Chris Schwarz's Blog

Highly Recommended: Grace USA Screwdrivers

It’s sad to say, but all of the so-called “lifetime” screwdrivers I’ve tried over the years are sorely lacking in one way or another.

On many of them, the tips are soft or poorly shaped. Soft tips are, of course, worthless and soon become useless (unless you need a shank in prison).

The shape of the driver’s tip is perhaps even more important. Most drivers for slotted screws feature tips that simply taper to their final thickness – like the taper on a table leg. When the tip is a simple taper, it contacts the screw’s slot only at the top of the head. This arrangement works, but it is less than ideal because the tip tends to slip. A slippy tip tends to mung the screw’s head. A munged head looks terrible.

A better tip is ground so its sides are parallel and fit exactly into the slot. In fact, you should be able to put a screw on the tip and wave it around like you are conducting an orchestra without the screw flying off – that’s how close the fit should be.

A couple months ago I purchased a set of Grace USA screwdrivers from TheBestThings.com. I’ve long known about Grace USA’s drivers used in the gunsmithing trade, and I wondered how the tips would fit wood screws. Grace USA offers a set of drivers for the home, but the measurements seemed off to me.

Lee Richmond at The Best Things said he asked Grace USA to make some screwdrivers with tips made for wood screws. I purchased the set of seven slotted drivers from The Best Things for $69.95 and could not be happier with the tools.

With all the campaign furniture I’ve been building since December I have been driving hundreds of slotted screws – so many that I wore out a couple of my German-made SKGs. So I was ready for some new drivers. What I wasn’t ready for is how sweet the Grace USA drivers are.

The handles are birch and have a matte finish, which makes them easier to grip (I hate slick handles for drivers). The handles are graduated in size, another indicator of their quality.

But the standout feature of the drivers is the tip. These fit perfect – hand-in-glove. Driving a screw is much easier as a result because you don’t have to apply as much downward pressure.

In fact, their precision is their only problem. If you use cheap, plated screws, the tips won’t fit as well. In fact, you might have trouble getting the tip into its slot. This isn’t a problem in my shop – I dislike plated screws for furniture and buy solid brass screws or unplated steel screws for my work. In the coming weeks, I’ll write about some of my sources for these fasteners. If you need some now, check out the screws sold by marine supply stores – they sell solid stainless, brass and bronze screws for boat hardware.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about the longevity of Grace USA drivers, so I’m hopeful these really will be a lifetime set for me. If you need a great set of drivers, I highly recommend the set from TheBestThings.com.

— Christopher Schwarz

27 thoughts on “Highly Recommended: Grace USA Screwdrivers

  1. dknott

    Chris,
    Can you point out the differences between this new set of Grace screwdrivers, and their 8-piece gunsmith set? I recently bought the gunsmith tools, but haven’t had a chance to give them a good workout. Thanks.

  2. MikeC

    Chris

    How about those sources? I have no problem finding marine or brass screws, but no luck with quality machined steel screws. I long since used most sizes and lengths from my old hoard of Swedish steel screws and I can’t bring myself to use the current rolled-thread junk coming from Asia.

    Mike

  3. K Anderson

    So it is the 6th and The Best Things says that as of the 4th thanks to the Schwarz effect the drivers are at least 2 weeks out. The Schwarz strikes again!

  4. Mark Singleton

    These have been on my list for awhile now, but I had sort of forgotten them as well. The website indicates that the
    “Schwarz effect” still works!

  5. Shawn Nichols

    This might sound a big ignorant, but what’s the difference between these drivers and the ones made specifically for hand planes (i.e. like Lie-Nielsen and Woodriver make)? Would these be a compliment to hand plane-specific adjustment drivers or are these actual replacements?

    Any clarifications are appreciated.

    -Shawn

    1. andrae

      The slots on hand plane adjustment screws tend to be either very narrow or very wide in comparison to typical wood screws of the same diameter. There may be a couple sizes that work for both purposes, but overall the Grace set would be complimentary.

      P.S. At last, I bought a tool *before* Schwarz blogged about it and price/availability went contrariwise.

  6. Bill Lattanzio

    The screw drivers look and sound like great tools, but I’ve had more trouble finding screws that are decent than anything else.

    1. gumpbelly

      “I’ll make do atheistic Felos and Wihas, thanks.”

      WOW!!!!!

      WOW!!!

      Was gonna type more, but it isn`t appropriate here. Hoping in the future you realize the same.

    2. robinmcc54

      You can spurn these Christians because they use their business to promote their religion, but cutting off your nose to spite their religiosity might be short sighted. As an Agnostic, I’ve done the same thing in the past, but I’ve found over the last 10 years that many Christian businesses deliver better products and service for a fair price. And the ones I’ve dealt with have stellar customer service. I don’t share their religious beliefs, but I sure admire their values!

  7. Amos

    You won’t be sorry Chris. I have had the gunsmith style for over 40 years and am still happy with them. I use them all the time and haven’t worn them out. I will purchase a set of the cabinetmaker’s style. Thanks for mentioning them.

