- Best Screwdriver Set
- Best Flat Head Screwdriver
- Best Phillips Head Screwdriver
- Best Ratcheting Screwdriver
- Best Multi-Bit Screwdriver
There is a wider range of fasteners available nowadays than there were on the market when I first started working in a shop, but those square head screws aren't much use if you don't have the right driver. The following lists cover all of the basics and a few specialty drivers that I think need a place in your shop. No matter the style of driver I can guarantee that each of these lists is populated by high quality tools that are built to last. It may be "just a screwdriver," but buying a quality driver is just as important as any other tool in the shop and you'll thank me 20 years down the line when they are still going strong.
Best Screwdriver Set:
There are just some categories of tools where you have to have a variety of different tools to get the job done. Screwdrivers are one of the prime examples of that. Styles of screws and the jobs they are used on appear in so many different places that it's impossible to meet all your possible needs with just a few standard sizes. This is clearly one of those "more the merrier" portions of your tool collection.
The biggest reason to buy a screwdriver set, rather than just buying individual screwdrivers, is to save money. You will find a significant savings on screwdriver sets, even if they do include some screwdrivers that you don't really want.
When we talk about a screwdriver set, most refer to just flat blade and Phillips head screwdrivers. Those are the most common sizes used, so it makes sense that people would think of them first. However, today's autos and equipment use many more styles of screws than these. Unfortunately, most screwdriver sets have not caught up with what's being used, so even if you buy a rather complete set, there's a good chance that you're going to need other options somewhere along the way.
But while quantity is important in a screwdriver set, it is eclipsed by quality. I've owned some low quality screwdriver sets bought out of expediency at a time when I needed them, and have been very unhappy with the results. Basically, low quality screwdrivers wear out quickly, as the steel in the blades isn't strong enough to withstand the forces applied to them.
Another problem with cheap screwdriver sets is they might not fit the screws correctly. I've seen many a flat blade screwdriver that was too thick to fit in a standard screw slot and this meant using too small a screwdriver. I've also seen some Phillips screwdrivers which didn't properly fit into the socket in the screw head. In both cases, the screwdrivers were easily damaged by the torque being applied to a smaller area than normal.
The key to any screwdriver is quality metal, properly ground and hardened. This ensures that the screwdriver will mate up correctly with the screw head and that it is strong enough to withstand the torque applied, over and over again.
Besides the metal used in the screwdriver shaft and point, the other important issue is the handle. Pretty much any screwdriver handle will work, but the better designed ones provide a superior grip and comfort for your hand.
Grip in a screwdriver handle means that you can apply torque to the screwdriver without the handle slipping in your hand. This is usually accomplished by the shape of the handle which can either have wide grooves cut into it like the Craftsman screwdrivers, or have a unique shape which provides large protrusions to lock against your hand like the square shaped handles of the SK screwdrivers.
How the handles mate to the shafts is important as well, as this is the prime place for a screwdriver to come apart. However, unless you are buying some of the cheapest screwdrivers out there, this really isn't all that much of an issue.
If you want to make sure you have a complete screwdriver set, take a good look at this 41 piece set from Craftsman. Not only do you get a huge selection of tools, but they come with the famous Craftsman lifetime warranty. Read Full Review
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SK's set is actually a better quality set than the others on this page, in a number of ways. Most importantly, thy have a hex boss on the shaft, right by the handle, allowing you to put a wrench or pliers on the screwdriver, for extra torque. Read Full Review
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Stanley, best known as a consumer brand of tools, provides a nice 20 piece set. This one has six precision screwdrivers, which are normally not sold in these sets. So, you've got the screwdrivers you need for compact electronics as well. Read Full Review
DeWalt builds their tools for professionals, making sure that they are rugged enough to handle the abuse normal to a jobsite. All the screwdrivers in this set are magnetized, helping to prevent loss of screws. Read Full Review
More than anything, Snap-On is known for their exceptional quality. This set has cabinet screwdrivers, rather than keystone flat blade screwdrivers. That's ideal for getting into tight spaces or deep "pockets" to access the screws. Read Full Review
Best Flat Head Screwdriver:
Screwdrivers are some of the most used tools in anyone's toolbox. While not the fanciest or most complex tools around, they are essential. Sadly, too many people settle for cheap screwdrivers and then complain when they have problems with them. Like any tool, it's worth spending money on quality screwdrivers.
The straight blade or flat head screwdriver is probably the oldest and most common type of screwdriver there is. In times past, most screws were slotted head, making this the most important screwdriver in anyone's tool kit. Now, Phillips head screws have taken over from slotted screws for most applications, relegating this screwdriver to support uses.
