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The Best Type of Screw Head

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What is the best type of screw head? I say it’s the star drive because it allows for superior torque while providing maximal contact area and a supportive shape to reduce the risk of the screw stripping out. Here’s some more information about different screw types.

Types of Screw Heads

There are several standard types commonly used today, but not all are equal.

Slotted Head

The slotted head/flathead (-) was the first screw drive to ever be developed and widely used, likely because it is easy and cheap to manufacture. They were common throughout history up until recently when the Phillips head became more common. This is why you’ll often see slotted screws on antique furniture. Slotted screws were extremely important throughout history, but to be honest, slotted screws are not really good for anything nowadays, except maybe repairing antiques. This is because they don’t support much torque and it’s very easy for the screwdriver to slip out of the screw head, which is frustrating and dangerous.

Phillips Head

The Phillips head (+) is used everywhere nowadays. It provides more torque and helps the screwdriver stay in the screw better than a slotted screw. However, the screw will start to strip with too much torque. Cheaper screws will strip easily, leaving you with a screw you can’t remove. This has happened to me several times, so I’m over Phillips head screws.

Hex Head

Hex heads are most commonly seen with assemble-it-yourself furniture with machine screws nowadays as hex keys are cheap to manufacture and provide to the customer with the product. It allows for good torque, but the bit can be prone to slipping out of the slot.

Square Head

Although I believe square heads (sometimes known as Robertson) are one of the best types, they are not very common currently, though I have seen them on decking screws. They are simple, tolerate good torque, are difficult to strip, and hold the bit well. I haven’t used them because there aren’t many options that are commonly available, but in theory, they’re one of the best types of screw heads.

Star Head

The star head (sometimes known as the branded name Torx) is the best commonly-used screw head on the market. It allows for a huge amount of torque without stripping and it’s difficult for the bit to slip out. Star head bits are included in most good-quality tool kits and star head screws are available in a variety of types and sizes at all hardware stores. When I switched from Phillips screws to star head screws, it was a night and day difference.

Combination Heads

There are also many proprietary combinations of head styles that claim to provide better performance than all of the other ones. Take these claims with a grain of salt, but it does make sense that a combination could lead to better results. There is some compatibility with screwdriver bits you may already have, i.e. you might be able to use a Phillips or square bit with a combination Phillips-square screw, but you will get the best results with the company’s custom screwdriver bit that they sell. This is a bit of a trap for consumers to lock you into the company’s custom system, but the bits are almost always cheap and are sometimes included in a box of screws.

Which screws should I use for my next project?

The best screws I have ever used are Spax screws with the “T-star plus” drive head. It’s a star drive with a recessed circle at the bottom, like the image on the left above. Spax screws are serrated towards the point of the screw which means you don’t need to pre-drill holes in most materials. I have never had issues with these screws stripping, even with heavy torque in hard materials, which is enough for me to recommend them to anybody. Spax screws are available at the link above or at any Home Depot.

Be sure to get the Spax T-star plus driver bit as well — check if the product says whether the bit is included in the box, otherwise they are about $1 at Home Depot.

Spax also offers combination Phillips-square drive screws as shown in the middle image above. I don’t recommend these as much as it’s much more common for the bit to slip out in my experience.

Further Reading

  • ThoughtCo provides some more history of screw heads in this article.
  • Wikipedia has the most thorough list of screw drives on this page.

2 thoughts on “The Best Type of Screw Head”

  1. Torx does have a design flaw, however, preventing it from being adopted in industrial machinery. A smaller tool will work in a larger socket, until you apply significant torque, then you strip the tool, and possibly the socket. Hex socket screws don’t have this unfortunate overlap in sizing. If Torx were not invented, the world would never miss it.

  2. I agree. Flatheads are a legacy, so won’t be gone forever, but I won’t use as starting point. When I do sheetrock Philips seems to be the norm but that’s fine because torque is not normally a huge issue there. But for construction Torx is definitely my choice as well. I recently had to use some square head for some aluminum gutter work and found them to be fine but I’m not sure of their torque ability for construction. Torx wins in my book.

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