When you first think of a screw, you probably conjure images of an inch-long piece of metal with spiral heads, and a Phillips or slotted head. But there’s a lot more to it than that! In fact, there are hundreds of different types of screws, all of which offers myriad different features.
What’s even more intriguing is that the material, thread, head shape, and tool used to drive the screw can be combined in different ways to create a whole new type of screw.
Screws are generally made from two metals or alloys — the first material is used to create the screw, whereas the second is used to add the finishing touches, and give it a specific appearance.
Aluminum, steel, nylon or brass are the materials commonly used for screws, whereas non-stick coatings, black oxide or zinc are used as the finishing materials. Even though there are several different types of screws to choose from, the average Joe only deals with three common types i.e. slotted, Phillips and Hex screws.
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Slotted vs. Philips vs. Hex – What’s the Difference?
First thing to understand is that slotted, Phillips and hex are types of screw drives — the area that is part of a screw’s head, where you insert a driver to tighten or loosen the screw.
Slotted Screw Drive
Slotted screw drives are most commonly referred to as flatheads, and feature a wedge-shaped blade that is easy to recognize. This popular screw drive stems from Europe, and has been around for more than five decades.
Owing to its simple shape, slotted screws can be tightened or loosened using a flathead screwdriver. If you don’t have the right screwdriver handy, you can use a knife, coin or other flat items to rotate the drive on larger screws.
With regards to sizes, slotted screwdrivers are measured by a fraction of an inch, where a size #2 is most commonly used with drywall screws, decking screws, and other similar applications.
Why are Slotted Screws still Used Today?
Slotted screws are the oldest type of screws in use today, yet they are the least preferred type of fastener to use. There are a few reasons why flathead screws are still a good option in the fastener segment, starting with the fact that they are cheaper to manufacture, just like their corresponding screwdrivers.
Furthermore, slotted screws are less prone to stripping than Phillips screws, resulting in long service life. Flathead screws are also a great choice for applications that require the fastener to be seated flush with the material, most for decorative purposes.
Pros and Cons of (Slotted) Screws?
Slotted head screws boast a simple design, with just one slot going across the head. This design makes this type of screw easy to tighten, even when you don’t have a screwdriver handy. But the downside to the design is tightening slotted screws with an impact can be a bit of a challenge.
If your impact driver isn’t aligned properly, the slotted screw will in most cases slip out of the slot once the tool starts spinning, which can cause damage to the screw as well as the impact driver.
So, if you’re wondering where to use flathead screws, their best use today is in applications where ease of tightening and loosening them is of utmost importance. Some modern electronic equipment still use flathead screws such as camera tripods, because they can be used with coins, when a screwdriver isn’t always readily available.
Phillips Screw Drive
Both the Phillips screw and Phillips screwdriver are named after Henry Frank Phillips, and were invented in the early 20th century. The head of a Phillips screw features pointed edges in the shape of a cross to accommodate neatly into the cross slots of a Phillips screwdriver.
Compare to a slotted screw, Phillips screws offers provide a tighter fit, which is why they are one of the most common screw drives used today. Phillips screwdrivers feature an angled tip, which makes it easy to fit into the deep Phillips drive head, which greatly reduces the risk of the blade sliding out sideways.
Pros and Cons of Phillips Screw Drive
One of the biggest reasons why Phillips drives are increasingly popular today is because they work really well with power drivers. This works especially well when you’re looking to drive a large number of screws or if the screws are too long to be tightened manually.
But just like any other fastener, Phillips screws aren’t perfect, and their biggest pitfall is they can easily cam out or get stripped if not used properly. Additionally, unlike flathead screws that can even be tightened with a coin, Phillips screws must be tightened with an impact driver with a Phillips bit or a Phillips screwdriver.
Even though Phillips drives will never replace flathead drives, they are used in almost every field ranging from furniture to appliances. Phillips drive sizes not to be confused with screw sizes are designated are designated 0000, 000, 00, 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4, and are commonly marked with PH.
Hex Screw Drive
Hex screw drives are tightened or loosened with a hex key, Allen wrench or Allen key. You will find this type of screw drive mostly in pre-made furniture such as from Ikea. The head of a hex drive features a hexagonal recess, and can be had in several different sizes.
Pros and Cons of Hex Screw Drive
Compared to a Phillips screw drive, hex drives feature six pressure points, making them easier to drive in or out. Adding to this, hex drives are designed to reduce fatigue, while allowing you to work more efficiently.
Another key benefit of hex drives is that they aren’t as easy to strip as the Phillips or slotted drives. When driving a hex drive, you don’t have to apply pressure on the screw or material, which is perhaps the biggest reason why they’re used with furniture.
Choosing between slotted, Phillips and hex drives completely depends on your application you’re working on. However, you’ll probably end up using Phillips drives for most tasks, given their ability to be tightened or loosened quickly with a screwdriver or an impact driver.
Speaking of which, and regardless of the type of screw drive you’re using, you will need the right tool to drive them in or out. For flat head screws, you can use a flat head screwdriver or flathead screwdriver bits for ratcheting screwdrivers and drills. However, it is a good idea to always keep a couple manual screwdrivers handy in your toolkit.
To drive Phillips drive screws, you can opt for a manual screwdriver or a power drill with Phillips bits. If you plan on doing multipurpose building and remodeling or hanging a lot of drywall, or a lot of DIY projects, powered screwdrivers with Phillips bits are a great choice, and some of the best models even allow you to preset the screw depth.
Hex keys are driven can be driven by Allen-type screwdrivers, wrenches, or screwdrivers and drills with Allen bits. These bits are available in several different sizes, 0.050” up to 3/16”, and some can be mated with extension bars to drive screws in restrictive spaces. For some applications where you don’t have a screwdriver available, using slotted screws is your best bet.