A screwdriver may seem like a “blunt instrument” in that any idiot can use one. But it’s surprising how many people don’t use screwdrivers correctly and screw up simple jobs as a result.
Get a Set – and don’t forget the JIS
The first step to effective screwdriver usage is having a variety of conventional (ie. slot and Phillips) screwdrivers to suit different machine/sheetmetal screw sizes, with a mix of short and long shanks to suit different access requirements.
If you don’t already have a good selection of conventional screwdrivers, invest in a multi-piece set. For motorcycle applications, look for a set with magnetic tips, as they can save you a lot of grief on fiddly jobs.
With hex and torx head bolts common on bikes these days, a compatible set of drivers for these fasteners should be part of your toolkit, too. Again, invest in a good multi-piece set (including AF and Metric for hex) if you don’t already have some.
Also, be aware that Japanese motorcycles use JIS (Japanese Industry Standard) screws, which look like Phillips head, but have a slightly different shape and depth to the slot. Conventional Phillips head screwdrivers will usually be able to fasten/undo these screws, but can burr the slots. JIS screwdrivers can save you hassles in the long run, so if you’re working on Jap bikes a lot, get yourself a set of these drivers, too.
Use, not Abuse
We’ve all used screwdrivers for things they weren’t intended for, from opening paint cans to chiselling, prying, scraping and more. But if you want your screwdrivers to remain usable, don’t treat them like a multi-purpose tool.
With proper use, screwdrivers should last you a lifetime, but a little maintenance doesn’t hurt. Some oil on the shank, blade and tip helps to prevent rust, while rubbing with steel wool can remove rust that’s already taken hold.
Check the tips for damage and keep the tip even, especially on slot screwdrivers, as an angled or rounded tip compromises effectiveness. An angle grinder, used with caution, can refurbish a slot screwdriver’s tip.
Ensure the screwdriver tip fills the slot of what you’re trying to fasten or remove. Mismatching smaller screwdrivers to larger screw or bolt types, or vice versa, is the easiest way to burr the slot or round off the hex opening - and bring on lots of swearing!
When inserting a screw or torx/hex bolt with a screwdriver, use your free hand to hold the screw and help guide it in – this will lessen the likelihood of crossthreading and potentially damaging both what you’re trying to insert and where you’re trying to insert it.
As most motorcycling applications already have a threaded section for the screw or hex/torx bolts to go into, force shouldn’t be required. If it is, something’s wrong.
If you encounter a stuck screw with a stripped or rounded-off slot, there are a few ways to remove it.
One of the easiest is placing a thick rubber band or piece of bicycle tyre tube between the screw and the screwdriver, as the grip of the rubber can sometimes be enough to start the screw turning.
A pair of pliers can be used, too, assuming the screw isn’t completely flush with what it’s been inserted into.
A hacksaw or Dremel tool can be used to cut a new slot into the head, but careful you don’t cut too far.
Impact drivers can help, but should be used with caution. Like normal screwdrivers, make sure the tip matches the slot of the screw or bolt, or you’ll make a bad problem worse.
Sometimes, you may have to resort to drilling out the offending screw, then using a tap and die set to create a new screw/bolt thread, but that’s the nuclear option and should be avoided if possible.
The easiest way to prevent stripped screw drama on your bike is to get a comprehensive set of screwdrivers and use them correctly.