Toolkit essentials: How to choose the right screwdriver

Toolkit essentials: How to choose the right screwdriver

Life is full of weird and wonderful problems, and one critical lesson we’ve learnt over the years is that if you can’t solve the problem with either a hammer or a screwdriver… it’s not really a problem.

With a hammer, ‘solving a problem’ is easy… just hit it.

But with the humble screwdriver, well, you need to think a little harder. There are sooo many screwdriver types to choose from.

You’ve got your basic, home-friendly screwdrivers. Your battery-powered screwdrivers. Your professional screwdrivers. Some with magnetic tips. Some come insulated. Some that smell bad (thanks to the wonders of acetate degradation). And then you’ve also got some that specialise in certain applications.

So to help you choose the right screwdriver for your ‘problem’, we’ve pulled together everything you need and put it all here.


Stating the obvious: what is a screwdriver?

A screwdriver is a tool designed to drive (and remove) screws. But screws vary in shape and size - and the conditions in which they’re driven (or ‘reversed’) differ too, so a screwdriver for one job might look very different to the screwdriver in another.

For example, factory assemblers need a lot of torque, so a thicker shaft and softer, more comfortable handle would help. Or, because most electricians don’t enjoy regular electric shocks, many use screwdrivers with insulated handles to protect themselves.

As we’ll see, screwdriver materials and features for each screwdriver type vary, and their handle, shaft and tip/blade types are designed to suit their application.

Source: Red Box Tools

Before we look at the types of screwdrivers, let’s see where they came from.

The screwdriver’s humble origins

The screw thread is believed to have been invented around 400 BCE by “the father of mechanics”, Archytas of Tarentum – a Greek philosopher. And as you'd expect, its use was essential… to extract olive oil and grape juice. It was, however, later developed and used to alter water levels.

It’s believed the screwdriver was invented around the late 15th century. Back then, screws and screwdrivers were mostly handmade by wood craftsmen, so depending on what they needed, varied in shape and size.

So, in 1568, when Jacques Besson (a French inventor) created both a bolt and screw manufacturing machine and a screw-cutting plate for use with lathes, bolt and screw applications began to rise. When the English company, Hindley of York, perfected Besson’s screw-cutting plate and made it widely accessible, the number of applications grew even faster. 

A couple of centuries later, in the 18th, Antoine Thiout, the French clockmaker, further developed screws and created a semi-automatic “screwdriver”. Simply, a screw drive attached to a lathe. But more importantly, Thiout's development meant threaded parts could be produced repeatably and consistently. (See below)

Source: Shilb Antiquairan

As we entered the Industrial Revolution, the demand and production of screws and screwdrivers rose. This rise in demand (and potential new uses) meant the development of new designs followed. You see, until then, slotted screws and drivers were the only real option. But they were frustrating to line up, and drivers continued to slip.

So in 1908, when P.L. Robertson invented the square drive, the market accepted it with open arms and a big, cheesy grin.

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

But business will business. And in what we assume was a way to save money (i.e. paying Robertson his royalties), the Hex screw shortly followed, and slippage in high-torque applications became less of a problem.

Source: Monroe

In the early 1930s, to help support car production lines, Henry Philips invented the Phillips cross-shaped screw and driver (well, he actually bought it from someone else and redesigned it…). But his design was easier to use than the slotted alternative and allowed the driver to intentionally slip out (or ‘cam out') once the screw was firmly in place, preventing damage from over-torquing.

Source: Ronix Tools

In the 60s, out came the Torx driver, and it was anything but swinging because its novel design intentionally prevented the driver from camming out. This allowed for better torque transfer, more stability (thanks to the increased points of contact) and minimised damage from slippage.

Source: Google Patents

As you can probably recognise, a lot of these designs were standardised, creating the much-loved and very essential engineering tools we still use. And since then, we’ve continued to develop them, creating countless other variations that sit on the market today.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of the screwdriver (and screw), there are some amazing articles here. History of the screwdriver | History of the screw | Screwdriver and screw evolution


The anatomy of a screwdriver

The screwdriver has three main components: the handle, shaft (or shank) and tip (and blade). And to accommodate the wide range of screws, requirements and environments out there, the screwdriver features (and materials) differ in these components.

