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