Quick Tip: Know Your Screwdrivers (Hint: It’s Not a “Flathead!”)

Quick Tip: Know Your Screwdrivers (Hint: It’s Not a “Flathead!”)

Over the years, I have argued here that a key component to learning anything, especially by yourself and on-demand, is knowing what things are called. Technical speak and jargon are a significant part of what can make learning a new discipline intimidating. Once you learn the lingo, you have already won a big part of the battle. In this video, John Heisz of I Build It runs through four common driver types and discusses some of the misconceptions and fun facts about these tools.

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A fascinating part of tech jargon (and language in general) is when an incorrect term gains common usage and people don’t even realize it. As John points out, such is the case with the nearly universally used “flathead” screwdriver. Everyone knows what a flathead screwdriver looks like, but that is actually not the correct term. This type of driver is technically known as a standard or slotted screwdriver. It’s known as standard because it was the original form of driver head. A flathead would refer to the geometry of a screw head itself, and a flatheaded screw could actually have any type of driving head on it (slotted, Phillips, square, etc.).

He also talks in the video about other common driver types, namely as Phillips, Robertson, and Torx.

Phillips heads come in a variety of sizes, designated #1, #2, #3 (and others), with the #2 head being the most common. John says that people sometimes call it a star head. I’ve never heard this before.

The Robertson is also commonly referred to as a square driver, but Robertson is the correct term. Like the Phillips, the #2 size Robertson is the most common. John also claims that, at least in Canada where he’s from, the Robertson is sometimes referred to as a Red Robbie. Again, I’ve never heard this.

Five types of common drivers: Slotted/Standard, Phillips, Allen, Torx, Robertson/Square.
Five types of common drivers: Slotted/Standard, Phillips, Allen, Torx, Robertson/Square.

John also discusses Torx, a driver tech that is more prevalent in Europe and was originally developed for manufacturing and machine assembly where the six-sided star bit can get a good grip on the screw head and not strip out. And as he astutely points out, there is a profusion of Torx sizes and all too frequently, you don’t have the size bit you need for the Torx screws you are looking to remove.

And finally, when all else fails? John breaks out the universal screwdriver, an angle grinder/cut-off wheel.

As Make: contributor and lexicographer Erin McKean has pointed us, in language, you vote with your usage. So, there’s nothing wrong with calling it a flathead, in the sense that the term has become so commonplace — people will know what you’re talking about. But knowing the correct terminology is always a good idea and as John makes clear in the video, knowing these terms when dealing with professionals in the field will make you not look like a lightweight.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.

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