how to choose screwdrivers

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At first, it seemed a little challenging to write a whole article about just the basic screwdriver, but honestly, though, a screwdriver is one of the most common tools next to a hammer. If you do any basic home or car maintenance, it won’t be long before you find you urgently need one of these. This article will guide you on how to choose the right screwdriver for your needs.

Screwdrivers come in many sizes with various uses.  You would be surprised how many home maintenance projects can be done using only a screwdriver or two.

Types of Screwdrivers

“So there’s the flat one, and the plus one, and umm… maybe a stop sign shaped one.”  If that’s you, don’t be ashamed!  I didn’t learn the proper names for the different types of screwdrivers until I was probably 16 (and I was raised around tools).

Even until now, I still meet grown men who don’t even know the correct names.  But that is part of why you are reading this article, so you can learn more about the fabulous world of screwdrivers!

Screwdrivers fall into different classes, depending on their head (the part that actually is supposed to go into the screw). There are dozens of different types of screwdriver heads that are used in many situations. Most people will only see between 3-5 types during everyday usage. Each head usually comes in different sizes, either in shaft length or how big the head is. I’ll cover the basic head types here to help you how to choose the right screwdriver.

Screwdrivers basic head types

Slotted Head

A slotted head screwdriver head (see pictured above) is one of the most basic types of screwdriver heads around.  It is also one of the oldest types. These types of heads are also called blade screwdrivers because that is what the head looks like. A short flat blade.

In reality, you rarely find anything that uses a blade screwdriver these days because of the slotted screws tendency to strip. Regardless, you will find these in almost any screwdriver kit. I think these are more out of toolmakers habit rather than actual demand. Even if you won’t use these to drive screws, they will be your go-to tool for prying things, like paint cans or a stuck rubber gasket.

Slotted screwdrivers are sized in increments of 2’s with the larger the number the thicker and wider the blade of the screwdriver.


So, I mentioned that you will normally never use these for actual screws, but there is an exception to help you in a pinch.

If you ever have a screw or bolt that strips but is not flat against the surface it is screwed into, your slotted screw can come to your rescue.

To accomplish this, first take a hack saw to the screw/bolt. Carefully cut a small slot into the head of the screw/bolt. You will be effectively turning it into a slotted head screw that your slotted screwdriver can get out! You want the cut deep enough that your slotted screw won’t slip out, but at the same time won’t break when you turn it. How deep, will depend on the screw, so just use your best judgement.

Philips Head

Ah, Philips heads, you practically can’t do anything without running into one of these.  It’s true.  Pick any piece of furniture you can see. Chances are there is about a 90% chance of there being a Philips on that piece of furniture if there are any screws at all.

Philips heads are less likely to strip than slotted head screws because the design keeps the screwdriver centered on the screw. It is also easier to start because the screwdriver has 4 ways of putting it in right instead of 2.

When using a Philips head, make sure you pick one a screw drive that is the right size for the screw. You want to pick the biggest head you have that still will still fit in all the way to the bottom of the screw head. If you got too small or too big, you run the risk of stripping the screw head.

Philips heads sized starting from 0, 1, 2, 3 and so forth.

Torque Head

Torque heads screws are commonly found in automotive, outdoor construction situations, and more recently are becoming popular among DIY’ers. Due to their many-pointed-star design, a torque head screw is less likely to strip than any other basic type of screw.  Because of the larger hold in the head of the screws, these are more noticeable than Philips. This is only a problem if the screws will be out in the open instead of a more hidden location.

Torque heads are sized in increments of 5. I don’t know why. They just are.

Allen Head

Allen heads are hexagon shaped screws heads.  If you put together any furniture, you will almost always find these. Especially anything from Ikea or Walmart.  These types of screws have a pretty low chance of stripping. Lower than a Philips, but more likely than a torque head.

One of the real advantages to these are how well the screws will stay on the head. These are one of the easiest screws to keep on the head and have a low chance of buckling when you push down to screw it in.

