10 Types of Screwdrivers and How to Choose

Make home renovation projects easier with the right screwdriver for the job.

A woman installing a shelf onto a wall with a screwdriver

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One of the most commonly used tools by professionals and DIYers is a screwdriver, which is designed for driving screws or for removing screws. These tools come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and types. Common differences between the various types include the handle, shaft, and tip (or head) of the screwdriver, as well as the power used to drive the screws.

While most screwdrivers are manually operated, there are some models that have an internal motor to drive the screws. These products use battery power or a direct connection to a nearby electrical outlet to power the motor. Keep reading to find out more about the different screwdriver types, so you can learn which screwdrivers you should have in your toolbox.

What Is a Screwdriver?

A screwdriver is a well-known tool that has been used in construction for centuries. It is a simple object used for driving screws or removing screws, and consists of a handle, shaft, and tip or head that fits into the compatible screw notch or slot. Screwdrivers can be manual or electric and they come in a variety of different types.

Flathead or Slotted Screwdriver

  • Best for: tightening or loosening screws with a linear notch

A flathead or slotted screwdriver is a tool with a wedge-shaped flat tip that is designed to fit into the notch on a slotted screw. These tools can come in various sizes and lengths, including oversize flathead screwdrivers that are useful in automotive work, standard-size screwdrivers for furniture construction, and precision flathead screwdrivers that are suitable for working on computers and other delicate electronics.

You can find manually driven and electric flathead screwdrivers, though these products are limited by the cam-out effect, which occurs when the screwdriver tip slips off the screw head. This can happen if the screwdriver is misaligned in the screw head slot, but can also be caused when the amount of torque applied to the screw head exceeds a specific limit. The inertia of the screwdriver tip overcomes the friction between the two surfaces, resulting in the screwdriver tip slipping from the screw head. This effect can be lessened, but not eliminated, by carefully matching the correct sized driver to the slot in the screwhead.

Phillips Screwdriver

  • Best for: driving or removing screws with an X-shaped notch

Phillips screwdrivers have an X-shaped tip that is made to fit inside the X-shaped notch of a compatible Phillips head screw. These tools were developed in the 19th century as an improvement over flathead screwdrivers because the shape of the screwdriver head provides better traction or grip when you are driving or removing screws.

Similar to flathead screwdrivers, there are a wide range of sizes and lengths for Phillips screwdrivers and they also come in both manually driven and electric options. While Phillips screwdrivers do provide better control and driving power, the tip can still slip out of the screw head if it is driven with too much force. Go slow to ensure that the screwdriver tip grips the screw properly to avoid stripping the screw head.

Torx Screwdriver

  • Best for: driving or removing Torx fasteners which have a 6-pointed star-shaped notch

Use Torx screwdrivers on fasteners that have a 6-pointed star notch in order to tighten or loosen these screws. Torx screwdrivers are typically found in the appliance, electronic, and security industries where the 6-pointed star shape helps to reduce damage to the screws from repeated use. This unique shape allows the screwdriver tip to turn the screw or Torx fastener with low radial force, increasing the life of the screw and the screwdriver.

While Torx screwdrivers are not commonly used around the home, it is a good idea to have at least one Torx screwdriver or a set of magnetic Torx bits to use in a multi-bit screwdriver for the odd occasion when you may need to use one.

Hex Screwdriver

  • Best for: loosening or tightening screws or fasteners that have a hexagonal notch

A hex screwdriver is designed to remove or drive fasteners with a hexagonal notch, like the screws that are commonly found in many furniture products. This type of screwdriver can also be referred to as a hex key screwdriver or even an Allen key screwdriver because the head fits the same notch as an Allen key of the same size.

Hex screwdrivers come in a range of sizes and lengths, so it's important to find a tool that is compatible with the screws to ensure quick and effective installation or removal. The six-sided shape of the hexagon reduces the chance of slipping, allowing hex fasteners to be driven at high speeds by electric-power hex screwdrivers or drills without the screwdriver head stripping the screw notch.

Robertson Screwdriver

  • Best for: tightening or removing screws with a square-shaped notch
  • Often referred to as a square-drive screwdriver.