However, that doesn't mean that the flat head screwdriver is only for opening paint cans, prying off caps and scraping off gaskets. To use these tools in this manner would be abusing them, rendering them useless for their intended purpose. For a flat head screwdriver to work, it's blade needs to be straight and the corners sharp; misusing it ruins those characteristics, making it hard to use the tool for its intended purpose.
For a flat head screwdriver to be a quality tool, it must be made of quality steel. Otherwise, the blade becomes rounded and bent, making it harder to use. High quality steel will last longer and retain its shape, without turning into an ice pick.
Many lower quality screwdriver manufacturers try to make up for the lack of quality in their materials by making the blade thicker at the point. What that gives you is a screwdriver that won't fit in the slot of the screw. So, you end up using a smaller screwdriver, which doesn't have as wide a blade. That lowers the torque it provides and increases the chance of the screwdriver blade ending up twisted.
How the screwdriver connects to the handle is important as well. A poorly designed screwdriver will strip out of the handle, ruining the screwdriver. You need something more than just a textured end to the blade, you need protrusions on the blade, which will positively engage the material in the handle.
The other important part of the screwdriver is the handle. A good handle will fit the hand well and be easy to grip, so that the screwdriver doesn't rotate in your hand, when you apply torque to it. This can be accomplished by the handle's shape or the material it is made of. Some modern screwdrivers are covered in an elastomeric material, increasing the friction between the handle and the hand. That works extremely well to ensure a good grip, as well as reduce operator fatigue.
The most popular size for flat head screwdrivers is 1/4 inch, although they are available in both larger and smaller sizes. However, this size fits the most screws that you are likely to encounter in a home, other than in compact electronic equipment. Therefore, we're going to concentrate on this size.
Screwdriver lengths can vary as well. Typically, when you talk about the length of a screwdriver, you're referring to the length from the tip to the beginning of the handle. While the most common size is about 4 inches long, making the overall screwdriver length 8 to 9 inches long, a longer screwdriver is often easier to use and prevents you from having to bend over as much, while you do the work.
The most common shape for a flat head screwdriver is a "keystone" shape. That refers to the design of the tip, which widens out a bit before getting to the main part of the shank, in a keystone shape. If a screwdriver does not have this keystone shape, it is known as a cabinet screwdriver, used specifically for cabinet making, where the keystone might cause problems getting to counter-bored hardware.
SK Tools offers a particularly nice handle on their screwdrivers, making it out of two different hardened materials. The square shape offers lots of torque, and if that's not enough, there's a hex boss on the shaft to put a wrench on. Read Full Review
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I think that Matco might have the nicest screwdriver handle on the market. Their unique triangular design gives you excellent grip, allowing you to really torque down on screws. A patented flocked surface provides sure, non-slip grip. Read Full Review
Klein has reverted to an older design, which has a rubber sleeve all the way around the handle. Or, maybe I should say that they never left this design, while others have come and gone. This one has definitely passed the test of time. Read Full Review
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Snap-On not only provides high quality, but also some very unique tools. This 28 and 3/4 inch long screwdriver is ideal for getting to screws that you can't otherwise reach. Read Full Review
The handle of the Greenlee screwdriver is very similar to that of the Klein. However, their blade shank is square, allowing you to attach a wrench or pair of pliers for added torque. Read Full Review
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Best Phillips Head Screwdriver:
Phillips head screws have taken over as the main type of screws used in construction, automotive and manufacturing. While there are many reasons for this, the major driving force has been power tools. The bits used on power tools need positive contact with the screw head, to ensure that they don't slip.
The main advantage that Phillips heads have over straight head is the positive contact between the screw head and the screwdriver bit. The flat head screwdriver only has two points of contact which may not meet well, due to the screwdriver tip size and the slot size. Phillips head screws and screwdrivers on the other hand are made to exacting sizes, providing four points of exact contact. The indentation is also fully contained within the head, preventing the screwdriver bit from slipping out.
Typically, power tools can't work at all with slotted head screws, especially those which use automatic feeders. But even in the case of simple power tools, the operator has to locate the bit exactly in the slot or risk stripping out the head. With Phillips head screws, as long as the tool starts slowly, it will make positive contact as soon as the bit rotates to match the indentation in the screw head.
This is not to say that the Phillips head design is the best possible screw head design as there are some other designs that provide more positive contact and better at self-locating. But to date, these other designs are universally more expensive to produce and therefore, Phillips wins out.
