Robertson Screwdriver Review Guide: Screwdriver Bits, Sets & Square Tip

Asked by the New York Timeswhat the best tool of the millennium was, master in architect and prolific writer, Witold Rybczynski, could not respond immediately.  He scouted for candidates in his toolbox: chalk, tape measure, handsaw, chisel and so on.  Later, it hit him. Of course, it had to be his screwdriver.

We all know what screwdrivers are for and we all have them in our tool boxes or tucked in a cupboard.  Invented out of necessity, the earliest models of the screwdriver were made from wood and it has certainly gone through several makeovers to look the way it does today. Now, there are several types of screwdrivers all designed for different types of screws, namely Robertson Screw, Phillips Head Screw and Allen Key.

The Robertson square tip is an interesting type because in spite of its usefulness and efficiency in design, it isn’t as widely used in the U.S. as in Canada, where it was invented.

How the Robertson Screwdriver Came To Be

The square-drive screw or the Robertson Screw was invented by Canadian, Peter Lymburner Robertson sometime in 1908 (hence, the name). What an interesting story that is too. P.L. Robertson was said to be demonstrating how a spring-loaded driver worked to an audience in Montreal when the tool slid off and hurt his hand. Robertson’s injury gave birth to the idea of screwdriver that locks more securely in place, making work not only faster but also safer.

Robertson’s design became the standard in North America because it provided a good alternative to the flathead screwdriver.  The flathead screwdriver is said to slip often while the screw is being driven into place. Robertson’s new square-shaped instrument is easier to secure into place because of its shape. The recess is squared, with chamfered edges, tapering sides and a pyramidal bottom. It could be twisted quickly and tightly with just one hand.

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The Robertson screwdriver set became an instant hit!  In the late 1940s, Robertson’s company grew tremendously.  At its peak, it employed as many as 500 people.

He marketed his screws in three sizes which of course came with corresponding screwdrivers.  These sizes were distinguished by their colors: small drivers came in green; medium drivers, red; and large drivers, black.

Today, there are more types of Robertson screws and screwdrivers sold online.  The Robertson screwdriver Home Depot or Amazon offer is all color-coded by the size:

  • Orange drivers (#00) are for Screw Types #1 and #2, which are 1.77 to 1.80 mm in size.
  • Yellow drivers (#0) are for Screw Types #3 and #4, which are 2.29 to 2.31 mm in size.
  • Green drivers (#1) are for Screw Types #5, #6, and #7, which are 2.82 to 2.86 mm in size.
  • Red drivers are for Screw Types #8, #9, and #10, which are 3.34 to 3.38 mm in size.
  • Black drivers function with the largest screws, types 12 and higher, which are 4.81 to 4.85 mm in size.

How the Robertson Differs From Philips

Both self-centering and both promising a no-slip hold, the Robertson differs from the more commonly Philips screwdriver in two ways.  For one, it is harder to remove a Philips screw driver once it has been painted over or rusted. Although the Philips screwdriver also seats itself nicely into the screw head recess, the Robertson square-tip provides more depth for the driver to bite into.  Additionally, the Philips screw driver requires more force in pressing it downward especially for those longer screws.

Although less popular, especially in the US, the Robertson square tip is actually easier to use. By design, the sockets are deeper and require less effort in locking into place and turning.  The Robertson screwdriver is said to significantly speed up production, which accounts for much of its success.  It was so quick and easy to use that Ford had tried to buy the rights from the inventor, P.L. Robertson, but the latter refused.

It would seem that the Philips screwdriver presents no obvious advantage over the Robertson screwdriver. The maker’s decision to patent his own technology and refuse the offer of Ford is the reason it isn’t as widely accepted all over the world and in the U.S.

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Robertson square-tip performs better for trim and compact head screws than the Philips design.  It is also preferred when fastening hardwood.

Which Brands You Can Buy`

Are you eager to try a Robertson screwdriver set to see what it can do for you?  You can start off with some of these brands that offer square-drive sets with prices ranging from $2 to $30, depending on the manufacturer and what comes with the package.

  • Husky
  • Craftsman
  • Fuller
  • Klein Tools
  • Michigan Industrial Tools
  • Wiha
  • Bondhus
  • Leviton

Robertson is its own brand though and is the only one which makes “authentic” the Robertson screwdriver bit.  For example, the Robertson screwdriver Home Depot or Amazon sale might actually be square drives manufactured by other brands. Many of those you will find may be spawns of the original maker’s design after the inventor’s patent expired. To avoid infringing on his patents, these new square drives will be slightly different and may or may not work for you.

On occasion, other square drives may not provide a perfect fit and has the tendency to get stuck into the recess head.  If you are hoping to try a real Robertson, you should look for the iconic “R” mark on the bit.   The Robertson screwdriver is made in Canada so other square-drive sets which are said to be made in the U.S. aren’t the original.

Notwithstanding the authenticity, other makers of square drives have pretty decent offerings which work just fine for many homeowners and handymen.  If you want to check all that is available in the market, you can check Amazon.com (U.S. and Canada sites) and Home Depot.  These websites can show you your options in varying sizes accompanied by product reviews and rates.  If you’re lucky, you might even catch a marked down offer on a square-drive or Robertson screwdriver bit.  But before you make that purchase, evaluate your needs and decide which size and set you need.  There isn’t one altogether perfect tool, but there’s one that’s perfect for your specific needs.

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Jeremy D

Editor at TopToolTips.com
Jeremy is the editor at TopToolTips.com where we're passionate about providing you with the best tips about a DIY and the tools to get it done. There are a lot of questions out there asked about all aspects of this topic and that's where we come in, to answer them quickly and helpfully.

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