Source: Bob Vila

Screwdriver handle

There are four main requirements that influence the shape and material of a screwdriver handle, all at the crux of the application. They are: comfort, accuracy/control, safety and cost.

Source: The Engineering Concepts

Handles with softer, ergonomic and padded grips are more comfortable for prolonged use and reduce hand fatigue. Harder handles, however, are less comfortable but easier to control and hence more accurate.

Wood being cheap, easy to shape, a natural insulator and comfortable to hold makes it a popular choice. Generally, beech, ash or hickory are used because of their durability and wear resistance. To help protect them and give a smoother finish, wooden handles are also varnished or lacquered.

Source: Workshop Heaven

Most commonly, screwdriver handles are made from plastic. The type of plastic depends on their application (and the price we’re willing to pay). Options include cellulose acetate, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polypropylene (PP), polycarbonate (PC), and nylon.

Generally speaking, the benefits of using plastics are that they’re easy to mould (great for complex, ergonomic shapes), wear-resistant, corrosion-resistant, solvent-resistant, durable, lightweight and cheap. And if you need to modify their properties further, you can.

(Ticking basically every box!)

Source: Red Box Tools

It’s also common to see screwdriver handles with rubber grips. In oily, high torque, or vibration-rich applications, rubber grips can make screwdriver use a lot more enjoyable. But for the more precision-demanding applications, some screwdriver handles might be made from metal.

Screwdriver shaft

The screwdriver shaft extends from the screwdriver handle, and to cater for the range of jobs available, varies in length. Most shafts are made from steel and are either circular or hexagonal (so you can apply more torque with a spanner or wrench). But like the handle, the types of steel depend on the screwdriver’s intention.

Source: Fasteners Data

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is most often used with cheaper screwdrivers. Despite its strength and hardness, carbon steel isn’t such a tough cookie. So you’ll probably want to expose this to less demanding tasks (unless you enjoy picking up broken screwdriver bits).

Cr-Mo Steel

For higher-end screwdrivers, the shafts are often made from the more expensive chromium-molybdenum (Cr-Mo) steel. It has better wear resistance and a very balanced combination of strength, toughness and corrosion resistance.

Cr-Vn Steel

And then between the two sits chromium-vanadium (Cr-Vn) steel. It’s very strong, resilient to wear and tear and particularly corrosion-resistant. It’s often used in the automotive industry for parts, tools and fasteners too.

Stainless Steel

Occasionally, you might see stainless steel screwdriver shafts - often when corrosion resistance is particularly important. It does, however, come at a cost of hardness (meaning it’s less efficient driving higher torques).

Of course, you can always use heat treatments to improve toughness, hardness, strength and wear resistance. But as you’d expect, they'll come with a higher price tag and end up being more specialist screwdrivers.

Screwdriver tip (or blade)

With many possible slot options, you obviously need to pick the screwdriver tip shape and size that best suits your screw. Due to the shape and stress concentration (and to an extent environmental exposure), the tips are more demanding than the shaft. They’re also often interchangeable, so you can use one screwdriver for more tasks.

Source: Lituo

S2 Tool Steel

S2 tool steel is a high-performance alloy that combines carbon, silicon, molybdenum, chromium and vanadium. And because of its great shock and abrasion resistance, hardness and ease of machining, it’s a common choice.

Cr-Vn Steel

Similarly, chrome-vanadium (Cr-Vn) steel (mainly SAE 6150) is also popular thanks to its high strength, toughness and resistance to wear.

TiN Coatings

And then in some situations, screwdriver tips might be titanium nitride (TiN) coated to improve their surface hardness, reduce friction and improve wear resistance. Like the other screwdriver components, price and function usually dictate what material to use. 


The process for picking the best screwdriver

Before you jump into your toolbox(es) and pull out the first screwdriver you find, let's be methodical about this. That way, you don’t have to blow the dust off your woodworker's tool collection or dig out your engineer’s essentials unnecessarily. 

To choose the perfect screwdriver for you, follow this ultra engineer-friendly 8-step screwdriver selection process. (What?... It is...)

Step 1: What’s the job?

We’d like to think you’d know what you're about to drive or unscrew… and that you're not just looking for something to stab your screwdriver into. Are you working with small electronics? Household repairs? Or a larger construction project outside? Your job will influence your screwdriver's shape, size and quality.

Step 2: How many screws?

