How to Use a Screwdriver

July 19, 2013 at 8:40 pm
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Mismatched screws, screws with the heads rounded out, or screws which have been forced in at peculiar angles are all tell-tale signs of rushed and sloppy workmanship, so have no place in a first-class DIY job. We’ve all done it though – lost concentration when using a screwdriver and paid for it later.

We’re not about to shock you in this post, as the screwdriver remains a simple tool to use, but by following the instructions and tips below you will find that your jobs simply look much better as they’re increasingly free of damaged and misaligned screws. The basics of this post apply to powered screwdrivers and drill-drivers too.


Wood (for purposes of this post, we’ll work on the basis that you’ll most frequently be screwing into wood)


  1. Choose the right screwdriver for the screw, and the right screw for the job. Both of these points warrant a section of their own, so as this post is about how to use the screwdriver, we’ll work on the assumption that you’ve chosen the correct screw for the job. At the very least, make sure that the screwdriver is the correct type for the screw, either flat head or cross head (aka Phillips, or Pozidriv), and the right size.
    • Don’t be tempted to use the wrong size or type screwdriver. A screwdriver tip should fit snugly into the head of the screw. If you choose a screwdriver that is too large, it will round the head of screw out because it’s only getting a fraction of the contact that it should. Similarly, a screwdriver which is too small for the screw head will do exactly the same.
    • If you are using screws with heads that will accept a flat head, or cross head screwdriver, always opt for the cross head option, especially if you are using a powered screwdriver.
    • NEVER be tempted to use a small flat head screwdriver in a large cross headed screw. It might just about work, but is one of the surest ways of damaging the screw head, and/or the screwdriver.
  2. If you need to make a pilot hole, this is the time to do it. Use a drill bit slightly smaller than the screw’s diameter to help ease it through. Pilot holes will help you put the screw in nice and straight, as well as preventing splits in wood because the screw is being forced in with no space having been made for it. A pilot hole will lessen the amount of turning force (torque) that you need to exert on the screw, which will in turn prevent you from slipping and rounding out the screw head.
    • You should always use a pilot hole when screwing into hardwood.
    • As a guide, the pilot hole should be approx 2mm smaller than the screw size, but this is just a guide as it may not be appropriate for the screw or surface that you’re working with. It’s a good idea to test (with an offcut if possible) first, as you must avoid a pilot holes which are too lose and therefore prevent the screw from gripping firmly.
    • Use a pilot hole when screwing close the edges of the wood, as the closer you are to the edge, the higher the chance of the screw splitting the wood.
    • When using brass screws, always drill a pilot hole. Brass screws are soft and the friction generated as the screw enters the wood can be sufficient to cause the head of the screw to shear off.
    • If in doubt, drill a pilot hole – it never hurts to do so.
  3. Some screws are designed to countersink themselves into softwoods. However, these are never as neat as if you take the time to use a countersink bit to create a proper countersink for your screwhead to be worked into. Don’t be tempted to use a large drill bit instead of a countersink, as it’s very easy to overdo it this way, ruining your work.
  4. Once you have the screw in position, you can begin to twist it in. Remember the old phrase ‘righty tighty, lefty loosey’ – as daft as it sounds, there’s hardly a better way to remember that a clockwise (right) turn will twist the screw in, or tighten it, and an anti-clockwise (left) turn will undo, or loosen it.
    • Make sure that you push the tip of the screwdriver firmly into the screwhead, and keep this pressure constant as you turn. You’re not trying to push the screw into the wood, but you are trying to prevent the natural tendency for the screwdriver to push in the opposite direction as the torque applied is resisted by the screwhead. Constant pressure will prevent round outs.
    • Take some time to mark out the position of screws. Neatly aligned screws can make a significant difference to the quality of finish that you achieve.
  5. Keep turning the screwdriver, or drill-driver evenly until you’ve fully twisted the screw in, or have reached the required depth. Maintain the pressure until the very last turn and if you’re using a powered screwdriver or drill-driver, slow right down so that you don’t damage the head of screw as the wood resists the screw, or damage the wood as the screw chews into the wood.
    • Many powered screwdrivers, drill-drivers and combi drills have speed and clutch settings. To protect the wood and screw you can alter the clutch setting so that as the torque exceeds a certain point, the drill will no longer turn the screw. It’s usually good practice to use the slowest speed setting available for screwing, as the higher speed settings are meant  for drilling.
    • Make sure you have the hammer setting turned off!

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