Light fixtures, electronics, kitchen appliances, the battery door on kids toys, cabinet doors, curtain rods, furniture, and just about anything else you can think of is probably held together by screws. This is likely to be the most frequently used tool in your arsenal, and there are plenty to choose from beyond the basic Flathead (which also goes by slotted or standard) and Phillips versions. This post will make sure you’re equipped with enough knowledge to build a screwdriver set that will tackle a wide range of projects with as little frustration as possible.
This is the second post in the series. See the first post here: Building a Toolkit Post #1 The Hammer and a directory of all our posts on tools in the Subject Matter Organizer. Links below may be affiliate links, see Disclosure on Affiliations .
There are really only three parts to a screwdriver, the handle, the tip, and the tip. You grip the handle to apply torque to a screw. The tip is just a shape that matches a recess on the screw-head (like a lock and a key). And the shaft connects the two. Starting out, we should cover some basic dos and don’ts plus some features that you’ll be looking to consider when choosing which screwdriver is right for your kit.
- A screwdriver is not a pry bar, a can opener, a hole punch for drywall, etc. I’ve tried most of these examples through the years and have several broken tips, skinned knuckles, ruined projects, and other reminders to not misuse tools.
- Having a variety of lengths matters. The standard length works great on most things, but having a long or stubby option available when you can’t reach something any other way makes a job go much smoother.
- Handles aren’t just about comfort (see figure 1 below). While it should fit well in you hand, look for some shape that will be easy to grip tightly. That handle is what decides how much of your force can be applied to the screw. You need a good surface that won’t slip around in your hand (for instance, a smooth handle with no ridges is awful). Triangles, pentagons, and hexagons with various amounts of raised features are all popular and work well. Big thick handles are great for generating that extra bit of torque but take up quite a bit of room in the toolbox if you have a full set.
- You need to select the right sized bit/head to avoid damaging the screw head. If there’s a lot of wiggle (often referred to as play) when you put the screwdriver tip into the screw head there’s a bigger chance it will damage the metal (called stripping the head). The connection should be as tight as possible while still allowing the tip to be fully inserted for good contact between the two. This allows all the force you put on the screwdriver to transfer evenly to the screw. Too big is often just as bad as too small, as both sizing mistakes cause damage.
- Since this is such a frequently used tool, I want to stress a consideration for higher quality. Manufacturing methods (like cold or drop forged) and higher quality alloys help the tools hold up well over time. When using these tools, they don’t flex and deform nearly as much and last a very long time. I’ll include some higher quality examples below in the buy it once selections.