Chris Schwarz's Blog

New Lee Valley Precision Screwdrivers Seeking Grace

Parallel driver tips. The Grace are at left. The Lee Valley at right.

Parallel driver tips. The Grace are at left. The Lee Valley at right.

If you are picky about the screws you use in your projects, you are probably as picky about your screwdrivers. I sure am.

Typical inexpensive and mid-price screwdrivers for slotted screws have a tip that tapers like a wedge. This wedge doesn’t have much contact with the screw. And if you slip while driving, the top of the screw will almost certainly be gashed.

Grace set of drivers.

Grace set of drivers.

For years I ground my own tips. Then I was turned on to a set of Grace USA drivers, which come ground from the factory. Plus they are durable, fit nicely in the hand and are easy to grip. I have been using the heck out of these drivers and have only a couple quibbles with them. More on that in a minute.

The Lee Valley drivers.

The Lee Valley drivers.

Recently, Lee Valley began selling its own set of parallel-tip screwdrivers that are modeled after the venerable “Perfect Handle” design that many old tool fiends love.

The set, made in China, includes four well-made drivers in the Nos. 4, 6, 8, 10 sizes, which are the most common in furniture. It also includes a carbide burnisher that allows you to turn hooks on the tip to give the driver a better grip.

It’s an impressive set. The fit and finish on the tools is quite high. They look even better in person than they do in the catalog. And the driver fits in your hand like a well-worn lake stone. I’ve been using them to install unplated screws for a couple weeks now and like them. In fact, I liked them more than I expected – I’m not a huge fan of exotic woods.

So now you have a third choice when it comes to parallel-tip screwdriver: Grace, Lee Valley or grind them yourself. Which should you buy?

If you buy only North American goods, then the decision is simple. If that’s not a consideration, here are some other pros and cons:

1. If you need the capacity to drive big screws (Nos. 12 & 14) or small ones (No. 2), then the Grace set is the clear choice. The Lee Valley set doesn’t cover those sizes.

2. I prefer the way the Lee Valley drivers are graduated in size. They increase in length slightly with each size. I have never been able to figure out Grace’s rationale. Why is the No. 6 driver almost 10” long, and the No. 8 drive 8” long? I actually prefer shorter drivers and wish all the long Grace drivers were shorter. The No. 14 is more than 13” long. Perhaps I need that if I need to reach deep inside an engine… .

3. Though the Lee Valley handles are comfortable, I prefer the Grace ones. They don’t have a slick finish and are easier (for me) to grip.

4. The burnisher in the Lee Valley set isn’t really a deal-maker or deal-killer for me. I have a carbide burnisher already, and I’ve only burnished my drivers a few times. It’s not part of my typical routine. If you are interested in burnishing the tips, the Lee Valley comes with a good burnisher and clear instructions.

5. Also a toss-up: the price. The Lee Valley set is, at this time, $39.50. The Grace set is $69.95. But the Lee Valley set has four drivers; the Grace has seven. So there’s no clear winner there.

Well, there is one winner: You. I’m glad to see another group of parallel-tip drivers on the market. I hope it will convince more woodworkers – especially those who make antique reproductions – that slotted screws aren’t as difficult to install as they suspected.

— Christopher Schwarz

I’ve been writing a lot about hardware during the last year. If you’d like to see some of the hardware reviews, for free, click here. And for more on hand tools in general, check out my DVD, “Mastering Hand Tools.”

22 thoughts on “New Lee Valley Precision Screwdrivers Seeking Grace

  1. jdcructh

    Is the Grace #6 so long perhaps because it’s an electrician’s screwdriver? That might be odd in a set intended for woodworkers, but I’ve got a couple of #6s that length, and I believe that’s how they were labeled.

    1. Steve_OH

      I was thinking the same thing, but there’s a problem with that idea: It’s true that that’s the typical length and blade width for an electrician’s screwdriver, and screwdriver sets often include an electrician’s screwdriver. However, a true electrician’s screwdriver has parallel sides, whereas all of the Grace screwdrivers, including the long #6, flares out above the tip, like a typical mechanic’s screwdriver. The parallel sides are important for an electrician’s screwdriver, since they’re often used at the bottom of a deep counterbore.

  2. Jon Rouleau

    Have you ever tried looking at gunsmith screwdrivers? They sell complete sets of screwdrivers for gunsmithing use. The Chapman company even sells gunsmith bits for their sets. Chapman sets are usually used in places that you can’t get a regular screwdriver but the bits would fit in a holder.

    1. BLZeebub

      Big ditto! I’ve been using gunsmith’s drivers for forty plus years. I use common drivers [Craftsman, et al] for opening paint cans and such jobs needing wedge action but NEVER on a screw I care about.

  3. twoferns

    Chris, Grace as well as many other gunsmith companies make sets for gunsmiths. On your link they even sell the gunsmith driver set that looks like it has similar drivers to the cabinet makers set with some smaller drivers and shorter. It is only 38 dollars. That seems like something worth checking out.

