Screwdrivers 101

Screwdrivers are a necessity around the homestead. What types do you need? A flat blade and Phillips to start. Read on to see what else you'll want.

14" WWII Armored Vehicle Screwdriver
14" WWII Armored Vehicle Screwdriver

The basic and expanded loadouts

Screwdrivers are the very essence of simplicity. Now, you might challenge that saying the hammer is the champ of simplicity. After all, the first known tool was the hammer. Okay, a rock with the perfect shape. But, look at the number of different hammers!

Screwdrivers come in two basic flavors, flat (the original) and Phillips. Boom, that's it. Of course, they are available in sizes from tiny for watchmakers to gigantic for WWII tank repair.

So, what do you need in your simple fixes tool kit? Just the two below, both Craftsman. By the way, the flat blade is 50+ years old. Remember, buy quality tools.

3/16" Craftsman Flat Blade and No. 2 Craftsman Phillips Screwdrivers
3/16" Craftsman Flat Blade and #2 Craftsman Phillips Head Screwdrivers

These two screwdrivers do 99% of everything I need around the house. Tasks like:

  • Removing a light switch plate
  • Tightening a ground screw in a ceiling fan installation
  • Tightening loose hinge screws
  • And more

Expand your capacity

If you want additional flexibility in the sizes of screws you can tackle, a four-tip screwdriver is a perfect solution. In fact, I use it more often than my two one-trick ponies, er, screwdrivers above. The picture below shows one of mine assembled and broken into its component parts. This tool has the same 3/16" flat and P2 Phillips tips, a 1/8" flat tip for smaller screws and a P3 Phillips for larger screws of that type.

Four-tip Screwdriver with two flat and two Phillips head bits
Four-tip Screwdriver with two flat and two Phillips head bits

Fun fact: Each size of a Phillips screwdriver can handle at least two different sizes of Phillips head screws. Just learned that writing this post. You'll be a hit at your next social gathering with this gem!

Bit and socket sets

With a flat blade and Phillips screwdriver, you are good to go for practically everything you'll want to do around the pad. As you get some miles on your DIYing adventure, you may want to beach out into more exotic screw types of which there are thirteen commonly encountered. Say, isn't that an unlucky number? So I am told, but the screw industry doesn't seem to care. Gracing the tops of these are thirteen different screw heads.

Why the different types?

Screws come with different types of heads for any number of reasons. However, they are generally the result of some form of security. Next time you are in a public restroom, take a gander at the screw heads holding the stall together. Note, be sure to do this in your own stall or an unoccupied one. People are funny when their business is interrupted.

The most common two are the Torx and the Clutch. Torx screws have a 6-point star with a post in the center while the Clutch screws look just like a horribly stripped out flat head screw. Over the history of the public restroom, folks have found ways to disassemble the stall walls and other items. Don't ask me what posses people to do this. Flat and Phillips head screwdrivers are ubiquitous making dismantling easy. Torx and Clutch are not nearly as common. Dismantling vandals will have to satisfy themselves in other ways.

Here are the current screw head variants. Screw heads with a security post count as their own deal since a special bit is required to use them.

  • Flat
  • Phillips
  • Torx -- plain and security (the post I mentioned)
  • Torq
  • Star -- ​plain and security
  • Square
  • Hex -- ​plain and security
  • Spanner
  • Pozi -- not affiliated in any way with Ponzi schemes
  • Tri-wing -- yes, it does look like a Star Wars vessel

Do you need a tool for each screw head type?

The short answer is no because you'll rarely encounter anything outside the flat and Phillips. The tool freak's answer is, hell yes! Why? Because we love tools and because we take stuff apart for recycling that often has these rarified screw head types.

What you do not need is a dedicated tool for each type. Outfit yourself with a bit assortment. Years ago on a trip to Smoky Mountains Knife Works, the largest knife store in the world, with my Dad, son and brother, I came across the amazing kit you see below. Great quality and an unreal price, $12 if I recall correctly. I felt like I had discovered a buried treasure!

With this treasure trove of bit goodies, there is no screw that can escape my clutches. Cue maniacal laughter here.

Boxer 100 Piece Screw Head Bit Set
Boxer 100 Piece Screw Head Bit Set

These bits work in a handle and in my power drill. Have I used all of them? Not by a long shot, but I have them when I do.

If you ever find yourself around Knoxville, TN and you love knives, you MUST go to the Smoky Mountains Knife works. You must.

Is there something a little less "complete?"

Why I am glad you asked because there is. Before stumbling across the Boxer set, I purchased a bit and socket set, again with my Dad. He and I enjoyed going to toll and knife places to see what bargains we could find.  It was great fun. Anyway, on one such adventure in Minneapolis, I found a very nice bit and socket set, which you'll see below. I recommend you look for something comparable. I can use my Boxer bits in this handle, BTW.

Screw bit and socket set (Metric and SAE) with handle and extension
Screw bit and socket set (metric and SAE) with handle and extension

Other form factors

Screwdrivers come in all shapes and sizes. Some have 90o bends to get into tight places. Others are stubby at 3" long. Some come with pocket clips. Some are for working on delicate things like a watch movement. Specialty sets abound with a handle and multiple tips for electronics. ​I have all of these.

Then there are those designed for heavy-duty action; brutes you can use for heavy-duty work like armored vehicle repair. Take a look at my armored vehicle screwdriver below.

14" WWII Tank Crew Screwdriver
14" WWII Tank Crew Screwdriver

Do you need them all?

As much as it pains me to say it, not really. I have used the stubby flat blade screwdriver once. It was awful. The 90o Phillips is clumsy and frustrating. I work on watches so I regularly use my jeweler's screwdrivers. And, I use the electronics set when working on cell phones and the like.

My recommendations

Buy a quality four-tip screwdriver and you cover just about every base. As an alternative, or in addition to the four-tip, invest in a set with the sockets and bits.