Points to Know About the Screwdriver

FIG. 1. SCREWDRIVER TYPES
A. is the large London pattern.
B The cabinet type.
C. Ratchet screwdriver.
D. Electrician’s pattern.
E. Plane iron screwdriver.

The following is excerpted from Vol. II of “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Techniques.” This book is chock-full of invaluable hand-tool technique instruction and tool knowledge…including finer points about screwdrivers. I didn’t know until I started working with nice hardware that the screwdriver mattered – it absolutely does.

Fitz

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There are many varieties of screwdrivers, some made for special jobs and others for general work, but from the woodworker’s point of view and disregarding for the moment such luxury tools as the spiral or the ratchet, there are two main patterns known as the London and the cabinet types respectively.

Actually there is little to choose between them. Screws can be put in equally well with either, so that it is largely a matter of personal preference. Actually the London is the more robust of the two so that it is a good plan, assuming that one is going to have two screwdrivers, to choose the London pattern for the large one and the cabinet for the other. The two types are shown at A and B, Fig. 1.

What are the best types and sizes of screwdrivers for the man who makes furniture? Well, he should have an absolute minimum of two, preferably three, and, better still, four. It is not just a matter of convenience. Remember that too big a tool only results in the slot of the screw becoming burred over; too small a one will probably result in the screwdriver being spoilt, and it will most likely prove impossible to drive in the screw. That is why so many are advisable.

The largest will have to deal with really heavy screws such as are required for main carcase work—12s, 14s, and 16s. A small one is useless for such work, and it must be long enough to enable both hands to be used with pressure and power. A blade length of 10 or 12 in. is advisable (see A, Fig. 1). This illustration shows the typical screwdriver handle, flat and wide, this enabling the hands to obtain a good grip and ample leverage.

For medium size screws such as might be used for larger cabinet backs and moderately heavy fixings—say, round about No. 8 gauge—the screwdriver at B is needed. The larger one at A would probably not fit the slot and would be too cumbersome in any case, and anything smaller would not give enough power. It has a blade length of 4 ins. The handle of this is of oval shape, but is machine turned instead of being plain circular turned with the sides flattened as at A. These cabinet screwdrivers invariably have handles of boxwood.

Cabinet hinges require screws of gauges varying from about 4 to 6. The majority are round about No. 5, and a screwdriver for this size is imperative. That at B is too large. We strongly advise the ratchet type shown at C. It is not always possible to have an assistant to hold a door whilst the screws are put in, and this means having to hold it with one hand. Thus only one hand is available for the screwdriver, and it is awkward to have to shift the position of the hand on the tool as each turn is made. Using the ratchet it is merely a matter of rocking the hand back and forth, the blade of the screwdriver remaining in the slot. The finger grip, too, is invaluable since the first few turns can be made with the finger and thumb, the hand remaining still. The overall length of C is 8 in.

Some fittings require screws for which this ratchet is too big. Small locks and hinges often need screws of 2 gauge. A common practice is to use a bradawl, but this is not very satisfactory. It takes the edge off the tool, and in any case is too soft for the job. Often enough it results in the slot being burred over. The electricians screwdriver (D) is just the thing. A fairly long spindle is desirable as it is sometimes necessary to reach into awkward places. The stout stubby screwdriver shown at E is not a necessity, but is shown here because it is a tool made exclusively for woodworkers. It is a plane iron screwdriver and is intended for the worker to keep handy for unscrewing the back iron of his planes when sharpening.

FIG. 2. GOOD AND BAD SHAPES

When you buy a screwdriver it may easily happen that the end is too thick for the work it has to do. This is a mistake because, although too thin a blade is a bad fault, a thick end will not allow it to enter the screw slot to the full extent. It should bed right down to the bottom because otherwise it is liable to ride out of the slot and so burr over the edges. An experienced man can tell by looking at the edge whether it is right, but a test is to try it in the smallest screw it is supposed to tackle.

You can generally use a fine file to thin down the end because the temper of a screwdriver is such that a file will just touch it. If made any harder it would be too brittle for its work. You can, however, always use the oilstone—in fact, it is a good idea to finish off with this to take out the deep marks left by the file. Don’t make the mistake of filing at too much of an angle. The slope should be as gradual as is consistent with strength (see A, Fig. 2). If it is bevelled too much as at B it will be liable to ride out of the screw slot.

Many screwdrivers have the fault of being too wide at the end. This means that the corners project from the sides of the screw and, in the case of a counter-sunk screw, are liable to dig into the wood and leave unsightly marks.


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