PNG images: Screwdriver

A screwdriver is a tool, manual or powered, for turning (driving or removing) screws. A typical simple screwdriver has a handle and a shaft, and a tip that the user inserts into the screw head to turn it. The shaft is usually made of tough steel to resist bending or twisting. The tip may be hardened to resist wear, treated with a dark tip coating for improved visual contrast between tip and screw—or ridged or treated for additional 'grip'. Handles are typically wood, metal, or plastic and usually hexagonal, square, or oval in cross-section to improve grip and prevent the tool from rolling when set down. Some manual screwdrivers have interchangeable tips that fit into a socket on the end of the shaft and are held in mechanically or magnetically. These often have a hollow handle that contains various types and sizes of tips, and a reversible ratchet action that allows multiple full turns without repositioning the tip or the user's hand.

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A screwdriver is classified by its tip, which is shaped to fit the driving surfaces—slots, grooves, recesses, etc.—on the corresponding screw head. Proper use requires that the screwdriver's tip engage the head of a screw of the same size and type designation as the screwdriver tip. Screwdriver tips are available in a wide variety of types and sizes (List of screw drives). The two most common are the simple 'blade'-type for slotted screws, and Phillips®, generically called "cross-recess".

A wide variety of power screwdrivers range from a simple 'stick'-type with batteries, a motor, and a tip holder all inline, to powerful "pistol" type VSR (variable-speed reversible) Cordless drills that also function as screwdrivers. This is particularly useful as drilling a pilot hole before driving a screw is a common operation. Special combination drill-driver bits and adapters let an operator rapidly alternate between the two. Variations include impact drivers, which provide two types of 'hammering' force for improved performance in certain situations, and "right-angle" drivers for use in tight spaces. Many options and enhancements, such as built-in bubble levels, high/low gear selection, magnetic screw holders, adjustable-torque clutches, keyless chucks, 'gyroscopic' control, etc., are available.

The earliest documented screwdrivers were used in Europe in the late Middle Ages. They were probably invented in the late 15th century, either in Germany or France. The tool's original names in German and French were Schraubendreher (screwturner) and tournevis(turnscrew), respectively. The first documentation of the tool is in the medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle, a manuscript written sometime between 1475 and 1490. These earliest screwdrivers had pear-shaped handles and were made for slotted screws (diversification of the many types of screwdrivers did not emerge until the Gilded Age). The screwdriver remained inconspicuous, however, as evidence of its existence throughout the next 300 years is based primarily on the presence of screws.

Screws were used in the 15th century to construct screw-cutting lathes, for securing breastplates, backplates, and helmets on medieval jousting armor—and eventually for multiple parts of the emerging firearms, particularly the matchlock. Screws, hence screwdrivers, were not used in full combat armor, most likely to give the wearer freedom of movement.

The jaws that hold the pyrites inside medieval guns were secured with screws, and the need to constantly replace the pyrites resulted in considerable refinement of the screwdriver. The tool is more documented in France, and took on many shapes and sizes, though all for slotted screws. There were large, heavy-duty screwdrivers for building and repairing large machines, and smaller screwdrivers for refined cabinet work.

The screwdriver depended entirely on the screw, and it took several advances to make the screw easy enough to produce to become popular and widespread. The most popular door hinge at the time was the butt-hinge, but it was considered a luxury. The butt-hinge was handmade, and its constant motion required the security of a screw.

Screws were very hard to produce before the First Industrial Revolution, requiring manufacture of a conical helix. The brothers Job and William Wyatt found a way to produce a screw on a novel machine that first cut the slotted head, and then cut the helix. Though their business ultimately failed, their contribution to low-cost manufacturing of the screw ultimately led to a vast increase in the screw and the screwdriver's popularity. The increase in popularity gradually led to refinement and eventually diversification of the screwdriver. Refinement of the precision of screws also significantly contributed to the boom in production, mostly by increasing its efficiency and standardising sizes, important precursors to industrial manufacture.

Canadian P.L. Robertson, though he was not the first person to patent the idea of socket-head screws, was the first to successfully commercialise them, starting in 1908. Socket screws rapidly grew in popularity, and are still a favourite of mechanics today for their resistance to wear and tear, compatibility with hex keys, and ability to stop a power tool when set. Though immensely popular, Robertson had trouble marketing his invention to the newly booming auto industry, for he was unwilling to relinquish his patents.

Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, Henry F. Phillips patented his own invention, an improved version of a deep socket with a cruciform slot, today known as the Phillips Screw. Phillips offered his screw to the American Screw Company, and after a successful trial on the 1936 Cadillac, it quickly swept through the American auto industry. With the Industrial Revival at the end of the Great Depression and the onslaught of World War II, the Phillips screw quickly became, and remains, the most popular screw in the world. A main attraction for the screw was that conventional slotted screwdrivers could also be used on them, which was not possible with the Robertson Screw.

Gunsmiths still call a screwdriver a turnscrew, under which name it is an important part of a set of pistols. The name was common in earlier centuries, used by cabinetmakers, shipwrights, and perhaps other trades. The cabinetmaker's screwdriver is one of the longest-established handle forms, somewhat oval or ellipsoid in cross section. This is variously attributed to improving grip or preventing the tool rolling off the bench. The shape has been popular for a couple of hundred years. It is usually associated with a plain head for slotted screws, but has been used with many head forms. Modern plastic screwdrivers use a handle with a roughly hexagonal cross section to achieve these same two goals, a far cry from the pear-shaped handle of the original 15th-century screwdriver.

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