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It looks so easy on the DIY programs, but I battle to insert screws using my drill. The screwdriver bit keeps slipping out, and it damages the screw head.

Is there a neat trick for this?

Should I set the drill's speed to low / high?

Short bursts or steady power?

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exactly what kind of drill are you using? –  Mike Perry Jul 7 '11 at 20:59
    
experience... allot of blood ( no really! how many times my drill slipped of and went into my finger) squirt! Today.. i can put a screw into any soft surface without drilling pilot holes. Oh- and no more blood. . Practice practice practice! –  ppumkin Jul 7 '11 at 21:44
    
Its a Black and Decker hammer variable speed drill. Obviously the hammer option is turned off! –  nzpcmad Jul 8 '11 at 0:52
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@nzpcmad, I have never! had good experience using a hammer drill (with hammer option turned off) to screw in screws. Those type of drills are normally far too powerful for such a task, even when they're set to their lowest speed. I honestly can't recommend highly enough an appropriate cordless drill for such tasks (every DIYer should invest in one, they are worth their weight in gold & start repaying for themselves almost immediately). –  Mike Perry Jul 8 '11 at 5:11
    
@nzpcmad, depending on a persons finances, I'd recommend investing in 1 of these 3 cordless drills for the DIYer. 1 - 18-Volt Lithium-ion Drill. 2 - 12-Volt Impact Driver. 3 - 12-Volt Lithium-ion Pocket Driver. –  Mike Perry Jul 8 '11 at 5:25

11 Answers 11

up vote 26 down vote accepted

I'm not an authority, but start with this:

  1. Keep the bit inline with the screw's direction of penetration. Most times I see newbies struggle with that. If the drill/chuck is cocked in relation to the axis of the screw, it creates all kinds of trouble.

  2. Firmly push inward, not letting the bit slip back out of the screwhead.

  3. Bits are consumable. They don't last forever. Are you trying to use a bit that's too worn? Once a bit has slipped badly even a few times, it's probably toast.

  4. Slower, steady power is your general best bet, the only exception being when you need a BURST of torque, whereby you time your pushing/pressure effort with a burst of speed on the drill. But that's seldom needed, and you'd still use the low range.

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An extra +1 for "bits are consumable" if I could –  chris Jul 7 '11 at 21:42
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+1, "press it down" is very important - slipping out bit damages the screw in no time. –  sharptooth Jul 8 '11 at 9:14

I drove a ton of screws with a cordless drill. It takes a lot of pressure with philips head, though other heads can help.

Then I read an article and bought an impact driver. It is far superior to a cordless drill:

  1. It requires less pressure, because the bit is much less likely to rotate out during the short impact.
  2. It's easier to control how deep the screw goes in, since it isn't turning that fast in impact mode.
  3. It has a lot more torque. An average 12V drill puts out about 200 in-lbs of torque, while a similar 12V impact driver puts out at least 800 in-lbs of torque. This will drive screws into most wood, and you can also use it to drive some lag screws. You do have to be a bit careful at the higher torques; I've snapped both screws and bits with mine.

You can get drill bits that fit into them. I use mine far more than my cordless drill.

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Get a screwdriver with a built in guide for holding the screw in place.

enter image description here

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Flat-head / slotted screws come in many sizes. Having a correctly-fitting bit helps a lot. Too narrow or too thin and you'll damage the head. Too wide and you'll damage the work. Too thick and it won't fit. Fingernails, coins, and knives are non-optimal. Make sure your bit is properly aligned in the the slot. Keep the drill directly in line with the screw.

Phillip's head screws are actually designed to "cam out". That is, when the screw stops turning easily, the bit is pushed up and out of the screw head. This is to prevent you from over-torquing the screw and damaging the work, screw, or bit. Unlike flat-head are discrete, #2 being the most common. Make sure you have a correct size. Keep the drill directly in line with the screw. Pressure on the drill is necessary to keep the bit in place. When the angle makes it difficult to apply pressure, set the clutch low and don't work too hard. When the clutch slips, turn the clutch up and apply more pressure to finish the work.

Pozidriv looks a lot like Phillip's, but has a subtly different shape that reduces cam-out. With clutches on drivers today, the chances of over-torquing are greatly reduced. Make sure you know if your bits and screws are Phillip's or Pozidriv. (Supadriv is very similar to Pozidrive.)

Torx, internal hex, and external hex are all easy to drive without much pressure and without cam-out. They also continue to work well if they get dirty or are painted over. I'm a big fan.

Square, aka Robertson is easier to work with than Phillip's, but not as nice as Torx & hex heads.

Good-quality fasteners are worth it. Cheap screws are more likely to break or round out the head.

If a driver bit slips out and damages the screw head, then you'll have a harder time finishing the work or removing the damaged screw. More torque means more damage if it slips, so be careful if you turn up the clutch. As soon as a screw is damaged happens, if you pull the screw out before it gets worse and replace it, you'll be better off than if you keep driving the bad screw.

An impact drill/driver makes driving screws much easier. The work turns to butter. They're also loud, a bit expensive, and can destroy your work if you're not careful.

Driving slowly lets you keep control and reduces damage when the bit slips.