If you’ve got a lot, then you’re going to want something comfortable. Are they small and fiddly? You’ll likely want something harder and easier to control so you can be more precise. Or, if it’s a ‘one and done’, don’t let us stop you from going rogue… and trying something you shouldn’t. 

Step 3: What’s the material?

In other words, how much torque do you need to apply? Of course, screw size plays a role here, too. Are there going to be regular vibrations or a risk of electric shocks? This will influence the strength of your screwdriver and its handle type.

Step 4: Choose your size

Are you working on something small? Or something big? Can you get to it easily? Or hardly see it? For the small fiddly jobs, try a precision screwdriver. For the arm swingers, try a handle you can get your hand around. Or, for the tighter spaces, try a screwdriver with a shaft length that lets you reach your screw. A head torch is optional.

Step 5: Choose your tip type

What screw are you working with here? Philips? Flathead? Torx? Match your tip shape to your screw. If possible, test it to make sure it's a snug fit. If the space is awkward, you might benefit from a magnetic tip to help hold the screw in place. If you’re working next to delicate electronics, however, probably don’t.

Step 6: Choose your quality level

How specialist is your problem? Is your screwdriver likely to be pushed to its limit? Quality screwdrivers are more durable and less likely to strip screws or break when you’re using them.

Step 7: What kind of mood are you in?

If you’re like us, you might proudly own a large selection of screwdrivers to pick from. Depending on your mood, you might fancy going au naturel with a wooden handle or worst-case scenario with a screwdriver waaaayyy too good for its job.

Step 8: Choose your screwdriver type

Finally, go ahead and pick your best-suited screwdriver type.

“Pass me a screwdriver” “Which one?...”

There are a lot of screws out there, and so a lot of screwdrivers too. Knowing what’s available and what they do will help you know what’s right for the job. Let’s have a look and see what screwdriver types exist.

Type 1: Flathead Screwdriver

The flathead screwdriver is often used for everyday tasks and general-purpose applications across a number of “areas”. You’ll find slotted screws in woodworking, electronics and household items. The old breed of joiners like flathead screws (and hence drivers) because you can make them all line up and look neat.

Credit: Supersmario / Getty Images

Pros: Versatile, simple design, and it’s compatible with a wide range of screw sizes. Great for opening tins of paint.

Cons: Can slip out of the screw head, especially with worn screws. Not great for high-torque applications. 

Type 1a: Flared Flathead Screwdriver

Better torque transmission and can provide better stability with larger or more stubborn screws.

Source: DIYDoctor

Type 1b: Parallel Flathead Screwdriver

Better suited for pre-drilled holes where the screw head is the same size as the hole - at least, in woodworking.

Source: DIYDoctor

Type 2: Phillips Screwdriver

Another common screwdriver is the Phillips screwdriver. It’s often used for assembling electronics, appliances and machinery, especially in “mass production” industries.

Pros: Designed to cam-out in high-torque applications, which in turn reduces the risk of damaging the screws and components.

Cons: Not the most effective in high-torque applications and has limited compatibility with other screw types. Its ‘sharper’ tip can also be more prone to snapping.

Type 3: Pozidriv Screwdriver

Very similar to the Phillips but its extra resistance to cam-out makes it a great choice for high-torque applications like those in the automotive, construction and manufacturing sectors.

Source: DIYDoctor

Pros: It has better contact with the screw (vs Phillips), reducing slippage and increasing torque transfer.

Cons: Requires precise alignment to avoid cam-out but can also be confused with Philips screwdrivers where it won’t work well/at all.

Type 4: Torx Screwdriver

The clue’s in the name… because it's the preferred choice for high-torque and high-precision applications. Often used in automotive, aerospace and electronics assemblies. They’re star-shaped and sized in T-numbers (from T1 - T100).

Source: Solmer

Pros: Great torque transfer with reduced cam-out. Compared to the flathead and Phillips, the Torx has a much better resistance to stripping.

Cons: Requires specific Torx screws, which might not be as readily available. 

Type 5: Hex Screwdriver

Often used for furniture assembly, machinery, bicycles and automotive components.

Credit: Genius Tools

Pros: High torque transmission with a secure engagement, so it doesn’t slip. Also great resistance to stripping. You can use both hex (Allen) keys as well as screwdrivers. Woop.

