The Robertson Screwdriver

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: No relation.

The Long Version: The Robertson screwdriver is a Canadian touchstone, somewhat like the RCMP, moose, and poutine. As something that's demonstrably superior but under-appreciated across the rest of the world, well, if it wasn't Canadian by birth we'd probably adopt it.

We're funny that way.

The Robertson screwdriver has a square head that provides an exceptional grip on the screw, but without the over-tightened bite of its American replicas. Like Helvetica and Arial, the Robertson and square-drive screwdrivers look a lot alike, but where one is a refined design of elegance and function, the other one just looks similar. A proper Robertson screw will cling to the driver without it being magnetized, and yet it disengages smoothly when the job is done. There's enough power in the tapered fit that a Robertson driver will still extract a screw that's been painted into place, and they don't strip or jump the way Philips screwdrivers will.

Robertson sizes are denoted with colours instead of numbers. The medium-size that's most common is red; anyone who calls this a "#2 Robertson" deserves arched eyebrows and a thorough looking-down-on. Black is the largest size, with green being smaller; yellow and orange are smaller still but much less common. Typically the handles of a fixed-bit driver will show the colour of the size, while interchangeable bits should be painted to suit. Picking the right driver out of a clutter of tools is quick and easy.

While they're ideal for almost everything, Robertson screws are most likely to be found in woodworking and electrical - if you're lucky enough to find them at all. In America and elsewhere in the world these are either unknown or a small niche (rhymes with quiche) for specialty manufacturers. Even in the country where they were born over a hundred years ago, the genuine Canadian invention is almost completely subsumed within the sea of knock-off products imported from all over the world.

It's hard to get more Canadian than that.

last updated 23 feb 2013


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