Jul 11, 2017

ManMade Essential Toolbox: In Praise of the High-Quality Screwdriver Set

created at: 08/26/2015

Let's be clear: none of us are here to discuss the basics of what a screwdriver is, or what it can do. Its purpose is clear. It's right there in the name.

Nor is it important to name all the different varieties of tasks it can perform. Because it can't do much.  If you use them properly, they're not a paint can opener. They're not a punch, or a chisel, or a pry bar. They do two things: tighten hardware, and loosen hardware. 

Instead, I will say this: a high-quality set of wood handled screwdrivers are a true joy to use. They are comfortable, practical, and extremely efficient. They inspire me to use them regularly (instead of reaching for a drill or impact driver), and provide the kind of control you need to drive precision hardware. Are they necessary for building a house or screwing on your new license plate? No. But if you, like me, take on a variety of creative and household projects that require a large variety of hardware, a really, really nice set of screwdrivers are worth having, and worth the price. $5.00 - $7.00 is not too much for a tool that will last lifetimes.

created at: 08/26/2015

What Makes for a Super Nice Screwdriver?

Simple: unplated, precision ground tips, and shanks formed and hardened from high quality steel. That's it. The custom hollow-grinding of these tool tips creates minimally small tolerances that won't damage hardware. This isn't an enormous deal when driving a box of new drywall screws, but is of paramount importance when working with existing hardware, especially those related to original or antique pieces of value (think furniture, cabinet hinges, etc), or when dealing with soft brass screw heads. 

The best screwdrivers tend to come from woodworking shops, or those intended for gunsmithing, which requires precision hardware placement, mechanics, and mounting. I'm not a gun owner or user, but the quality of these tools is undeniable. The steel is hardened to high standards to prevent twisting, chipping, or rolling over, and, on the slotted drivers, have a square shanked blade that can be grasped with a wrench. 

Wooden handles provide a comfortable user experience, and prevent slipping when your hands are covered in machine oil, or sweat from working on a hot day.

created at: 08/26/2015

Another big benefit to a high-quality screwdriver: the length of their shank increases as the driving tip gets larger. This keeps the torque and pressure appropriate for the hardware size, and makes hand driving much easier. 


created at: 08/26/2015

Which Screwdrivers Should You Get? 

Lastly, this: There is no tool I use more than a screwdriver. For small household tasks like changing lightbulbs to hanging a picture or window blinds to fixing a rattling cabinet. For full-on built-from-scratch furniture projects. For repairing, fixing, and setting up my guitars. For fine-tuning my bicycle. For keeping my sewing machine and table saw and everything in between in good working order. For my wife to use for her jewelry making and other creative tasks.

I don't know if I use them everyday, but I use one five days a week, for sure. They are, guaranteed, the tool I most commonly go out to my garage shop to get, and the space they leave behind on my pegboard is, by far, the most empty. To me, that means it's worth getting a set that I love, can trust for all the variety of tasks, and that are a pleasure and inspiring to use. Even looking at these photographs writing this up makes me want to go out in the garage and make stuff. Can you say that about a rubber-handled, plated driver made from cheap steel in China? 

Maybe you don't rush out and replace every one you own right now. Maybe you wait until you've got a gift card, or you ask for a set for your birthday. Maybe you treat yourself when you're about to take on a big project. But once you've paid $40 for them, you can pass them along to your grandkids' grandkids. That's a worthwhile investment to me.

created at: 08/26/2015

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Kai on Oct 07, 2019:

Holy crap, I think that I've got a really old Grace phillips screwdriver! I inherited it from my grandfather after he passed on 10 years ago, and I've been using it nearly every day at my bike shop since then. When I think about it, it's my favorite tool, and I don't think about it that often (or often enough...) I really should put a frame around it and display it on a wall, but it just works too well: it's perfectly balanced, the real wood handle feels superb, and it can handle all but the smallest phillips heads. Anyways, it's great to know this tool maker still exists...definitely thinking about getting a new set now. Thanks for the great post!

Fred on Sep 01, 2016:

Correction Wera, not Wear.

Fred on Sep 01, 2016:



If I would invest around 40$/€, the money would go to Wear or maybe Wiha screwdrivers and not the ones from Grace pictured above. They look great on the picture, but I don't think they are very comfortable or versatile.

Fred on Sep 01, 2016:


And you not only want your hands to be comfortable but also you want to be able to but as much momentum as possible from your hand to your screwdriver. Your hands will thank you for investing into some good tools.

Fred on Sep 01, 2016:

Of course there are, let's call them heavy duty screwdrivers. But one screwdriver is not like another. If you want to do electrical work, buy at least one certified insulated (for high voltage) screwdriver. If you do heavy work, look for screwdrivers that you can abuse with a hammer etc.


But most importantly: don't buy screwdrivers with a square handle. If you use them a lot, you want your hands to be as comfortable as possible with the shape and the feeling of the tool.

Anonymous on Aug 31, 2015:

I've found anti-cam-out screwdrivers to be really great for installing (and taking out) those little box hinges. The screws that come with them are always so small and so soft that practically any other screwdriver inevitably strips them out, and on a decorative piece like a nice wooden box, stripped screw heads are a real eyesore.