Phillips screwdrivers and screw heads come in numbered sizes, commonly running from 0 through 4. Of these, the number 2 size is by far the most common with number 1 running a distant second. This reduces the number of sizes needed considerably over slotted head, where each screw size has its own slot size.
The most important part of any Phillips screwdriver is the tip. Tips have to be ground accurately and hardened to prevent rounding. A rounded bit loses that positive contact with the screw head, increasing chances of stripping out the screw head and rounding the bit even further. Rounding most often occurs when a screwdriver slips in the screw head due to over-torqueing.
These screwdrivers come in a variety of lengths, ranging from stubby 1 inch screwdrivers for tight spaces to screwdrivers with shafts that are almost 2 feet long. The 4 inch length is most common, but a slightly longer screwdriver, such as an 8 inch actually makes it easier to work without having to bend your back as much. The longest screwdrivers are used for cases where the screw is hard to reach due to equipment in the way, such as reaching a hose clamp on the other side of an engine.
Handle design is the other main consideration in screwdriver design, as the handle allows you to provide torque to the fastener. A good handle will provide you with a solid grip, be non-slip and still be comfortable in the hand. Poorly designed screwdrivers will slip easily in the hand, reducing the torque you can apply to the fastener. Some manufacturers improve the grip by coating it in rubber.
Typically, the end of the shaft is disturbed in some way, so that the handle can be molded onto it. The manner in which this is done can have more to do with the overall life of the tool than anything else. If a screwdriver breaks (rather than the tip wearing out) it will most likely be at this point.
Matco tools are high quality, like Snap-On but it's their handle design that puts them in the number one slot on this list. The unique triangular cross section provides a better grip than anything else I've seen. Read Full Review
Another great handle design, this time form SK Tools. They've also put a hex bolser molded to the shaft, providing a place to grab it with a wrench or pair of pliers and increase your torque. Read Full Review
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You can't look at the best hand tools, without looking at Snap-On, a manufacturer known for their high quality equipment. This screwdriver gives you a distinct advantage in tight spaces thanks to a 28 3/4 inch long shaft. Read Full Review
Klien's two-piece handle provides better insulation for your hand, as well as a nice-soft grip. Your hand isn't going to slip with this one. Read Full Review
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This phillips screwdriver from Greenlee is fully insulated for working on electrical equipment. Whereas the others might protect your hand, this one protects the equipment, which is important too. Read Full Review
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Best Ratcheting Screwdriver:
Compared to the standard flat blade and Phillips head screwdrivers, ratcheting screwdrivers are a little newer on the market. Typically designed with a hex socket for accepting ¼ inch hex bits, these screwdrivers are intended to make your work easier by speeding up screw installation and removal.
These screwdrivers come in a variety of configurations, but they all have their ratcheting mechanism in common. This mechanism can be set for ratcheting on removal/installation or simply turned off all together so the screwdriver can be used like a standard, non-ratcheting one.
For the ratchet mechanism to work, it’s necessary that there be at least some friction in the screw joint as free turning screws don't provide enough back-pressure against the ratchet for it to work. When that happens, you’re better off turning off the ratcheting mechanism and using the screwdriver as a standard one. Otherwise, all you'll get is frustrated.
The quality of the ratcheting mechanism is important for these tools. The finer the teeth on the ratchet, the shorter an arc the screwdriver has to turn in order to engage it. That's especially important in tight areas where you may not be able to turn the tool freely.
Most ratcheting screwdrivers use magnetic bit holders which makes the screwdriver bit itself magnetic. This is a great help to prevent dropping hardware, especially in those cases where it’s difficult to get two hands into the work arena. If a ratcheting screwdriver is non-magnetic, it can easily be made magnetic by using a magnetic extension with it. These are available in the same ¼ inch hex drive.
Some ratcheting screwdrivers come with their own bits, but this is somewhat immaterial, as the 1/4 inch hex bits that they use are universal and available in a wide variety of places. If you have a cordless drill driver or cordless impact driver, you probably already have a good collection of bits available.
As with any screwdriver, the quality of the materials used is extremely important. If not properly manufactured, the ratcheting mechanism of these screwdrivers can separate from the handle, making the screwdriver worthless. I've had that happen before, but fortunately only with low-cost units.
The steel of the driver's shank doesn't need to be as high quality of that used in regular screwdrivers since the tip is interchangeable. Since the tip is the most easily damaged part, making it separate ensures that the tool always has a good bit on it. However, there is a tradeoff here as the lower quality steel and ratcheting mechanism mean you can't add torque multipliers such as a wrench or pliers to these tools. Doing so would probably ruin them.
