Square Drive Versus Phillips Head Screws

A discussion of screw characteristics and preferences, with some interesting history and background. June 17, 2009

I'm looking at the differences between square head and Phillips head screws. After reading a few things, it almost looks like a square head might be more efficient to use. Less risk of stripping the head of the screw or the driver. And it seems like the driver holds the screw better with the square head, so that more torque can be applied to the screw.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor S:
I cringe if I have to use Phillips drive. It does help to have the correct bit matched to a quality screw, however. In any case the square drive requires very little effort on the user's behalf to drive and does not strip easily.

From contributor A:
Square drive was invented first. Phillips drive was invented to cam out. They were breaking fasteners on assembly lines, so an engineer designed a driver that would cam out before the fastener was over torqued.

From contributor M:
Is the square drive the preferred screw in most shops?

From contributor F:
I am sure it varies from shop to shop. I do not like square drive at all. The bits always seem to get rounded corners for me. I learned to drive Phillips head screws back before cordless drills and clutches. I use cordless drills these days but I never set the clutch. It is really a matter of learning to feel the torque a screw is under and then applying the proper pressure to keep the bit from camming out.

From contributor B:
I say square drive hands down.

From contributor J:
Square drive #2 forever and ever!

From contributor L:
Square drive. I am on the same bits I got a decade ago. They only wear out if you buy cheap or misuse them.

From contributor O:
Unless you're selling screws, why does it matter? What matters is what works better for your application. Actually, the slot drive came before the square drive.

From contributor V:
Square (hex and similar) heads are great if you need a lot of torque to drive the screw or are in a situation where you cannot apply the needed pressure to keep the bit in the head (easier to do with a pistol grip than with a T-handle driver). I don't like how square and hex bits get stuck in the heads and pull out of the holder. I prefer Phillips and pozi drive. Pulling out of the holder probably isn't an issue with a ball detent 2" bit holder, but I have yet to find a 1" holder where it doesn't become an issue.

From contributor R:
The square drive was invented in the early 1900's and is actually called Robertson (after the inventor) in Canada. Henry Ford tried the screws and found that they saved 4 hours production per car. However Ford did not want to be beholden to anyone and wanted to purchase the rights to make the screws himself, something Robertson would not permit. Phillips is not named after the inventor but after the man who purchased the screw from the man who invented it. Phillips never wanted anything more than a licensing deal so he was quite content to sell the rights to make the screws. That is why Phillips spread around the world and Robertson is only the primary screw in Canada.

Interestingly, although they were always sold at a premium price, it is actually easier to make Robertson screws than slots screws, as slots involve a punch for the head and then milling a slot. Robertson is just a double punch. When asked why he charged a premium even though they were cheaper to make, Robertson had a simple answer: They're better. I offer that same answer to your question.

From contributor N:
Square drive.

I used to get irritated when my bits would get stuck in the square drives too. I came up with a simple solution. Just spray a little aerosol contact cement in the end of your bit holder, stick your bit in the glue that is in the holder then pull it back out for a few seconds, let it dry a little then force it back in. It works like a charm. When you want to change the bit, either take vise grips to pull it out or pour a drop of lacquer thinner in the holder.

From contributor U:
You could always go with a combo drive.

From contributor T:
I can load and drive a 2 1/2" screw on my non-magnetic 2" long #2 square drive with one hand standing on a ladder holding a cabinet in the other. Just try that with a Philips. Of course you can use a magnetic tip and a sleeve, but still for me, square drive is the way to go if you are installing.

From contributor O:
It'd be just fine if I never saw a Phillips screw again.

From contributor W:
McFeely's has a good FAQ on Robertson (they continue to call them "square drive") screws. I've never used McFeely brand, but have heard very good things about them. I use Robertsons exclusively - wouldn't have any other. Except for certain specialized requirements, like brass hinge screws, etc., or drywall screws (for drywall).

From contributor A:
My bits last at least 12 months or until I lose them. I only buy the hardened bits from McFeely's. Lee Valley started selling them as well, but they dipped them in paint instead of anodizing. You've got to scrape the paint off them to get them in a bit holder. They have a little hardened tip jammed in a 2"-6" body. The 6" are great for pocket screws. The corners do not round over until the second year at least.

From contributor G:
McFeelys are putting a lot of thought into how to improve screws and besides being square/Robertson specialists, have good lube coatings, screws with thread length to match whatever you are attaching, and they are a good one stop shop for fasteners in general.

I use square or combo wherever possible. But forget Phillips - a POX on slotted screws! I have no idea why anybody makes them or uses them any more.

From contributor B:
We use square drive exclusively. Shop and field.

From contributor I:
It depends on the length and type of screw. For hardware screws the Phillips or the pozi work fine. I prefer square headed for pocket screws and for anything from 1.25 to 4 inches I always use the TORX headed screws. In my opinion these work better than the square or the Phillips screws. Rarely will they strip, round or spin out of the fastener.

From contributor C:
I bought square drive screws from McFeelys for 20 years until I realized that I could get the same thing from Hafele for less than half the price!

From contributor Z:
Torx #25 1st choice
Square drive #2 2nd choice
Phillips and Pozi drive 3rd choice