Don Marti

Sun 17 Apr 2005 08:33:52 PM PDT

Secrets of the Canadian Screwdriver Masters

McFeely's Stainless Steel Screw Assortment is the super bad-ass screws I like. They've come in handy many times, and haven't bent or broken. Probably too expensive to do a whole big project with them, so I just use them for the kind of little stuff everyone has to do. They're stainless for super strength, and most important, they're square drive screws, with a square hole in the top instead of a Philips X. The set includes the screwdrivers and driver bits.

Canadians call this type of screw a "Robertson", but there's still a company called Robertson Screw so the word is almost certainly a trademark, unless they have no lawyers in Canada. Peter Lymburner Robertson invented square drive screws in 1908, so they're off-patent. McFeely's uses the generic term "Square Drive".

Enough about what to call them -- why bother calling them anything?

Philips has cam action, Robertson doesn't. The shape of a Philips screwdriver and slot are such that a turning motion tends to push the screwdriver out of the slot, which is exactly what you don't want. This doesn't happen with a Robertson screw. The screwdriver stays in the screw until you pull it out. This makes a difference and really makes the screws better to work with.

In case using Robertson screws makes you want to sing "O Canada", here are the lyrics: English Français.

What I don't understand is why they still even make Philips screws. Can Philips be that much cheaper? Or did Mr. Robertson just get the whole industry mad at him with the way he handled his patent?

One page says, "Henry Ford wanted exclusive rights to them, and Robertson (the inventor, a Canadian) refused to sell."

I started off to write a note about where to get the best screws and found that people are using Robertson vs. Philips as an example to make points about market failure of superior products.