Allen heads are either sized in metric (millimeters) or standard (fractions of an inch).

Square Head

Square heads are most common in construction situations. These screws have all the advantages of an Allen head screws, but it is easier to find a wood screw that is a square head instead of an Allen head.

Square heads are sized starting from 0, 1, 2, 3 and so forth.

Single Bit vs. Multi-bit Screwdrivers

Let’s discuss a subject where I disagree with most modern DIY sites that I’ve found. While most reviewers recommend a multi-bit screwdriver, I think you should generally avoid them, or at least not buy one until you have a basic single bit set first. Before I explain my reasons, I’ll explain the two types.

Single bit screwdrivers are what you think about with a basic screwdriver. They have a handle and a solid piece of metal coming out of it. There are typically no moving parts, and you need a different screwdriver for each type of screw.

Multi-bit screwdrivers have interchangeable heads. The heads can often be stored in the handle. They come with ratcheting (ratcheting makes it, so the screwdriver will spin freely one way but not the other, so you can screw something in without having to spin the driver all the way around). They are sold with built-in lights, extendable magnets, and even full bow staffs! Ok, that last one was an exaggeration, but honestly, they can come with tons of different features.

So, helping you how to choose the right screwdriver, here is why I don’t recommend you start with a multi-bit screwdriver. Because of the collar that holds the head, they tend to be a little thicker than the single bit screwdrivers. This is actually a problem because some screw holes are just big enough for the screw head, but are too deep for a multi-bit screwdriver before the hole hits the collar.

The single bit screwdriver can easily fit in the hold, and the shaft is long enough to fit in the deepest of holes.

Although this screw hole is shallow enough a bit might reach the screw, any hole even a little deeper wouldn’t allow the multi-bit screwdriver.

Precision Screwdrivers

Precision screwdrivers are useful for anyone who has kids or electronics. Which is almost everyone. Precision screwdrivers are basically just mini versions of normal screwdrivers. Although they might not be used in the most basic of home maintenance, the more you try to do stuff yourself, the more you will find you use them. You would be surprised how often a toy or electronic appears to be completely broken, but if you open it up you will find out some little part is stuck, so it is easy to fix.

I wouldn’t buy a precision screwdriver if you don’t have all the basic tools for a home kit, but I would recommend it as soon as you can. This guide may also help you how to choose the right screwdriver if you need precision.

The sizes are similar to the larger cousins, but for example with the Philips you get more 0’s the smaller you get.

Precision Screwdrivers

How to Use a Screwdriver

Using a screwdriver is simple and intuitive for most people. Using a screwdriver well takes a bit of know-how.

This article focus on how to choose the right screwdriver, but let’s start with the basics: how to hold a screwdriver. When you hold a screwdriver, you want the end of the handle with the shaft coming out of your hand by your thumb. Think of it like holding a knife. Holding it with the shaft-end by your pinky may look menacing, but it is ultimately less effective.

When turning a screw, you want to turn in small increments, with a minuscule back turn at the end of the turn. Your goal with the back turn is to give the screwdriver head a chance to re-seat in the screw head to reduce striping the screw out. Sometimes just relaxing your hand is enough.

Here is what you do if a screw is giving you troubles and the head keeps jumping, stripping out the screw.  First, place the palm of your hand on the bottom (or top, depending on how you look at it) of the handle. This should be the end opposite the shaft. Then press down with one hand while the other turns.  Also turn the screw in smaller increments.

Screw on New Surfaces

When starting a screw in a new surface, it is always best to pre-drill your screw hole. Pick a drill shank that is just smaller as the shaft of the screw. You know you will have the right thing when only the threads are larger than the drill bit. If you can’t pre-drill, press the screw into the surface and start slow until the screw is grabbing and pulling itself in. Do not push down too hard, or the screwdriver might pop off the screw and cause a dent in your work surface.

