Allen wrenches. Although you can purchase them individually, it’s almost always better to buy a set, such as this pack of 36 wrenches in SAE and metric sizes.
Allen wrenches feature a distinctive L-shape that allow for minimum clearance and maximum torque. You’ll find hex-head screws on faucet handles, towel rack brackets, your garbage disposal and, of course, furniture you purchase from IKEA. They are becoming ubiquitous, so a good set of Allen wrenches will get plenty of use.
Torx is a trademark name for screw heads with a six-pointed star-shaped head. They provide a better grip than other screw heads.
Sizes range in integral increments from T1 all the way to T40, So even more than other screwdrivers, it’s better to buy a set, such as the Ronmar 13-Piece Torx Screwdriver Set. You’ll find Torx screws on household appliances and in HVAC components. Builders are increasingly using mid-size Torx screws for assembling decking, fencing and framing, among other things.
When you’re short on clearance, you need an offset screwdriver. Driver heads on both ends of a metal handle give it more of a Z shape than the L shape of an Allen wrench. Like an Allen wrench, it provides excellent leverage for maximum torque.
Because you can’t bear down on it heavily to prevent slippage and stripping, you won’t use your offset screwdriver as often as your straight-handled one. A set like the Tekton Three-Piece Set gives you the most common sizes of Phillips and flathead drivers.
The one screwdriver to rule them all is a multi-driver. It comes with removable bits that fit into a ball-cinch or magnetic holder. The ones you aren’t using are usually stored in the handle.
The Wera Kraftform Kompact comes highly rated because of its ergonomic design and spring-loaded release mechanism for easy access to stored bits. A removable shank allows you to use the tool as a long-handled screwdriver or a stubby one.
To avoid the frustration of continually re-positioning the driver into the screw head while you’re tightening or loosening a screw, use a ratcheting screwdriver. It spins freely in one direction and torques onto the screw in the other, and the directions are reversible.
Many multi-drivers are of the ratcheting variety. Some, like this Craftsman Set, come with pretty much every driving bit you’re going to need for home repair. Ratcheting screwdrivers are especially handy in tight places where you don’t have enough clearance to lift the screwdriver to reposition it.
Sometimes called jeweler’s screwdrivers, you use precision screwdrivers primarily for repairing appliances, electronics equipment and some automobile accessories. They’re also useful for everyday tasks like tightening your eyeglass frames.
A set of precision screwdrivers features a selection of flat, Phillips and sometimes Torx bits in extra-small sizes. You may be able to find a multi-driver with precision bits, but you’ll more likely find a set packaged in a plastic box, like this Stanley Screwdriver Set. The individual drivers have swivel heads that stay stationary against your palm as you turn the driver.
Any drill can be an electric screwdriver when you use it with a driver bit, but an electric screwdriver is a separate tool. Also known as a screw gun, its only purpose is to drive screws.
Screw guns are used almost exclusively for installing drywall. They come with a depth gauge that sinks Phillips-head drywall screws deep enough to make easy-to-cover depressions without penetrating the drywall paper.
A tool like Makita’s Cordless Screwdriver isn’t one you’ll use every day, but it’s a great investment if you’re planning a room addition or a similarly large drywall job.