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How's It Made? - Phillips Screwdriver

How's It Made? - Phillips Screwdriver
By Bill Dickson February 12, 2016 41935 Views

It’s hard to go anywhere in the world and not find some sort of screwdriver. Whether it’s a flat head, torx or Phillips…a screwdriver is a necessity in every household. Ever since the screw’s creation, some form of screwdriver has followed right behind it to make sure fasteners are tightened straight away. This week on How It’s Made?, Tool Parts Direct takes a look at how screwdrivers are manufactured.

Brief History

Photo Courtesy of MSheperd Piano

Ever since screws were created in ancient times, there has always been a tool to make easier to tighten those screws. Many screws and screwdrivers were made out of wood at this time and would be produced that way until around the 15th century. Metal nuts and screws eventually replaced wooden ones and they were used in all sorts of forging projects including in the creation of armor.

The modern screwdriver was created in 1750 for a woodworkers bench. Many woodworkers continued to use screwdrivers in the 1800s and became very common in 1850 when screws started rolling off the assembly line. Most used a flat head during that time.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that Henry Phillips helped create perhaps the most famous screwdriver in the world. The crosshead screw design lies in its self-centering property…which was useful on automated production lines.

Photo Courtesy of Colin Burnett

Phillips’ major contribution was moving forward with the crosshead concept and it became the adopted by screw makers and later…the automobile companies. John P. Thompson is credited with creating the Phillips screw. Despite its success, many people were frustrated with the screws and wanted a screw head that wouldn’t “strip.” Most Phillips have the cam-out process corrected, but other types of heads were created for a better grip.

Eventually, torx screw heads and screwdrivers were introduced, which became standard in the mechanics industry. Today, screwdrivers are very common and come in any shape or size. In in the interest of time, we’ll explain how Phillips screwdrivers are made and manufactured.

Raw Materials and the Manufacturing Process

Screwdrivers are made of very simple materials. Most screwdrivers start out as a steel bar and the handles are usually made of plastic. The steel tips are usually coated in nickel or chromium as well.

At the start of the manufacturing process, coils of green wire are taken to the factory. The wire is machine-drawn to the right size diameter and turned into a solid rod. The rod is then fed into a die until it’s reduced to its proper size. The wire is then heat-treated up to 1350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 hours to obtain the right kind of metal strength.

Courtesy of Made How

After that, the wire is straightened by a string forge and transferred to the cold forming press. This press cuts the wire to its set length and forms the tip of the screwdriver as well as the wings that fit into the handle. After the cold forming press cuts the wire, the screwdriver is sent to a press where the dies form blades for the tip from the heated wire. The tool is ground down and the wings are formed.

Photo Courtesy of Made How

If a professional model is being produced, the bar is sent to automatic tipping machine that creates the point and then to another machine that cuts a profile for the screwdriver. The profile machine cuts four grooves or slots on the side.

This bar is heat treated again over 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. This is called a continuous flow process and as the bars come through the furnace…they fall into an oil quench to cool down. The bars are then placed in a draw back oven and baked to specific hardness. Consumer models are then nickel plated, while professional models are nickel/chrome plated.

As for the handles, those are usually made from cellulose acetate and is delivered to the factory in a powder form. The powder is mixed with a liquid plasticizer in giant blender that can hold up to 1000 pounds of mixed material. If the factory wants a specific color, the pigments are added in the blender.

When the paste is formed, the “batter” is put into an extruder and creates a solid piece of cellulose acetate. That material is then cut into small pellets. Those pellets are fed into another extruder that helps create materials for the handles in bars between 8 to 10 feet in length.

Then, the handles are machine washed and dried to remove grease and grime. Next, the handles are immersed in a vapor bath…which melts and also smooths the handle.

Finally, it’s time for the two parts to join together. The screwdrivers are assembled individually on a horizontal assembly machine that forces the bar into the plastic handle. The handles are branded by a stamp and then assembled by a person working on the assembly line. This leads to the finished product.

Courtesy of Made How


Screwdrivers will continue to be used for a long time and you can bet the manufacturing process will continue to refine the process to produce better screwdrivers into the future. Make sure you keep an eye out for future content from all the web staff here from Tool Parts Direct!