When tightening the screw down, be conscious of the material you are screwing into. Plastic is soft and only needs to be snug. Wood is harder and usually needs a bit more turning after it reaches “snug” tightness.  Metal will go from easy-to-turn to snug fast, but typically needs to be turned until it won’t turn anymore, or just before.

How to Pick a Good Screwdriver

So, here is a simple process of how to choose the right screwdriver. Find something comfortable, find something that will last, and find something that can actually do the job you require. This breaks down into 3 basic categories. The handle goes towards comfort and durability, while the length of the shaft and a bit heads go towards the screwdriver doing the right job.


A handle is a key part of any screwdriver.  You will want to pay attention to what it is made from and how it is shaped.

Most handles these days are made from plastic (you can find wooden handles, but they are becoming harder and harder to find).  Which is fine, but not always the most comfortable. Try to look for a screwdriver handle that either has some round edges (with good spots to grip) or some rubber over molding to make it comfortable to hold. 

One note from personal experience, look at the bottom of the handle (part furthest from the shaft) and make sure it is rounded.  Often, if you are having trouble skipping the screw, pushing on the end with the palm of your hand while turning the screwdriver with the other will help you finish.  But if the screwdriver has a sharp end of the handle, this is being an entirely unpleasant experience to say the least.

Try to find a screwdriver that has a solid handle. Anything hollow will break after even moderate use.

Length of the Shaft

Most people will only ever need 2 different lengths of screwdrivers. Most kits are sold with 3. That’s fine, just pay attention if you are going to buy a kit with only one length of screwdriver.

The “typical” screwdriver has a shaft length of about 4-6 inches. This can handle most jobs and is the size you always want at the very least. If available, I would also recommend getting a short screwdriver. The shorter handles can be a little harder to turn. With the typical screwdriver, you are more likely going to have issues fitting into a tight spot than you will be reaching the screw.

There is a misconception that the longer the screwdriver, the more power (torque) you will have. That’s just not true.  Honestly, once you have a screwdriver centered, the length will make no difference. Smaller screwdrivers can seem harder because you have less to hold on to. That makes your hand more likely to slip.

Types of Head

As I have stated, when guiding on how to choose the right screwdriver, I generally don’t recommend a multi-bit screwdriver without a decent set of single bit screwdrivers. Although you will have more to store, screwdrivers shape and size make them pretty easy to find a good storage place.

At a minimum, you need a Philips screwdriver.  If you can find a set that has a size #1, #2 and #3. The #2 is the most standard, so you can usually get by with just one of those, but the others can make all the difference when it comes to preventing stripping of a screw.

A slotted screw is easiest to find bundled with Philips (or almost anything) but don’t worry if you happen to pick the one kit without one.

If you can also pick up some torque head screwdrivers. You will need a couple sizes for those recuse, the screws tend to differ. Any kit you find should have the most common sizes already. Allen screwdriver head fall under the same rule, but these will almost always be bits to a multi-bit screwdriver instead of single-bit screwdrivers.

If you get a square bit, make sure you get a size 2. It is the most common and almost the only size you will run into in your DIY adventures.


I love this set because it has all the basic needs covered for just $30. It comes with basic single bit screwdrivers in multiples lengths, a multi-bit screwdriver (hey you have the single bits, why not have both types of drivers?), precision screwdriver, and some socket sizes for good measure. It comes in a nice carrier and the handles are rounded with have a rubber over molding for grip. For the price, you just can’t go wrong.


Screwdrivers are necessary tools for anyone who doesn’t want to be completely helpless when even the most basic project comes up. They are also not the most complex tool, so find something you like and go for it. I hope that this article helped you on how to choose the right screwdriver.

We also recommend reading our article about the Best Power Screwdriver. Less effort and fast results!

Did I miss anything? Any critical facts about screwdrivers that absolutely need to be shared? Have some tips for better screwdriver usage? If so, feel free to comment below!

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