  8. Publius Secundus

    Obviously the key to avoiding bunged-up slotted screw heads is having the screwdriver closely fit the slot or vice versa. Vice versa works. Makers of fine muzzleloading rifles inlet brass patchboxes into stocks. They inlet the brass to comform to the stock contour and generally screw down the sideplates and finials via countersunk holes in the brass using wood screws. It is commonly necessary to file the surface of the patchbox to wood level as a final step. Since bits of screw heads may stick up a bit, they are filed too, which levels the whole patchbox to be a part of the stock. Since filing the screw heads will reduce the depth of the original slot, which could make it hard to later remove the parts (since the screwdriver will cam out of and damage shallow slots), the builder commonly first puts the screws in a vise and deepens the slots using a small knife-edge file, which is slightly tapered and simultaneously tapers the slots, which then conform tightly to the tapered screwdriver. Thus, after the patchbox is finally filed to a smooth and uniform whole, enough slot depth remains to allow later removal of the screws. Reportedly, original screws had tapered slots. Anyway, a small knife edge file can be used to taper screw slots to fit your hopefully good quality tapered screwdriver.

    1. MikeC

      Original screws from the early-mid 1800s typically to NOT have tapered slots. The wood screws do have tapered threads, but the slots generally have a curved bottom. In addition to a large collection of flint and percussions muskets and rifles from that era, I also have quite a number of original gun tools. The screwdriver blades are flat sided with curved ends that match the curve in the bottom of the screw slots.

      1. Publius Secundus

        Perhaps we’re talking semantics. Are your original drivers parallel-sided? That would seem surprising. Or are you saying that the screwdriver blades are tapered and did not conform to parallel-sided slots in the screws? I meant to suggest that a way to get maximum engagement between driver and woodscrew slot is to taper the slot to conform to a tapered driver. On to Friendship.

        1. MikeC

          The screwdriver blades are tapered, but typically not as much as a modern one. The screw slots are parallel sided. On multi-blade tools it’s common for the outside blades to be only tapered on one side. Also, the narrow blades are not curved to conform to the screws like the larger ones. I assume that’s because they wouldn’t require much curve over a short distance so it isn’t worth the time to create the curve.

  9. GunnyGene

    The lack of precision and consistency in common threaded fasteners is exactly why straight slot screwdrivers became tapered. To compensate for the poor quality of common screws.

    For comparison; the usual contractually acceptable percent of a lot out of spec for aerospace fasteners is 2.5%. This is judged based on very small samples of lots – perhaps fewer than 20 out of a 100,000. With garden variety hardware store fasteners, it’s much worse, and may not be contractually specified, or inspected at all. This is why it’s common to find 4 or 5 screws, or more, in a box of 50 that may not even have threads or slots at all.

  10. Niels

    Thanks for the 411 and just in time.
    I bought some German WERA screwdrivers a month ago to drive many dozens of brass screws that need to be perfect. I had a hard time matching the tips to the work and as a result never removed the price tags (i’m returning them). I have hundreds and hundreds of more screws to drive in the coming months and I’m going to give this set a shot.
    cheers,
    Niels

  11. ronwood72

    Chris
    Bless you. I have been trying to improve my work and have been very frustrated by the tools and fasteners that are sold on the local market. I was apprehensive about buying these (as I had also looked our our gunsmith brothers) for the price based on just purely the pictures. I appreciate you rolling the dice for the rest of us.

  12. andrae

    I purchased the same set from TheBestThings about a month ago. I certainly haven’t put them through their paces like you have, but I’ve been happy so far. Certainly the best-fitting slotted screwdrivers I’ve ever used. My only complaint is that I wish the shaft of the #6 was not so long in comparison to the #4 and the #8.

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      Nope. I have little need for anything but slotted drivers in my work. I have some Phillips tips for my cordless drill, but that’s about it.

      1. Brad Patch

        Chris,

        I agree, I hate to see Phillips, or plated slot head screws in furniture work. An overnight bath in ordinary vinegar will dissolve the cadmium plating on screws.

        1. Danny H.

          I obviously don’t build period furniture or do much repair or restoration of such, so I avoid the use of slotted screws. In fact I have always said that the inventor of slotted screws should have been shot and hung. No offense to the purist , but I much prefer Phillips or square head screws and the reason for that may just be because I’ve never had a good enough fit with the screw drivers I’ve used in my lifetime. Perhaps the good preachers at Grace Tools could convert me, as I’ve been defiled .

          1. MikeC

            In my opinion, Phillips are the worst of all. They were specifically designed for the driver to cam out of the screw recess for use on assembly lines. Posi-drive screws are much better if you want to use a cross point type screw (so was the Reed Prince, but it’s now commercially extinct). Square recess (which actually predate the Phillips) are far superior as are Torx types. I still prefer slotted screws for my wood working, but it’s getting very difficult to find good ones. Chris promised in this article to tell where to find some, but I have yet to see that information.

          2. keltor

            It’s odd, but the only screws I normally have that destroy themselves are Phillips – even though of course they shouldn’t since their designed to cam out. I’ll stick with Pozidrive, Robertson, Torx, Hex or Slotted. (Generally speaking I only use slotted in furniture, Pozidrive for exposed, and Robertson for Carpentry.)

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