Types of Screwdrivers – How to Stock Your Toolbox
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In everyday life, there are few things that are more responsible for holding things together than screws and bolts. It’s easy to forget that one of the only reasons they’re able to do so is because they’re driven in by screwdrivers (or drills if you’re pressed for time). Screwdrivers come in a variety of shapes and sizes because they’ve been designed to secure and remove a wide range of screws and bolts. Familiarizing yourself with some of the most commonly used types of screwdrivers can prove to be really helpful, even if you don’t use them every day.
Table of Contents
- 1 Screwdrivers and Their Applications
- 2 Different Types of Screwdrivers
- 3 Types of Screwdriver Heads
- 3.1 The Flat-Head Screwdriver
- 3.2 The Phillips-Head Screwdriver
- 3.3 The Allen-Wrench Screwdriver
- 3.4 The Torx-Head Screwdriver
- 3.5 Uncommon Screwdriver Heads
- 4 Alternatives to Screwdrivers
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
Screwdrivers and Their Applications
There are different types of screwdrivers for essentially every type of threaded fastener you can think of. Threaded fasteners can be anything from bolts, to crews, and even clamp screws! This being said, below are a list of a few commonly used screwdrivers that you could encounter in your everyday life, as well as a few less commonly known ones that you might need in the future.
Keep in mind that there are different types of screwdrivers being invented all the time. This is because there are new, more durable, and easier-to-manufacture drive configurations (and different materials) being developed as well. Keeping up with all of these can be a bit of a headache, but staying abreast can make your life a lot easier down the road.
Whether you’re an avid wood crafter, engineer, or simply a hobbyist, you’re going to need at least a few screwdrivers in your toolbox. Some prefer electrical screwdrivers over manually operated ones, but each has its respective advantages and disadvantages in certain scenarios, so it’s best to assess the applications you’ll be using them for most frequently.
Different Types of Screwdrivers
In addition to there being different types of screwdriver heads, there are also different types of screwdrivers. What is the difference you ask? Well, the head of the screwdriver refers to the type of drive configuration they’re designed to operate with, whereas the type of screwdriver refers to how it is operated or how it’s been designed to function in a given application.
The Manual Screwdriver
The manual screwdriver is pretty much every screwdriver type we’ve had a look at thus far. They consist of a handle, shaft, and head, and are operated by turning them manually. Usually, one turns them clockwise to tighten and anti-clockwise to loosen. Additionally, manual screwdrivers can be found in an “L” shape, which is most common with Torx and Allen-wrench screwdrivers.
The Ratchet Screwdriver
As the name suggests, this type of screwdriver is a combination of a ratchet driver and screwdriver, which means it requires less effort to use than a manual screwdriver. Instead of having to turn your hand all the way in one direction, remove the screwdriver from the fastener, reinsert it, and turn it again, the ratchet mechanism allows you to drive the fastener with a direct pushing motion in one direction only, with a choice of forward and reverse gears that allow you to turn it in both directions, or even lock it to use as a conventional driver. To identify a ratchet screwdriver, look out for the gear shifting button located between the handle and the shaft.
The Precision Screwdriver
If you’ve ever wanted to change the battery in your wristwatch or open up the back of your laptop, the chances are that you’ve either used or wished you had one of these. These screwdrivers are small and are generally used in the repair of electronics, clocks, wristwatches, and other devices that would have an impractical size to use regular-size screws/bolts on.
The Magnetic Tip Screwdriver
This is one of the most useful screwdriver types around. Not only are they available in various sizes, but they allow you to work comfortably in scenarios where the possibility of losing your screw/bolt while installing and/or removing it is high. The tips of these screwdrivers have been magnetized, ensuring that the screw/bolt remains attached to the screwdriver during installation and/or removal. You can usually identify these by their black magnetized tips.
The Multi-Bit Screwdriver
These are the kind of screwdrivers that you’d find on sale around Father’s Day and Christmas. They are essentially a neck and handle with a blank tip. Various screwdriver tips can be added and removed interchangeably based on your needs, and they usually attach by means of a wedge or magnet. The quality and reliability of these types of screwdrivers can vary considerably.
The Electronic Screwdriver
While you might think that this is simply a drill, it’s not. Electric screwdrivers can look a lot like small a drill though, and some even look like manual screwdrivers with the only difference being a tiny motor inside the handle! These screwdrivers often use rechargeable batteries and can save you loads of time and effort if your project is time-sensitive.
Types of Screwdriver Heads
Just like there are different types of drive configurations on bolts and screws, there are different types of screwdriver heads to accommodate them. Below are some of the most commonly used screwdriver head types that you could find yourself needing in everyday life and some of the most common applications they’re used in.
