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topic 60769

Etching to get roughened surface on Phillips screwdrivers

May 28, 2018

Q. When I was younger, phillips head screwdrivers had more "grip" to the end of them. This really helped when driving 4 inch screws into wood. They also had some horizontal ridges that bit into the screw to prevent it from lifting out. It seems today they just don't do that anymore.

I am wondering if there is any way to etch the end of my screwdrivers and bits for a rough finish? I am also looking into a DIY EDM sinker for the ridges.

While I have looked into electrofinishing, it seems it is designed to polish, but maybe if I intentionally use wrong voltages I can get a rough surface instead :)

Alan Halls
Entrepreneur - Lehi, Utah, USA

May 2018

thumbs up sign Hi Alan. Thanks for the question which inspired me to review the fascinating history of the Phillips head, and learn about one of its challengers, the Frearson (Reed & Prince).


The Phillips screwdriver was developed for early automation systems which lacked clutches or good torque limitation and thus tended to break off screw heads causing a serious line jam. So the Philips head was deliberately designed to 'cam out' instead of breaking the screw. Thus the problem you and I see with it was an important feature rather than a shortcoming :-)

Frearson screws have a cross head which looks nearly identical, but the cross has sharp corners instead of the slightly rounded corners of the Phillips. It is designed to stay tightly engaged rather than cam out like the Phillips. So those ridges and roughness you saw sound more likely to have been on Frearson screw drivers than on Phillips. I also read that the heads of long cabinet screws are Frearson rather than Phillips for this reason. You might check whether the screws in question have those rounded corners or straight corners and, if they're straight, look into getting Frearson screwdrivers instead of Phillips.

You can probably electroetch stainless steel screwdrivers, or simply etch them with ferric chloride; but plated screwdrivers would be ruined by attempts to etch them. Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"

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