Robertson Screw

I am going to paraphrase (aka butcher) the history badly, but there are plenty of websites providing a fuller history.

Around the turn of the 20th century, an inventor called Robertson came up with a cold forming method for producing a screw head with an internal square drive, with a tapered socket.  It would have been huge, especially as it was initially very popular with Henry Ford, and the fledgling car industry.  They would save considerable time in manufacture.  The taper makes it very easy to use the screws one handed, and means they stay on the end of the driver easily.

However, Robertson was not prepared to license the screw design to Ford, so they went with the Phillips instead.  I guess Henry was a relative of Steve Jobs!

The Robertson is the screw of choice in Canada, but did not get much of an uptake elsewhere (particularly the US) – either because of the Ford thing, or simply because Phillips is local, and Robertson is “foreign”.

In more recent times, Kreg have been making the screw increasingly popular with their pocket hole jig.  Certainly that is where I first came across them.  They have been my screw of choice for a while now, leaving flats, Phillips and Pozidriv stripped and in the dust.  I am a definite fan for a number of reasons – they don’t strip.  I use them over and over with jigs, and they screw in and out time and again.  It isn’t that I am being thrifty, (although why waste a good screw), but it also means I don’t need to try to extract a screw that has stripped out.  Even if a Robertson is painted over, you can extract it easily.

Can’t say I have ever driven one by hand though – I’m always using an impact driver (or drill) to drive them.  They mount on the end, don’t fall off, and drive superbly.  Unlike Phillips, these don’t cam out under high torque, and that is what really kills Phillips screws.

head_style

The latest application was all the way along the front fence.  I made it a number of years ago, and since then the pickets have become hard, and brittle.  I initially tried to use a pneumatic nail gun with galv nails, and every single nail split the picket in half.  Take 2, I tried to use the original galv nails I used when first making the fence, and each nail bent.  So Take 3, and out came the Robertsons.  The Festool CXS drove screw after screw, smooth as you’d like.  Not a single stripped head, not a single one fell off the head of the driver.  That alone saved time, and aggravation.  While one was screwing in, I was already able to reach into the box to pull out another handful to continue with.  You can see why they would have saved ol’ Henry so much production time.

7 Responses

  1. I replace, without fail, EVERY Philips screw I come across! Not worth the time and certainly not friendly with using more than once. My father taught me the value of Ribertson screws; a lesson the crest of the world is now learning.

    • would not use anything other screw , mostly used countersunk , they are the best

  2. I have used square drive screws for several years, they beat Philips head by a long way. It’s a shame they haven’t taken off yet but as more people use them then I hope to see them in more shops. There is a local supplier and you can get a trial pack as well as hand drivers from http://www.screwit.com.au/. They have good service and also supply a range of Maxx steel screws that have a square and Philips head combined so it does allow compatibility with either driver bit.

    • I’ve spoken with them before with a view to try theirs out and see how they perform. When the business became available, I was considering looking into it but the deal was already well underway.

  3. Stu,

    Although I don’t think Kreg screws actually use Robertson heads (I found no mention of the name Robertson on the Kreg site), they are amazing screws. To prove their superiority, I was actually able to drive a screw into a wall and cantilever an impact driver from that screw. (Photographic proof here.)

    Chris

    • Hi Chris

      Pretty sure they are, even if Kreg don’t want to declare it. They have the square hole and tapered sides which are Robertson.

      Great design, which also inspired the hex head, but I still prefer the square headed design.

  4. Got any source for reasonable priced square drive screws? i struggle to pay 4 time plus for a square drive over philips which i dont have too many issues with when using a good quality bit.

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