  4. JRTW

    I was recently at The Woodworking Show here in MA and while at the LV booth looked at this set. I always like the look of the perfect handle drivers and I love the one I have from my grandfather. However after picking them up I will not be getting the LV set. Maybe it was just the set they had at the booth but the wood scales were poorly fit to the handles and loose, also the metal of the handle was very sharp and bit into my palm. Now some will say that it is just the booth set and a ton of people handle them so they won’t be as perfect was when they come out of the box. However that is my point. If the wood gets loose and shifts enough to expose sharp edges of the metal just from people picking them up and holding them, what will they look and feel like after a couple of years of daily use actually driving screws?

  5. Bill

    My grandfather always swore by the grace screwdrivers and it wasn’t until later in life I realized why they were unique.

    I’ve also had good results using Klein screwdrivers which are generally marketed at the electrical trades — they are made in the USA, grippy handles, labeled on top so you can clearly see which is which when they are stored in upright pockets and well machined. Also there are a few oddball shapes for getting into tight places.

  6. agardo

    One way to check a craftsman is his/her screwdrivers. Worn or cheap screwdrivers with a wedge as the tip should warn you.

    In Europe (and the US?) you mighht have to have a double set. Antique screws has a narrower slot than modern ones meaning that modern screwdrivers won’t fit.

  7. switzforge

    I have always liked the “Perfect handle” just for the look and feel. Being able to being able to buy them in a good usable set is great. Most of my old ones are a bit rough

  8. Mitch Wilson

    Chris-is there any chance that you got a mutant set of Grace screwdrivers? My #8, like yours, is 8″ long, but the #6 is only 7″ long. All of the drivers have a nice gradiant length. And as far as the very long lengths go, you must not own a very old house. Having the extra length and, thereby, torque, is a big help in getting some of the old, large screws that I have loose without killing them, or me.

    1. macmarty15221

      I’ve always been puzzled about this “longer = more torque” meme. It does not seem to make sense from an applied physics perspective.

      Torque is twisting force, applied by your hand and arm. I CAN understand that a longer shaft will help you keep the tip in the slot. (If you displace your hand a quarter of an inch away from the ideal axis, a 16″ screwdriver will misalign the tip by HALF as much as it would if you were using an 8″ driver.) So you can potentially APPLY more force if you are using a longer driver. You can focus on force, because you don’t have focus on precise alignment.

      Thoughts? Better explainations?

      1. BillT

        You are correct – having a longer shank on a screwdriver does not in any way increase the amount of torque you’re able to apply to the screw.

        Torque is a measure of rotational force – i.e., the amount of twisting force applied around an axis. As you move perpendicularly away from the axis, you can apply more torque with the same amount of pressure or effort. The shank of the screwdriver is aligned with the axis, so moving farther away from the screw along the shank does not increase torque because it does not move the applied force any farther away from the axis.

        A longer-handled screwdriver would enable you to apply more torque if you turned the screw with the side of the screwdriver blade tip. But of course that wouldn’t work!

  9. Jon

    Brownell’s sells their own “Magna Tip” screwdriver sets, made in america with the ground screwdriver tips (interchangeable). The mangetic handled no.1 set costs $50. The tips will not fall out of the handle, and they have many sizes (thicknesses and widths) of slotted screwdriver inserts. The also have hex and other style tips.
    I also bought the Lee Valley set and like it, but you’ll get a lot more possible combinations with the Brownells set. There is also a set made by Wheeler but I do not know where they are manufactued.

  10. icmguy

    I have some of the “perfect handle” drivers that I inherited from my grandfather. This Christmas I got the Lee Valley set (unlooked for, I might add). Both drivers work great. I’ve never tried the Grace set, but I have to say that the Lee Valley set impressed the heck out of me when compared to my originals, I coulden’t tell any difference between the two.
    Just my two cents,
    Chris

  11. sablebadger

    I just wish they would also offer a phillips head in teh same style. It’s a vanity thing, but if I’m going to spend that much on screwdrivers, I want to have all my screwdrivers match. :) That’s one of the side effects of the ATC book and focusing on quality over quantity of tools… Now I care what my set looks like.

    I’m leaning towards the Lee Valley set, as I have a set of really rough knock offs of the “Perfect Handle” screwdrivers which I like. They are really roughly made, covered in some kind of hard goopy finish, and the tips are not ground. But I like them nonetheless, as they are pretty comfortable in the hand and solidly built.

    badger

    1. nateswoodworks

      Badger I am glad you feel this way as it means I am not alone. I have been tempted by these ever since LV first came out with them but the Philips missing is a deal breaker for me. I really don’t install very much hardware as I typically go out of my way to not have metal in my projects (no its not one of those pompous statements I am just drawn to the style) That being said I would like to replace my screwdrivers that get used for everything else with a nicer look and feel than my plastic handled set. Maybe they will hear us and come out with a matching set?

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