Cons: Limited capability with other screws.

Type 6: Robertson Screwdriver

P.L. Robertson’s square-head screwdriver is widely used in woodworking, construction and furniture assembly, especially in Canada and some European countries.

Credit: sockagphoto/

Pros: Easy to use one-handed. Self-centering and great torque transmission. Compared to other screwdriver types, it brings better stability.

Cons: With a worn head, it can cam-out often due to its tapered edges. You’ll then need to push hard to keep engagement. It’s also less common outside Canada. 

Type 7: Tri-Wing Screwdriver

Tri-wing screws are often used to prevent (or deter) tampering, so the screwdrivers aren’t widely available. They're most commonly used in electrical devices but originally made for aerospace applications.

Source: Fast-PC

Pros: Provides tamper resistance and security because they only fit tri-wing screws.

Cons: Limited applications and not widely available.

Type 8: Security Screwdriver

They're used in security-sensitive applications to prevent tampering and unauthorised access because they can have unique (or rare) tip designs. Some are Torx variations.

Source: Halfren

Pros: Offers various ‘tamper-resistant’ features like unique tip designs.

Cons: Limited availability. So if you lose one...

Type 9: Impact Driver

The impact driver uses a sudden rotational force to loosen stubborn or rusted screws, typically in automotive, construction and industrial applications. With an internal spring, slot and pin, they turn linear force (the impact) into rotational.

Source: Klein Tools

Pros: Can provide high torque and impact force to loosen screws off without stripping or damaging the screw head.

Cons: Not really that great for precise or delicate applications… they also (often) require a hammer. Due to the ‘designed-in’ cam out, impact drivers and Phillips screws don’t make a great pair.

Type 10: Safety (Insulated) Screwdrivers

Or as they're known at MetMo... Buzzkills. Because insulated screwdrivers do what they say on the tin. They use insulated (non-conductive) materials to protect the user against any potentially shocking situations.

Source: Red Box Tools

Pros: Help keep the user safe when working with electrics.

Cons: Not always easily identifiable so you could end up picking the wrong (non-insulated) one.

Type 11: Spanner Screwdriver

Spanner screwdrivers have forked tips with two prongs. They are often used in ‘security-sensitive’ applications (like fire alarms or commercial door hardware) so standard screwdrivers can’t be used to tamper.

Source: Greschlers

Pros: They pair with tamper-resistant screws, making them ideal for security features.

Cons: Limited availability which can be problematic for maintenance, repair and replacement.

Type 12: Precision Screwdriver

For the fiddly jobs, a precision screwdriver is perfect. They're often used for small, delicate screws (like the ones in electronic devices, watchmaking and jewellery).

(It’s come a long way since Antoine Thiout’s original lathe/screw drive, eh!)

Source: RS Components

Pros: They have fine tips and often hard metal handles for precise control and better manoeuvrability in tight spaces. They can also be used with the thumb and middle finger for further control.

Cons: Very limited uses due to its low torque capability.

Type 13: Torque Screwdriver

Used where precise torque control is required. They have a torque-limiting clutch, so you can’t over-torque and damage the screw/object.

Source: DIYDoctor

Pros: Allows accurate and consistent torque application, reducing the risk of over- and under-tightening.

Cons: Limited torque range, and may require calibration/adjustment for specific torque settings. 

Type 14: Electric Screwdriver

Designed to quickly and efficiently drive or remove screws in many general-purpose applications. They’re also used in assembly lines, construction projects, furniture assembly and many other repetitive screw-driving applications.

Source: Stanley

Pros: Removes a lot of manual effort, meaning you can comfortably drive high volumes of screws. Unlike manual screwdrivers, you can also adjust speed and torque to prevent over- and under-tightening, at least on some more specialist electric screwdrivers.

Cons: They require power and hence re-charging. They’re typically more expensive than manual screwdrivers, and they also require periodic maintenance.

Type 15: Chisel Screwdriver

A chisel and screwdriver hybrid. In other words, a weapon of mass destruction. They generally have stronger tips and handles, so they can take a good thwack with a hammer.

Source: DIYDoctor

Pros: They're more robust than your typical screwdriver and often used in non-typical screw-driving applications (like scraping, splitting or prying).

Cons: Like anything involving a hammer and screwdriver, they should probably come with a warning.