Predrilling in metal / pilot holes in wood make it easier on your muscles, reduce screw breakage, reduce wood splitting, and don't reduce strength. I've heard that it may actually increase strength, but I don't know for sure. I pick a drill the size of the screw shaft.

Soap can help lubricate screws in to wood, making it easier and reducing screw breakage.

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+1. Stop using Phillips if you can. –  Alex Feinman Jul 8 '11 at 14:17
    
Anything to say about square-drive? Never used them myself but apparently a lot of contractors really love them for ease of driving. –  KeithS Jul 8 '11 at 14:58
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@KeithS - Square-drive/Robertson are the standard choice for wood screws in Canada. The only reason Americans aren't used to them is because Robertson wouldn't sell the patent to Ford, so he went with Phillips. The only problem is that the bit tends to round out, and needs to be replaced often (@<$1.00 a bit) –  Chris Cudmore Jul 8 '11 at 15:29
    
+1 for don't keep trying to drive a damaged screw in! –  Grant Mar 14 '13 at 3:10

A Robertson head bit is designed to reduce cam out.

A picture is worth a thousand words

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I usually prefer a torx (aka star) head to square. However, for fancy work, setting a Robertson screw so the square is angled just right makes it look like diamonds. –  Jay Bazuzi Jul 9 '11 at 2:38

A hammer drill, hammering or not, is going to be a poor choice for driving. They're designed for heavy drilling, and have a LOT of torque which can actually hurt your ability to keep the bit in the screw head and not strip it. However, if the drill has a variable torque clutch and a speed selector, it may do the trick.

I recommend a screw guide. It is basically an extension of the bit that has a sleeve you can pull down over the screw shank while driving it, so the screw is less likely to slip. Here's an example: Ryobi Screw Guide Kit

Go slow. The pros on TV get several takes, and they've driven tens of thousands of screws in their career. Go extremely slow when driving brass screws; this metal is much softer than steel alloys and so will strip very easily. Consider a pilot hole for stubborn screws, and be sure to choose the right size driving bit; driving a #2 Phillips screw with a #1 Phillips head is recipe for failure.

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+1 for the screw guide. This is a great way for newbies to realize they are off axis. –  BMitch Jul 8 '11 at 12:05

These can be helpful. They are typically magnetic, so they hold the screw in place. They also have a sliding sheath, so it will hold the screw in place until you have completely driven the screw.

enter image description here

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I don't like the magnetic bit holders much, because it's easy to leave the bit in the fastener. The sheaths are nice when accuracy is unimportant, but if you want the screw to be really straight, you have to hold it a different way (or pilot). –  Jay Bazuzi Jul 9 '11 at 2:37
    
After seeing a lot of amateurs that have a different concept of accuracy, I think these are fantastic for teaching the concept of lining the drill head up with the screw. And the magnets are nice when you're wearing gloves and can't pick the screw out of your pouch. –  BMitch Jul 10 '11 at 1:47

To add to Bob's tips:

  1. When you first start, keep your non-dominant hand on the surface and drill chuck. Don't grip the screw or chuck, they need to spin freely, just keep your hand there to guide things. This gives you control so you don't tip the screw over and jam the tip of your bit into the wall. This also helps when you have an issue, you just pull the drill away and the screw falls into your hand.

  2. Once you need to start adding more torque, you'll want to move this hand to the back side of the drill to push hard. But realize that if you don't follow other's advice and keep the drill lined up, this will push the drill off of the screw. Your hand to bit and the screw should all be perfectly lined up. The magnetic bit guides are perfect for detecting an axis issue.

  3. If the bit starts to slip, STOP! I've seen way too many people that try to go faster when the bit slips, and all that does is destroy both the bit and the screw. Instead, get the bit reseated all the way in the screw and start again, slowly.

  4. If you're installing a lot of screws and have a hard time with slipping, get an impact drill. They tend to be small, and rather than torquing the screw in which is when the bit skips, they use the power of lots of small impacts, just as the auto repair shop uses on bolts. They make screwing extremely easy, but they can't be used for other purposes, like drilling holes.

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My experience is to use Phillips heads, very low RPMs and a lot of pressure straight on the axis of the screw.

A clutch is a very good thing to have when the screw hits the bottom but it has nothing to do with starting the screw.

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I h8 Phillips. But I don't hate your answer. –  Jay Bazuzi Jul 9 '11 at 2:36

If you're having trouble with just a few screws on something you want to look nice, you can always drill a pilot hole. This way you're just fighting the torque on the threads, rather than the torque required to displace wood around the shank and drive the threads.

enter image description here

Source

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Useful diagram - I'll just have to convert to metric. –  nzpcmad Jul 8 '11 at 0:52
    
@nzpcmad: You can probably search for something like "metric pilot hole chart" and find one for metric screw sizes rather than converting the whole thing. –  Doresoom Jul 8 '11 at 13:38

You should set the speed to low, and use steady power.

They sell cordless drills that have three essential features for this.

  1. A really low speed setting.
  2. A clutch. Whenever the screw is all the way in, it stops turning the drill.
  3. Light weight; if you can't easily hold it in place, it's not going to work.
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The clutch is crucial. –  Alex Feinman Jul 8 '11 at 14:17

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