Got a project? Here’s how an electric screwdriver may help
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Screwdrivers and drills are two of the most common items that you’ll find among any homeowner’s essential tools.
Living somewhere in between these two standbys is the electric screwdriver, a small, hand-held tool that spins automatically with an electric motor like a drill, but has the small size and maneuverability of a screwdriver.
This versatility is a great idea, but we are curious about what an electric screwdriver can really do. In other words, are they actually worth adding to your toolbox?
On a quest to find out, I used an electric screwdriver for a few weeks on all kinds of projects around my own house and in my wood shop. I used one when building my kids’ loft beds, making serving boards, drilling pilot holes, changing outlet covers, and any other time I drove in a screw.
For the task, I used the new Dremel Home Solutions Rechargeable electric screwdriver, an exclusive at The Home Depot, but you can use any electric screwdriver you may have on-hand.
Electric screwdrivers are great for lightswitch covers and tight spaces
An electric screwdriver requires essentially no effort—and that’s its biggest benefit.
To use one, you just set the screw in place, and then either press the button or apply slight pressure to engage the drive. It doesn’t have the weight of a drill or require the force that a manual screwdriver does. You can use it for as long as the battery lasts without your wrist and forearm getting sore.
Even something as easy as unscrewing and rescrewing two light switch covers with eight total screws was easier and faster than using a handheld screwdriver.
Another benefit is driving hard-to-turn screws in hard-to-reach places. I recently built beds for my kids, held together with some long, heavy duty wood screws. There were a few places that my drill couldn’t actually reach, so I would normally have to drive the 2- or 3-inch screws in by hand.
The electric screwdriver saved me a lot of sweat. It was able to reach into the tight spaces my drill couldn’t and drive the screws most of the way into place.
The last great feature of an electric screwdriver is all of the available bit choices.
The Dremel comes with quite a few different bits, but it can take any standard hex bit. This provides a great deal of versatility in the types of tasks you can do in small spaces.
In addition to just being able to use all kinds of different screw heads, there are drill bits on hex fittings to drill small pilot holes and other bits to tighten down small nuts and bolts. The ability to swap between bits gives the electric screwdriver a versatility that handheld screwdrivers lack, without the size and weight of a drill.
Electric screwdrivers are not so good at starting and finishing
Using an electric screwdriver for some particular tasks proves to be a challenge.
Firstly, and for me most importantly, there’s no good way to adjust the spin speed as you’re working. The Dremel does come with multiple speed settings, but it can’t be throttled mid-use the way a power drill and a handheld screwdriver can be.
One of the consequences of this is that it can be difficult to start a new screw and keep it straight. So difficult, that I often wound up starting the screw with a regular screwdriver and finishing with the electric.
This is much less of a problem in projects that use pilot holes or had threaded inserts, like outlet covers or adding cutting board handles. But not being able to consistently drive a screw straight is a major drawback.
Another challenge is that it couldn’t always finish driving the screw in.
This was most noticeable when working with the long wood screws and heavy lumber for my kids’ beds. I had to drive the final quarter of an inch by hand because the electric screwdriver simply didn’t have the power to finish.
This happened less consistently on some smaller projects, as well.
Should you add an electric screwdriver to your tool box?
I have made good use of the Dremel over the past few weeks, replacing outlet covers and adding handles to my serving boards. And, when I was working in cramped spaces, it saved me a lot of wrist strain.
But, I won't be rushing out to pick up one of my own. There aren’t many applications in my day-to-day life where it is actually better than a drill or a screwdriver, and it just doesn’t seem worth its price.
However, if you’re someone who is doing a lot of repetitive screwing in tight spaces or you assemble a lot of IKEA furniture, then an electric screwdriver may make a lot of sense. Electricians, for example, could benefit from one of these, as could a handyman living with arthritis.
But, and this is a biggie, the fact that the spin speed can’t be adjusted mid-use was a major turn off for me. So many tasks require you to feel what the screw is doing and adjust. The electric screwdriver simply can’t do this like a handheld screwdriver and even a drill. I drove a lot of screws in crooked, and that’s just frustrating and time consuming to have to fix.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.