Type 16: Multi-Bit Screwdriver

A bit of a “jack of all trades”. A multi-bit screwdriver is great for odd jobs around the house and will help get you out of a muddle. But they’re not ideal for the more specialist applications. They are compact, though, so they’re easier to store.

Source: UK Planet Tools

Pros: Very versatile because they can fit a lot of screws. Easy to store (and forget...). Sometimes they come with a ratchet mechanism too.

Cons: Better for the less demanding tasks. The bits’ looser fit means they’re more prone to slipping and screw stripping.

Type 17: Ratchet Driver

Great for applications requiring repetitive or continuous screw-driving (like assembly lines, construction or maintenance work). Its mechanism lets the screwdriver apply torque in one direction whilst free to move in the other.

A great example would be the Baumann-Weltrecord ratchet screwdriver (although that comes with a drive handle - and we’re also a little biased…).

Pros: Fast, efficient and repeatable screw-driving requiring minimal wrist movement. They also help to minimise errors.

Cons: Bulkier and more complex than standard screwdrivers. More moving parts means more potential problems (and maintenance). They can only apply torque in one direction at a time. 

MetMo’s Hybrid Ratchet Drivers

Because they couple as both a fidget toy and tool, MetMo’s drivers sit in a slightly different category.

You can think of them as a hybrid of old and modern ratchet screwdrivers, reimagining Conrad Baumann’s 1950s ratchet driver design and injecting some MetMo satisfaction at every opportunity. Both our ratchet drivers are very high quality (if we do say so ourselves) and amazingly fun to fiddle with.

MetMo Driver

Our original and larger driver lets you drive screws with up to 70Nm of torque (the same as a 1982 VW Polo!), so you’ll have no issue driving through 4 tonnes of granite or a bit of 4x2.

It’s like a smaller brace (the precursor to the electric drill) that’s still compatible with all the standard removable Hex drive bits/blade types. You can even use it with standard adapters to make it even more versatile.

If you fully lock out the Driver, you can turn it into a fully manual driver. It’s a premium, ‘engineer-approved’ hybrid screwdriver perfect for a whole range of uses.

Learn more about the MetMo Driver and see its glowing reviews.

MetMo Pocket Driver

Like the former. But smaller. After a lot of success with the MetMo Driver, our pledgers asked for a smaller, more pocket-sized version. So we set to work, and this is what we created.

The Pocket Driver is perfect for handling smaller jobs like computer maintenance and bicycle jobs but not wimping out from the more demanding ones. Despite fitting in your pocket, it still packs a punch, and you’ll be surprised just how much torque it delivers.

We designed it to help bridge the gap between hex keys, T-drivers, microdrivers and of course screwdrivers. And because of its versatility and comfort, it’s our favourite screwdriver for a lot of jobs.

Unlike its big brother, you've also got inline storage for two emergency bits. And it’s still compatible with all standard removable Hex drive bits, so you can use all your usual modern fixtures and keep driving all day long.

Learn more about the MetMo Pocket Driver.

Screwdriver sets vs an individual screwdriver

Okay, we get it. There are a lot of screwdrivers out there. So, are you better served collecting screwdriver bits or screwdriver sets?

Like picking a screwdriver, it boils down to what you’re going to use them for and how often.

Size matters

Interchangeable screwdrivers, or multi-bit drivers, are usually bulkier and heavier, meaning they need more torque to use. They’re also limited in size, so you might not be able to get into the small spaces. A screwdriver set on the other hand will have a variety of lengths, meaning you can drive wherever you like.


If you’ve got more toolboxes than teeth, then you might opt for the screwdriver sets. They offer you more flexibility, so you can pick the screwdriver best suited to your job. But if you’ve only got a shelf under your sink for storage, then a multi-bit driver might suit you better. That way, you can still get a lot of everyday tasks done but not worry about forgetting just how many screwdrivers you actually own.

The answer?

For the simpler, less demanding tasks, opt for a multi-bit driver. For the more demanding, opt for a screwdriver set. So we guess the simple answer becomes: have both.

Don’t screw it up

Now you know how not to. You know what screwdriver options exist, where they came from, how they vary and, of course, how to pick the best screwdriver for the job. Hopefully, you’ve also found a reason to buy some more.

If you have, please join us over in CubeClub and share them with us.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.