The Flat-Head Screwdriver
Arguably one of the most recognizable screwdrivers out there is the flat-head screwdriver. This type of screwdriver has been around for thousands of years according to some accounts, and this comes as no surprise considering that the shape of the head means that it can be used as a chisel, to pry things open (like paint cans) or to widen gaps if you find yourself in a pinch.
Although the shape of the flat-head screwdriver has been around for a while, the screwdriver itself was designed to be used with slotted screws, bolts, and clamps. You’d be hard-pressed not to find these types of screwdrivers in pretty much any country, or any household for that matter, anywhere around the world.
While they all tend to look the same, these screwdrivers are available in different shapes and sizes, some being slightly tapered, and others being extremely wide at the tip. In certain instances, only a particular size of flat-head screwdriver may be used with certain sizes of flat screws. Trying to use the incorrect size of flathead screwdriver could result in damage to the drive configuration of your bolt or screw.
The Phillips-Head Screwdriver
If there were ever a screwdriver that was more recognizable than the flat-head screwdriver, it would have to be the Phillips-head screwdriver. The flat-head and Phillips-head screwdrivers can be used to take apart virtually any commonly constructed item, from kid’s toys to power tools and even furnishings! The head of this screwdriver looks like two flat heads that have been bisected into one another, presenting the form of a four-pointed star.
This is the second oldest type of screwdriver head shape. They first came about in the late 1920s as a response to the invention of Phillips-head screws, which were used as quick and effective fasteners in the construction of automobiles. The heads of these crews are designed to prevent damage to drive configuration by intentionally forcing the screwdriver to cam out once a certain point of resistance is reached.
Depending on who you ask, the forced cam-out is either a good thing or a bad thing. The suddenness of the forced stop can result in damage to the workpiece or the screw itself in certain instances, due to the screwdriver slipping out of the drive configuration, and/or the possibility of the screw or bolt becoming cross-threaded.
The Posidrive Screwdriver
Another popular variant of the Phillips-head screwdriver is the posidrive screwdriver. It’s essentially the same as the Phillips-head screwdriver but it has additional points at 45-degree angles in between the larger flanges. These screwdrivers are designed to work specifically with the posidrive drive configurations on bolts and screws.
The additional flanges on the head of the screwdriver and the recesses located on the heads of the screws are designed to minimize cam-out and ensure that the bolt and/or screw can only be removed with this type of screwdriver. These screwdrivers and the subsequent screws are used in applications where a tremendous amount of torque will be applied to the fastener.
The Japanese Industrial Standard Screwdriver
There are loads of tools out there that either resemble other tools or are simply derivatives of others. A good example of these types of screwdrivers is the Japanese industrial standard screwdriver, which is used among other screwdrivers (as the name suggests) in the mass production of Japanese goods and materials.
This screwdriver is practically visually and functionally identical to the Phillips-head screwdriver. The defining difference between these two screwdrivers is at the tip, with the angle of the Japanese imperial standard being slightly sharper. This means that while in some instances these screwdrivers can be used interchangeably, most times the Phillips-head screwdriver head will be too large, or the Japanese imperial standard will be too pointed to be used interchangeably.
The Allen-Wrench Screwdriver
Most people tend to have one of these whether they’ve gone out and bought them or not. All wrench screwdrivers are the third most common type of screwdriver heads used in everyday applications, with flat and Phillips-head screwdrivers being the first and second most-common, respectively.
The head of the Allen-wrench screwdriver forms the shape of a hexagon. They are used to secure and remove Allen-head bolts specifically, which are used to secure and retain a wide range of objects and workpieces in instances where there might not be sufficient space to use a flat or Phillips-head bolt. The Allen-wrench screwdriver is very slim too, which makes it ideal for use in tight spots.
This type of wrench is commonly sold with various furnishings and machinery which require assembly at home, but these ones are usually quite small. Store-bought ones are usually larger, featuring an Allen-wrench head on either end of its L-shaped body. Allen-wrench screwdrivers are completely unique and hard to confuse for any other type of screwdriver.
The Torx-Head Screwdriver
Torx screwdrivers are actually a brand name, which refers to a screwdriver head that has a hexagonal shape on its business end. They are used exclusively to insert and remove Torx-head bolts, which are used in a variety of applications. Torx bolts are used in applications where security and reliability are common issues, as they aren’t easy to remove and tend to be reliable fasteners.
In the construction of furniture and other wood crafts, these are quite commonly used thanks to their resistance to cam out. Both the screwdrivers and the bolts can be a bit expensive because they aren’t used as commonly as some of the bolts, screws, and screwdrivers that we mentioned previously.
Unlike the Allen-head screwdriver, the Torx head is more conventionally shaped, ensuring that you have more leverage and the fact that they can be used with greater ease. However, there are Torx wrenches that are sold in the same style and shape as Allen wrenches for applications where the bolts and/or screws might be difficult to reach.
