A screwdriver may seem like a “blunt instrument” in that any idiot can use one. But it’s surprising how many people don’t use screwdrivers correctly and screw up simple jobs as a result.
Get a Set
The first step to effective screwdriver usage is having a variety of types, both slot and Phillips tip, in different shank lengths to suit different machine/sheetmetal screw types and different access requirements.
If you don’t already have a good selection of conventional (ie. slot and Phillips) screwdrivers, invest in a multi-piece set. For automotive applications, look for a set with magnetic tips, as they can save you a lot of grief on fiddly jobs.
With the increasing use of hex and torx head bolts, a compatible set of drivers for these fasteners should be part of your toolkit as well. Again, invest in a good multi-piece set (including AF and Metric for hex) if you don’t already have some.
Of course, a comprehensive set of screwdrivers for the garage has applications for other projects and home maintenance tasks, too.
Use, not Abuse
We’ve all used screwdrivers for things they weren’t intended for, from opening paint cans, stirring paint, chiselling, prying and scraping. But if you want your screwdrivers to remain usable, don’t treat them like a multi-purpose tool.
With proper use, screwdrivers should last you a lifetime, but a little maintenance doesn’t hurt. Some oil on the shank, blade and tip helps to prevent rust, while rubbing with steel wool can remove rust that’s already taken hold.
Check the tips for damage and keep the tip even, especially on slot screwdrivers, as an angled or rounded tip compromises their effectiveness
Ensure the screwdriver tip fills the slot of what you’re trying to fasten or remove. Mismatching smaller screwdrivers to larger screw or bolt types is the easiest way to burr the slot or round off the hex opening - and bring on lots of swearing!
When inserting a screw or torx/hex bolt with a screwdriver, apply mild pressure to the driver and use your free hand to hold the screw and help guide it in – this will lessen the likelihood of crossthreading and potentially damaging both what you’re trying to insert and where you’re trying to insert it.
Unlike carpentry and building, most automotive applications already have a threaded section for the screw or hex/torx bolts to go into – so force shouldn’t be required. If it is, something’s wrong.
If you encounter a stuck screw with a stripped or rounded-off slot, there are a few ways to remove it.
One of the easiest is placing a thick rubber band between the screw and the screwdriver, as the grip of the rubber can be enough to start the screw turning.
A pair of pliers can be used, too, assuming the screw isn’t completely flush with what it’s been inserted into.
A hacksaw or Dremel tool can be used to cut a new slot into the head, but careful you don’t cut too far.
Impact drivers can help, but should be used with caution. Like normal screwdrivers, make sure the tip matches the slot of the screw or bolt, or you’ll make a bad problem worse.
Sometimes, you may have to resort to drilling out the offending screw, then using a tap and die set to create a new screw/bolt thread, but that’s the nuclear option and should be avoided if possible.
The easiest way to prevent stripped screw drama is to get a comprehensive set of screwdrivers and use them correctly. Sounds simple, and in practise, it is.