New Lee Valley Precision Screwdrivers Seeking Grace
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.
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.
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.
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.”