There are a lot of contemporary/modern tools I am grateful for, such as screwdrivers with unbreakable plastic handles and the ever-increasing variety of screw heads: Phillips, hex, pentagon, thumbscrew, cross, Frearson, French recess, Motorq, pozidrive, supradriv, Robertson, etc., etc.— all useful for specific purposes, I’m sure, but I remain happiest with the traditional straight slot. Yes, I know it’s not tamper-resistant, I know that powertools can jump out and damage the work, and conversely it won’t allow the driver to cam out and not damage the slot, etc., etc. But I’d rather not be concerned with so many twentieth-century potentialities. I make furniture, I fix my house and the slot remains my favourite. I can clean and recut the slot in screw heads if necessary, I can align the slots for that last aesthetic frisson of satisfaction, and I never have to worry about the cordless drill having a run-down battery or my having misplaced the appropriate driver.
My screwdrivers are always there, arranged by size, in my toolchest. They are easily sharpened and rarely deformed and are easy to use with almost any amount of required torque. This is because they are the old-fashioned wood-handled type. I inherited them from my father in England so their superiority over many if not most contemporary screwdrivers is remarkable.
Firstly, the steel — having been made in nineteenth-century Sheffield — is much stronger than the average plastic-handled screwdriver, which means the head never deforms when trying to remove a firmly embedded steel screw, the shank can be used as a scraper burnisher, unlike many contemporary screwdrivers whose steel is typically softer than that of even a cheap scraper, the shank is finished with a flat section below the handle which provides a place for using a wrench if handpower alone is insufficient, and finally, having sharpened or refinished the tip should this ever be necessary, it retains its shape much longer.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I prefer the wooden handles — most of which are oval rather than round for a better grip — the turning is nice, the patina is rich after so many years of use, and I find the look and feel of wood more harmonious with the wood I work with. A gaudy plastic handled tool is jarring on my bench. I do what I do, after all, more for the experience than the ‘efficiency’ or cheapness. and in these days of disposable transience I like the tangible connexion with the past. But that’s another story.