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Screwdriver Basics – How to Use a Screwdriver Correctly in Woodworking

Do you know that there is right way to use a screwdriver in woodworking? This lowly tool is not just used to tighten and loosen screws but has a few more good uses too. This tutorial will help you learn a few good tips on how to use a basic handheld screwdriver and how to use this tool in many different ways when it comes to woodworking.

The parts of basic handheld screwdriver

Before anything else, you must learn the screwdriver’s basic parts. The handle is what you grip as you use a screwdriver. This is mostly made of very hard, very durable plastic but it can also be made of wood and even metal. The long metal piece from the handle to the tip of the screwdriver is the shank. Screwdriver shanks could be very long to be used in hard deep screw holes while there are shorter shanks for regular hole depths. The tip is the pointed or the flat part at the end of the screwdriver. The blade is a flat part between the shank and the tip in flat screwdrivers. The tip, blade and shank are made of the same material.

Different kinds of screwdrivers explained

There are a variety of screwdrivers that can be used in woodworking. The two basic screwdrivers are the flathead screwdriver or a regular screwdriver and a Philips-head or a Philips screwdriver. A flathead screwdriver has a single, flat blade and this fits in screws with single slots on top. This is the most common and basically the oldest screwdriver found anywhere.

The Philips screwdriver has a cross or a four-star point at its end and will fit into screws with corresponding depression on its head. This type of screwdriver lets you apply more force or torque than what you can in a flathead screwdriver. In this design, the blade of a Philips screwdriver slips out to avoid any damage on the head of the screw develops due to over-torqueing.

Aside from the two basic types of screwdrivers, here are a few screwdrivers that a good woodworker must have in his tool box:

  • A medium and a small slot screwdrivers
  • A heavy-duty flathead or square blade screwdriver is long and strong; this will come handy when you need a screwdriver that can provide a lot of torque and driving power.
  • Medium Philips screwdriver for regular jobs and a stubby Philips for jobs when you have very little space to work on.
  • A cabinet screwdriver is a kind of screwdriver with a thinner shank than most flatheads. This thin shank will let you drive the screwdriver through wooden cabinets without damaging wood surrounding the screw. Cabinet screwdrivers have a straight tip compared to a tapered tip found on regular flathead screwdrivers.
  • A ratchet screwdriver is a convenient tool or ratcheting device that locks the shank when it is turned clockwise and loosens when turned counter-clockwise. It is left in the screw and the user simply ratchets back to the original position.

How to correctly use a screwdriver in woodworking

1. Choose the correct screwdriver for the job

Don’t be foolish and risk damaging the screw or your screwdriver by using an incorrect tip. Remember, flathead screwdrivers are for flathead screws while Philips screwdrivers are for Philips screws. If you use an incorrect tip you will end up damaging the screw, the tip of the screwdriver and possibly the surface of the wood or workpiece you are working on. Some points to consider

  • If you use a wider tip, you might damage the surface of the wood or workpiece you are placing the screw into.
  • If you use a thicker tip then the blade won’t fit the screw slot. It will just slip when you turn and won’t drive the screw or loosen to remove it.
  • Follow a sizing chart for screwdrivers to be able to choose the right tip for the screw you are working on

For flathead screwdrivers and screws

2. Using a pilot hole

Now that you got the right screw tip for the type of screw that you will work on, you will now create a pilot hole. A pilot hole will ensure that you are driving the screw inside the wood or material in a straight way. If you drive a screw without using a pilot hole, the screw may follow the grain of the wood and become crooked as you drive it in. Pilot holes also ensure that you won’t damage wood by splitting it.

The best way to create a pilot hole is to drill one into the wood. Use a small drill bit to do this. If you are working on softwood and you are driving a small screw then you can use an awl or a punch hole. And if you are working on hardwood and using larger-sized screws then you can use a boring tool to create a pilot hole.

