The venerable slotted screwdriver has been around a long time but the Phillips screwdriver has come on strong since its introduction in the 1920’s. Here’s how these two tools compare to each other and why one might favor using one tool over the other.
The slotted screwdriver, also known as a flat head or flat blade screwdriver, was the first type of screwdriver. Invented in Europe in the 15th century, it is the most widely used type of screwdriver today. The tool’s utility extends beyond just driving screws. It can be used as a scraper, paint can opener, and general-purpose pry bar.
As the name implies, a slotted screwdriver is used to drive screws with a slotted head. The flat blade of the screwdriver fits into the slot and remains in place as long as the tool is kept in line with the screw and constant pressure is applied.
There are two blade profiles used on slotted screwdrivers: keystone and cabinet. A keystone screwdriver flares slightly before tapering off toward the business end of the driver. A cabinet screwdriver does not flare, making it a good choice for tight quarters and detail work such as installing cabinetry hardware.
The Phillips screwdriver was invented in Portland, Oregon in the late 1920s by Henry Phillips in an effort to facilitate the installation of screws using power screw drivers in an industrial setting. His design addressed several drawbacks to slotted screwdrivers, the most common type of screwdriver at that time.
One of these drawbacks was the tendency of slotted drivers to over-torque a screw. The Phillips screwdriver was designed to purposely pull-away or “cam-out” when the torque becomes too great. This prevents the screw head from snapping off and also allows the operator to know when the screw is fully seated. Early power screwdrivers did not have torque limiters so cam-out was a decided advantage of the Phillips screwdriver.
Other advantages of the Phillips screwdriver over the slotted screwdriver: 1) it is easier to seat the bit into the screw head, and 2) it is easier to keep the bit in place once it’s seated (slotted screwdrivers have a tendency to slide out of the screw due to centrifugal force).
The blade on a slotted screwdriver can be easily reground when it wears down, thereby extending the life of the tool. A worn-down Phillips screwdriver can also be reconditioned but a bit more effort and skill is required.
When inserting small screws made from soft metal such as brass, a slotted screw is often preferable to a Phillips screws because the latter has a greater tendency to strip the screw head.
In a pinch, a slotted screwdriver can be used to install a Phillips screw as long as the blade is sufficiently narrow to fit the recess in the screw head.
Like a cabinet-bladed slotted screwdriver, a Phillips screwdriver has a narrow tip, enabling it’s use in recesses and other confined spaces.