Robertson screwdrivers are capable of driving screws and fasteners with a square-shaped notch at a higher torque than most other screwdrivers. This is because the square-shaped screwdriver bit grips the sides of the notch without slipping, even as the speed and torque are increased. Robertson screws and screwdrivers were named after their Canadian inventor and are commonly found in the automotive and furniture industries.

Offset Screwdriver

  • Best for: tight spaces with limited vertical clearance

An offset screwdriver is a Z-shaped tool with screwdriver heads on each end and a horizontal metal handle in between. This tool is ideal for working in tight spaces where a standard screwdriver would be too long to fit, like behind a wall, in the ceiling, or under a heavy appliance. Offset screwdrivers can come in various sizes and lengths, as well as different screwdriver heads, like Phillips or flathead.

Just keep in mind that while the Z-shape provides great leverage for driving or loosening screws and fasteners, an offset screwdriver is prone to slipping and stripping the screws, so it shouldn't be your go-to screwdriver for everyday use.

Ratcheting Screwdriver

  • Best for: quickly removing or tightening fasteners without repositioning the screwdriver, and working in tight spaces

Use a ratcheting screwdriver when it would be too difficult to repeatedly reposition the driver on the fastener. This type of screwdriver works like a ratchet in that it spins freely in one direction and grips the screw or fastener when turned in the opposite direction. Most products have a switch that can be used to reverse the direction of the ratcheting mechanism, so you aren't limited to just tightening fasteners, you can also loosen them.

This type of screwdriver is unnecessary in most circumstances, but if you are working in a tight space or you are driving or removing very long screws, then using a ratcheting screwdriver is recommended to help improve project efficiency.

Precision Screwdriver

  • Best for: repairing appliances, working with electronics, and fixing glasses

Precision screwdrivers are small, narrow tools that are designed to tighten and loosen tiny screws. A good example of the type of screw these screwdrivers are made for is the small screw located in the frame of a set of glasses. You can also use precision screwdrivers when working with computers, monitors, and other electronics. Appliances often have tiny screws that require equally small screwdriver heads, so it's a good idea to have a set of precision screwdrivers in your workshop or toolbox for DIY repairs. Generally, precision screwdriver heads are flathead or Phillips head, though you may also find Torx precision screwdrivers.

Electric Screwdriver

  • Best for: rapid fastener driving, fastener removal, and reduced user-fatigue

An electric screwdriver can greatly increase the efficiency of a project while reducing user-fatigue because the screwdriver's head is driven by an internal motor and powered by electricity, similar to a drill. Electric screwdrivers can be used with various exchangeable bits in a variety of sizes and types, included slotted, Phillips, Robertson, Torx, and even Hex.

Just keep in mind that the higher the torque, the more likely the screwdriver bit will slip out of the screw notch during use, especially if the bit is a slotted or Phillips head. Also, electric screwdrivers are somewhat limited in their use because these tools need to have a direct connection to a power outlet or the battery needs to be charged in order to function properly.

Multi-Bit Screwdriver

  • Best for: versatile use with multiple screw notch types, and compact storage

Keep a multi-bit screwdriver around the home to tackle a wide variety of repairs and minor projects. This type of screwdriver has a hollow handle where multiple screwdriver bits are stored. The bits are designed to fit into the hex-shaped shaft, so that you can choose a flathead, Phillips, Robertson, Torx, or even hex bit, depending on the type of screw you are working with.

The obvious benefit to this type of screwdriver is that you have a variety of screwdriver bit types to choose from. However, these tools are better for light-duty general use because the loose fit of the bits can contribute to slipping and screw stripping.

Choosing a Screwdriver

There are several factors to keep in mind when you are choosing a screwdriver in order to ensure that you find a tool that suits your needs. The slot is the first factor to consider because you will need to choose the correct screwdriver slot configuration and slot size that are compatible with the screw. Common options include flathead, Phillips, Robertson, or Torx slots, though you may need to have a screw on hand to compare the slot size to the screw notch.

You should also research the screwdriver grip and shank. If you plan to use the screwdriver for a long period of time, then a padded grip can help reduce hand fatigue. However, you can also find products with hard plastic grips that can improve accuracy and control. The shank extends from the handle to the head of the screwdriver and it comes in a variety of lengths. Look for a screwdriver with the right shank length for the project, keeping in mind that a longer shank can help access fasteners in difficult to reach areas, like inside an engine.