The hand tool known as a screwdriver according to the earliest records has been used since the late middle ages. Screwdrivers are used for insertion and removal of screws and are available in a multitude of variations to correspond to the correct screw drive. The drive or head of a screw has a shaped cavity and protrusion that fits the screwdriver tip to allow turning force known as torque to be applied in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. This guide gives an overview of screwdrivers to provide information on what they are made of, the different types and their application.

screwdriver set

What are screwdrivers made of?

The three main parts that constitute a screwdriver are as follows:

  • Handle
  • Shaft or shank
  • Drive tip or bit

All three parts are made in a production process using machines to form the correct shape of material using an extruder and heat treating it to achieve the desired tensile strength.


Handle

screwdriver handle

The screwdriver handle which is used for gripping has changed material over time and has increased in variety for different applications. The handle is generally shaped to prevent rolling on flat surfaces and can also be ergonomic to improve comfort when gripping. Most commonly the handles are made of a composite of hard plastic such as cellulose acetate and rubber and can be covered in a soft material such as a thermoplastic rubber to improve grip.


Shaft or shank

screwdriver shaft

The screwdriver shaft or shank is commonly made of strong steel to ensure that bending or twisting deformation does not occur when applying force. The shaft is rounded or has a hexagonal shape so that a spanner or wrench can be used to apply increased torque. The shaft is generally different colouration and material to the drive tip which can be interchangeable.


Drive tip or bit

screwdriver tip

The drive tip can be an integrated part of the shank if it is not detachable or it can be an interchangeable part known as a driver bit similar to drill bits. A cordless drill can be used as an electric screwdriver in this capacity. Drive tips can be made in a variety of metals and alloys such as:

  • Titanium
  • Stainless steel
  • Tool grade steel or S2
  • High speed steel or HSS
  • Chromium-vanadium-molybdenum or CVM tool steel
  • Other non-sparking metals to reduce combustion risk

  • There are two primary methods of making screwdriver bits:

    1. Forged bits
      1. This is done by heating the metal and hammering it to shape it.
      2. These are stronger than machined bits as they do not interrupt the grain of the metal and can therefore drive screws into hard and soft materials.
    2. Machined bits
      1. These are made by cutting the metal against the grain and using machine precision to cut to a specific shape.
      2. The downside to machine bits is that they are more brittle and therefore susceptible to shattering when screw driving into hard materials.

    Other specialist methods of creating or treating screwdriver tips are:

    1. Tempering

      • To improve the hardness of the drive tip, the screwdriver bits have very high temperatures applied to them before allowing a slow cooling to take place.
        Tempering
    2. Freezing

      • The inverse of tempering, screwdriver bits are exposed to extreme low temperature which is intended to increase strength and prolong the life of the drive tip.
        Freezing
    3. Coating

      • Titanium coating and in some cases diamond coating is applied to drive tips to increase the lifespan of the bit by allowing it to endure more wear for a prolonged period of time.
        Coating

What are the Screwdriver types?

The different types of screwdriver are primarily down to the drive tip shape required for a specific head type of a given screw. However, there are other types of screwdriver that are application specific which will be detailed in this section.

Most common screw drive tip types

Slotted screwdriver Flat head or slotted screwdriver This screwdriver type is probably the most common form of hand tool. It has a flattened tip used for screws with a straight linear intrusion across the head.
Phillips screwdriver Phillips screwdriver This is the second most common screwdriver type and fits Phillips head screws which have a cross shape recess and were invented to be able to take more torque.
Torx screwdriver Torx or star screwdriver Torx is the trademark for a type of screw head with a six point star intrusion, hence the generic name star screwdriver. These exist to ensure even more torque can be applied, in mechanical production for example.
Hex screwdriver Hex screwdriver A more popular tool for loosening or tightening hex screws is an Allen key or wrench. However hex drivers exist to serve the same purpose.
Pozidriv screwdriver Pozidriv screwdriver This screwdriver type is essentially an upgraded version of Philips, it was designed to reduce cam-out, which is the process where a screwdriver slips out of the screw head when more torque is applied.
Square screwdriver Robertson or square screwdriver As the name implies, this fits screws with a square shaped recess. This was invented to reduce the cam-out issue of the slotted screws and therefore sped up the fastening process.
Tri wing screwdriver Tri wing screwdriver These are used for specific devices such as consoles, mobile phones and cameras. These are slightly different than the tri point Y0 screwdrivers which are commonly confused.

Other less common screwdriver tip types

  • Triangle
  • Pentalobe

Torque screwdrivers

Not to be confused with Torx screwdrivers, these are similar to torque wrenches in that they are used to apply a specified torque which is meant to be just enough but not too excessive. These are ideal for tightening screws sufficiently without breaking the material they are fastening and inversely tight enough so they do not fall out. These types of screwdriver have a torque-limiting clutch that allows a limit on how much force is applied beyond a certain threshold.

Ratchet screwdrivers

A ratchet screwdriver has a built in mechanism that allows the application of force only in one direction while allowing free movement in the other direction. These hand tools are similar in function to ratchet spanners.

Magnetic screwdrivers

The screwdriver tip is magnetised to allow screws to be attracted to the screwdriver by magnetic force without accidentally dropping them. This is useful for working on electronics where screws are small and can be easily dropped into hard to reach places.

Electric screwdrivers and impact drivers

These are driven by an electric motor – electric or cordless screwdrivers are generally compact tools that are good for using around the home for more basic tasks such as assembling furniture or screwing into soft wood other similar materials. Impact drivers on the other hand, are essentially dedicated to more heavy duty tasks for tightening or loosening fasteners using sudden force to drive into or remove from harder denser materials.

Tethered screwdrivers

This is simply when there is a wrist strap attached to the handle of the screwdriver for professionals working at height in cases where dropping the screwdriver accidentally must be avoided.

Insulated screwdrivers

For taking safety precautions, an insulated screwdriver is constructed from non-conductive materials, for example a rubber tipped screwdriver.

Precision screwdrivers

These screwdrivers are used for very small devices where extremely small screws are used. An example of this would be for watches and mobile phones.

Multi bit screwdrivers

These are basically screwdrivers that have interchangeable tips that can be part of a screwdriver bit set.

Screwdriver sizes and sets

  • Screwdrivers come in many different sizes from large, medium and small but also stubby screwdrivers when being used in tight spaces.
  • Screwdriver sets are very useful when it comes to having a variety of screwdriver tips in one place such as those mentioned in the previous section of this article. For example there are precision screwdriver sets for working on electronics.

Different screwdriver applications

The screwdriver is one of the most essential hand tools in any workman’s kit. There are many situations and professions where a screwdriver is integral to carrying out a specific task revolving around loosening or tightening fasteners.

  • Electronics
  • Opening consoles - Xbox/Playstation
  • Opening Mobile phones
  • Opening Macbooks
  • Mechanical and industrial production
  • Woodworking/carpentry
  • Fastening wood to metal
  • Flammable environments


Other common questions related to screwdriver applications

Can you use a magnetic screwdriver on a computer?

Yes - the magnet is generally not strong enough to cause damage to electrical components, however you should be careful not to touch exposed circuitry near screw holes on a motherboard or hard drives.

What screwdrivers to open PS4?

Precision Torx T8 screwdrivers are ideal for the star head screws used on the Sony Playstation 4.

What screwdrivers to open Macbook Pro?

The P5 Pentalobe screwdriver is used to open the Apple Retina Macbook Pro.

What screwdrivers to open iPhone?

A precision P2 Pentalobe screwdriver is required to open an Apple iPhone.


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