Finally, the design of the handle is important, as it should be both comfortable to work with and provides a positive grip. As with ordinary screwdrivers, you don't want your hand slipping off just because it's gotten a little oily.
The flex-handle is what sets this ratcheting screwdriver apart. Being able to set it at a variety of angles not only helps you in tight spots, but allows you to put a lot more torque on the tool, when you need it. Read Full Review
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Snap-On provides a number of different ratcheting screwdrivers. I particularly like this one with a five-position adjustable handle. This makes the tool very flexible and when set at 89 degrees, is like putting a screwdriver tip in a ratchet for max torque. Read Full Review
Matco has a very nice right angle ratcheting screwdriver. This one is designed for those tight spots where you can't fit in anything else. The bit holding handle gives you positive locating ability for the bit, which nobody else really has in a right-angle screwdriver. Read Full Review
Channellock's ratcheting screwdriver wows you with its quality. Starting with a 28 tooth ratchet which grants 225 pounds per inch of torque, everything about this screwdriver shines. I like the idea of having the bits in the handle where they are always available. Read Full Review
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I've always been a big fan of work lights on tools. But this is the first time I've seen one on a manual tool, rather than a power tool. This is the ideal driver for working in all those dark places where you're trying to juggle a flashlight and a screwdriver at the same time. Read Full Review
Best Multi-Bit Screwdriver:
With all the new types of screw head designs that have come out in the last few years, it's all but impossible to have every type of screwdriver out there in your collection. Then when you add the tamper-resistant versions of all those screw heads, the possible variations reach into the ridiculous. For this reason, I'm glad there are multi-bit screwdrivers.
Multi-bit screwdrivers are similar to a 1/4 inch drive nut driver, specially modified for holding 1/4 inch drive bits. There is also a 5/16 inch version around, but that's nowhere near as common. Basically, the only difference between a multi-bit screwdriver and a nut driver is that the multi-bit is designed in such a way as to prevent the bit from falling out. That's a small, but very important difference, as if you've ever tried using a 1/4 inch nut driver for this purpose, like I have, you've probably lost a few bits along the way.
There are two basic ways of holding a bit into a multi-bit screwdriver, either by using a magnet or a ball detent. Ball detents are in the handle for a single-ended bit and in the bit for a double-ended one. This is an important distinction, as single-ended bits won't work in a double-ended handle and double-ended bits won't work in a single-ended handle.
Single-ended bits are the more universal of the two. About the only time you see double-ended bits for these tools is when they come with the tool. The nice thing about that is that it gives you a compact package, with more bits to use.
One multi-bit handle allows you to use a myriad of different screwdriver bits, as they are easily swappable. The problem is often in finding the bits you need for all the specialty screw heads out there. These often have to be bought in sets, unless you are buying a quantity of a particular size, such as they would use in a factory. Your best bet is usually to buy a large set with as many different sizes as possible, especially the tamper-resistant bits.
Like any screwdriver, the quality of the materials used is of upmost importance. While you probably won't be applying high torque to the tools, you will be applying enough to cause the shank to break free from the handle if they aren't made properly. Both the quality of the materials and the design of the interface make a difference here, as a poorly designed screwdriver can leave you with the shank spinning in the handle.
The other important factor to look at is the comfort that the handle provides. Many high quality screwdrivers of all types are now coming with soft-grip handles. Not only are these more comfortable for your hands, but are less likely to slip, if your hands are wet or oily.
Megaro has been in the multi-bit tool market for a long time. That shows in the design of this tool, which stores the bits in a well-designed magazine in the handle. That puts everything you need right at your fingertips. Read Full Review
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If you're looking at multi-bit screwdrivers so that you can have tamper-resistant screwdrivers, look no further. This screwdriver, from Klein, provides the most complete set of tamper-resistant tips I've ever seen. It's literally worth buying just for that. Read Full Review
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Channellock isn't trying to impress anyone with the whistles and bells on this screwdriver, just the quality. It doesn't have a lot of bits with it, just the most common size, but it's extremely well built. Read Full Review
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This multi-bit driver is rather unique. It holds the bits in the handle, allowing you to change them out with a simple pumping action giving you the fastest bit change around. Read Full Review
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If you're looking for portability, this is it. Klein designed this tool so you could fold it up and keep it in your pocket, where it's handy whenever you need it. Read Full Review
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