3. Start screwing

Attach a screw to the tip of the screwdriver. Some screwdrivers have a magnetic tip to easily grab on to the screw. As you start driving the tip of the screw into the wood with the screwdriver, use very minimal force. Just let the screw engage with the wood as you turn; you will soon see that you do not have to give a lot of force as you start with a pilot hole.

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4. Keep on driving the screw

The screw is now partially inside the pilot hole, just keep on screwing. To apply more force, your fingers should be on the shank to hold the tip directly with the screw. Apply just enough pressure to keep the driver inside the pilot hole. You will know when you are done when you cannot turn the screw anymore.

A freely turning screw could mean that the screw is too small for the hole while an immovable screw could mean that it is too large for the pilot hole or the pilot hole is simply too small for the screw.

5. Maintaining your screwdriver

As with most woodworking tools, you need to care for your screwdrivers so that these are in tip top shape and ready to use for any project. Here are tips to care for this humble woodworking tool:

  • Wipe the tip and shank to remove any pain, oil, varnish or dirt. These particles, no matter how small, could add up and affect the way the tip of the tool works. A soft, clean cloth will work fine and if there is paint or varnish, apply a small amount of paint thinner or paint remover especially on the tip.
  • Place your screwdrivers in one box or container, do not mix it with other tools so you can easily use one when you need to screw something.
  • Do not use your screwdrivers for anything but screwing or loosening screws. Some woodworkers use flathead screwdrivers as chisels and Philips screwdrivers as awls. You will damage the tips when you do this.
  • Use beeswax or a small amount of soap to screw heads. This will make it easier to drive screws into wood even on hardwood. And after you use wax, completely wipe it off.
  • Use an adjustable wrench. Stubborn screws, old screws and stuck screws are hard to remove, but with an adjustable wrench you can grip the wrench on the blade as you turn the screwdriver. This will give you more leverage to move any stubborn screw anytime.

Buying a set of screwdrivers

You can purchase a set of screwdrivers or any type of screwdriver individually in choosing the ideal screwdriver for woodworking; rely on a brand that will give you more value out of your money. Choose brands with good material and the right weight. An example is a screwdriver set from Klein Tools.

The Klein Tools 85078 is a set of cushion-grip screwdriver set containing 8 pcs. This set has cabinet tip, three keystone-tips and four Philips-tip screwdrivers in varying sizes. This set costs about $60 online. You can also find screwdriver sets as affordable as $20 while the most expensive ones could cost around $100, even higher.

The cost must not be the driving factor when purchasing a screwdriver set because not all expensive brands offer good quality. High cost is also not synonymous to value so please read product reviews and check out comparisons of screwdriver sets online to get the best value for your money.


A screwdriver is a popular tool in woodworking. It drives screws into wood and it loosens screws as well. There are two major kinds of screwdrivers: flatheads and Philips screwdrivers. A flathead is for screws with a flat head and a single slot on its head. A Philips screwdriver is for screws with cross slot on its head. There are other types of screwdrivers and this is according to their use.

Learning how to drive a screwdriver into a pilot hole should be learned by any woodworker to be able to efficiently and effectively work with projects that need screws. Maintaining a screwdriver is also a must despite its easy and straightforward design. Any dirt, grime, paint or oil can affect the way the tool works and thus immediate cleaning is required after every use.

Buying a screwdriver is hardly a challenge when you know the best brands available in the market. You must settle for a brand that has good features, weight and a selection of screwdrivers as a part of a set. Screwdriver sets are available online from as affordable as $20 to as expensive as $100 or more. Be sure to read product reviews and check out comparisons of different screwdriver set brands to get the best value for your money. Remember, an expensive product does not always mean that it has the best value.

Do you have a few tips on how to use a screwdriver for woodworking? If you have some, share these on the comment section below. And if you like this article, please share it to a friend or family member who would love some tips on how to use a screwdriver for woodworking.

  • October 5, 2017
  • DIY