Secret history of the screwdriver

Originally published at:


“Heated debate” about Robertson screws being better!?

Hardly… :thinking: …at least not on this :canada: side of the border. :smile:


Torx all the way, baby.



Canadian flamebait, eh :grin:


Both sides of the border can agree that as long as it’s not Philips it’s probably alright.


I thought the screwdriver was invented by someone who was just looking for a covert way to have vodka with his breakfast.


Came here wondering if I was going to learn about a mechanism for turning rotational movement into lateral movement or a Vodka and orange juice.


It was used to pry lids off paint cans long before anybody thought to use it with screws

I’m guessing


Meanwhile, across the Pond and back in 1934:
“The Testing of Eric Olthewaite”

Eric: You know Howard, Howard Molson.
Mum: Yes, dear.
Eric: He’s got a new shovel.
Mum: Oh.
Eric: It’s a lovely shovel. - It’s got a great big brass handle.
Mum: Oh, good.
Eric: You know what he’s going to do? He’s going to put it next to his other one.
Mum: Yes, dear.

“The Testing of Eric Olthewaite” (at about 2:25)


Very entertaining, but what has that to do with Robertson screwdrivers? You might be interested to know, by the way, that I just got a new one last Saturday, a #2 (red) with a 6" (15cm) shaft. The whole handle is properly red, not just a few small marks like so many these days. I can post a picture if you’d like.


TLDR: Started off as a fun gimmick, but evolved into a lazy magical crutch for writers that can’t be bothered writing satisfying ways for The Doctor to get out of her various scrapes.


People are going to think I’m nuts but there actually is a proper way to sharpen a flat blade screwdriver.

Only watchmakers do this though, perhaps good gunsmiths too, but that seems to be because nobody else knows of this anymore.

If you are curious, the proper fit of a blade screwdriver should never touch the bottom of the screw slot. If your screwdriver is a perfect cylinder like a watchmaker’s screwdriver, it should only touch the top part of the slot and friction wedge in without touching the bottom of the slot. You can lightly radius the edges of the flat tip so that the outside of the screwdriver blade is only as wide as the screw you are removing so that the blade does not scratch any surrounding metal if it is sunk into metal like a watch bridge.

Grind a flat 180 degrees apart on both sides of the screwdriver tapering to just slightly smaller than the screw slot, general rule of thumb if you are using the cylinder as a guide, make the flats on either side about three times as long as the diameter of the screwdriver cylinder, when tapering to the slot size. For a 1mm diameter watchmakers screwdriver, I just trigged it- about 18.5 degrees a side.

If you do all this right you will get a screwdriver that is perfectly fit to a flat slot screw, even if the head is slightly rounded. The screwdriver should friction into the slot without touching the bottom and you can remove the screw without the slightest deformation of the screw.

That’s how watchmakers do it and that’s how I was trained to do it in watchmaking school.

We did it with files and hand sharpened every screwdriver. This is normally what is done when you get your watch fixed by someone competent.

There is an easier way that some watchmakers use and a beginner can use by getting a screwdriver rolling sharpening tool, and using a Norton India abrasive sharpening stone.

With practice it becomes very easy to do quickly for any screw.


Properly red, that’s good, not just a few marks as you say.

Is the weight okay? I’ve been weighing them for a few years now, and about ten percent are light by forty to fifty milligrams.

I’m thinking it was one bad production run, based on the province-level sales data I’ve been able to pry loose from Robinson Robertson.

I have tried several times to meet with Robinson Robertson executives so that I can explain the importance of stamping unique serial numbers on all of their screwdrivers, but they seem to have closed their home office and moved to an unknown address.

Update: @teknocholer: Oh fuck, caught out in a fraud.


Nice try, poser. At least make an effort. We’ve all seen pseuds like you infesting the discussion forums. Do you even know what colour handle a #3 driver should have? I doubt it.


Oh fuck, caught out in a fraud.

Well, it’s for the best, I owe my moral awakening to you.

I have updated my flimsy scam post accordingly.

Now, back to weighing screwdrivers.


Pizza-cutter bits for the win!

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If you want a less video way of learning about the history of screwdrivers, might i recommend the book “One good turn - a natural history of the screwdriver and the screw” by Witold Rybczynski. It was an NPR book recommendation about 15 years ago and while not the most exciting book on the shelf it does a great job of describing the evolution of screws and the drivers that drive them.


My granddad taught me that. He was a piano builder.


WTF is that?

Looks exactly like an industrial version of a watchmaker’s jewel countersink cutting tool.

You are generally awesome, as I’ve noticed many of your posts.

You just became more awesome.

I deeply envy you having that kind of grandad, though mine were pretty awesome too :slight_smile: