How to use a hand screwdriver effectively
Gone are the days when all screwdrivers looked like blunt chisels. The
driving mechanisms of screws have evolved over recent years and, now, the
fail-safe integrity of the modern screw almost rules out the slip factor.
The best screw to buy for new projects in wood is the square-head or
Robertson screw because of its non-slip design and its ease of use . You’ll
need a square-end driver as well, but I’ll guarantee you won’t regret the
purchase. The square driver fits snugly into the screw head and stays there!
(See ‘Which screw do I use?)
However, if you’re doing repairs and maintenance you’ll come across many
types of screws and you need to be aware of the range. What metal the screw is made of is also important (see 'What metal type should your fastener be?').
The screwdriver must fit the screw
To screw in or unscrew any screw type, test the driver in the screw BEFORE you start. Make sure it is a snug fit. If there is any movement in the slot or recess, choose another driver. With a slotted screw, choose a screwdriver that covers the full length of the slot. A narrow, fine driver in a long, wide slot will just slip and burr.
If the timber or material you’re using is relatively soft, a self-tapping screw will make the job easy as you won’t have to drill a preparatory hole. It can be an advantage to punch a small hole with a nail in the desired location to help the screw bite in initially. Hold the driver firmly.
If, however, you’re working with hardwood, brittle material or the end of a
piece of timber that is likely to crack, drill a hole first to ease the passage
of the screw.
The key technique for successful screwing is to exert forward pressure onto the screw at the same time as you turn the driver clockwise.
Even, heavy pressure forward will help prevent the driver from slipping.
Sometimes you might need to put your whole body weight behind the driver!
If the material is extremely hard and you’re having difficulty driving the screw in, unscrew it again and rub the screw’s thread across a cake of soap. The soap will help the thread wind itself into the hole. If it’s still too difficult, you might have to make a slightly larger hole.
Unscrewing with a manual screwdriver
It is just as important to push inwards onto the screw with firm, even pressure when unscrewing a screw. This time, however, you turn the driver anticlockwise and the thread will gradually drive the screw back out of the
If you’re trying to take out an old screw, say, in a window hinge, the slot
could well have been painted over and the steel might be rusted to the hinge.
Tap the screwdriver with a hammer to loosen the paint and clean out the slot.
Spray the screw head with a fine oil (sewing machine oil is ideal) and leave it
for a while to loosen the rust. Again, press forward strongly when trying to
If it still won’t budge, put more oil on and try again the next day.
DON’T burr or destroy the screw’s slot. It will be EXTREMELY difficult to remove the screw if you do.
How to remove a stripped screw
Use a manual screwdriver rather than a power drill as this will give you more
purchase and allow you to unscrew more slowly. Press down firmly on the
If this doesn’t work you could try a range of other screwdriver bits.
Sometimes just a bigger bit of the same type will work. Sometimes the worn screw head will accept another screw bit such as a square head, Allen key (hexagonal) or Torx (six-pointed star) bit.
A screw extractor is cheap ($10—$20) and will probably be the answer. Use it
like a normal screwdriver. The rough strong metal threads at its tip will burrow
into the screw head.
If, however, it can’t get a grip, you might have to drill a small hole into the head of the screw to allow the extractor bit to bite. Use a metal drill bit to drill into the screw head, using a small size and not drilling in so far that you destroy the screw head.
A multi-spline screw extractor has splines that fit over the head of the screw and internal teeth engage the round head. Typically you would buy one of
these in a ‘bolt extractor’ set, and it would only be of use if the screw head