Uncommon Screwdriver Heads
While most of us can get by with a simple flat and Phillips-head screwdriver on hand, there are applications and industries where more obscure types of screwdriver heads are needed. These might be for a particular type of machinery, to prevent/deter theft, or simply to meet industry standards. This being said, let’s have a look at some of the less commonly used screwdriver head types, what types of fasteners they’re used for, and the applications of those fasteners.
The Square/Robertson Screwdriver
Another super specific type of screwdriver that you might not come across in your everyday life is the Robertson screwdriver. This screwdriver’s head is square in shape and tapers slightly towards the tip to increase leverage when turning. These are used exclusively for the insertion and removal of Robertson head screws, which tend to be the most popular in Canada.
This doesn’t mean that they aren’t popular in other parts of the world though, as they’re used in breaker boards all over the world to prevent and deter tampering with sensitive equipment. This being said, there aren’t a lot of other applications where this type of drive configuration and screwdriver would be applicable.
In addition to screwdrivers like Phillips heads, Robertson head screws were also used in the construction of automobiles during the Mopar error, but they were not as popular as Phillips heads due to the fact that the screwdrivers were less commonly sold, and therefore automotive repair companies and individuals could not perform general maintenance and repair easily.
The Tri-Point Screwdriver
The tri-point screwdriver is one of the least used types of screwdrivers by everyday individuals. The tri-point screwdriver is one of the least used types of screwdrivers by everyday individuals.
The chances are that unless you work with electronics like computers, smartphones, or the installation of security gates, you probably haven’t even seen one of these. On the odd chance that you have, you’ve probably had to use them to insert or remove tri-headed screws or bolts.
Tri-head bolts are only used in specific applications as they can be a challenge to come by, and it can be difficult to get your hands on a tri-head screwdriver too. Due to this reason, they make an excellent tamper and theft deterrent, which is why most high-end electronics manufacturers and security gates use these screw types to secure and retain their workpieces.
Alternatives to Screwdrivers
You might find yourself in a position where you don’t have a screwdriver handy, and if you do it’s good to know what you can use as a viable substitute for one. Here are a few things you can use if you ever find yourself needing a screwdriver but can’t seem to find one, but keep in mind that these should be used cautiously to ensure that you don’t damage them or your fastener.
An aptly sized coin can be used if you can’t seem to get your hands on a screwdriver. Simply insert the coin into the slot of a Phillips-head or flat-head screw and do your best to turn the bolt in or out as needed. Finding a coin that’s the right size can be a bit of a challenge, but the chances are that if you do some looking around you should be able to find one that works.
One of the tried-and-true alternatives to using a screwdriver is the common butterknife. Their blades are thin and rigid enough to allow you to drive a screw, and unlike other alternatives, they have a handle that makes them easy to use. Always ensure that your butterknife is clean (and disposable) before using it as a substitute for a screwdriver.
Pair of Pliers
This might be a bit trickier to pull off compared to using a butter knife or coin. The aforementioned fit neatly inside the slot of the screw or bolt you’re trying to work with. Pliers on the other hand fit around the exterior of the bolt, and if the surface is sheet it can be tough to both grip and turn the fastener. This being said, try not to damage your fastener and pliers if you use this method.
This might not be the most elegant means of removing a fastener that has become stubborn over the years, but it does work. Using your hacksaw to saw off the head of a bolt, and then using a drill to drill into it, can be a useful last resort. You might need to re-tap the internal thread of the bolt if you use this method though.
Are you frustrated with a bolt or nut that simply will not come loose? Well, there’s a saying in engineering: “it can’t be tight if it’s a liquid”. Light up your blowtorch and revert that fastener back to its base elements within a few seconds. Just keep in mind that you will definitely have to re-tap the internal thread of your workpiece if you use this method.
Now that you know about the different screwdriver heads out there, what they are used for, some different screwdriver types, and some things that you can use as an alternative to a screwdriver, it’s time for you to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember to always consider the application and the potential impact on your workpiece before using a screwdriver for anything other than its intended application.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Screwdrivers For?
Different types of screwdrivers are used to secure and remove different types of screws. Screwdrivers and screws are generally designed to work with one another, although the screwdriver is typically developed to fit the screw and not vice versa.
Are Screwdrivers Hand Tools?
Screwdrivers are classified as hand tools since they are driven by hand and not by an automated mechanism. Although, these days there are loads of electronically driven screwdrivers of varying shapes and sizes to choose from.
What Are the Three Types of Screwdrivers?
There are loads of types of screwdrivers out there for special applications, but the three primary types of screwdrivers are flat-, Phillips-, and Allen-head screwdrivers. These are the most common due to the screws they’re designed to work with being the most commonly used fasteners in many industries across the world.