Do you need an electric screwdriver? All your cordless screwdriving queries answered | T3

2021-12-23 06:46:11 By : Ms. helen hong

Don't underrate this humble sibling of the cordless drill… but don't expect it to force screws into masonry either

By Duncan Bell last updated 14 July 21

The electric screwdriver is a very popular tool – lots of people own one – but also one that's widely disparaged. That's due to the fact that cordless drills are more powerful and just all-round butch and bad-ass, and they can do the job of an electric screwdriver with ease. With practically everyone who's got a tool box owning a drill already, why bother getting its weedier, screw-specific sibling?  

However, an entry from our best electric screwdriver list is still worth having. For many people that will be as an additional purchase, on top of a cordless drill. Additionally, there are some people, less enthused about doing DIY, who may find an electric screwdriver is the only power tool they'll ever need. 

To answer your questions about electric screwdrivers, I have turned to Google. On the world's favourite search engine, people ask all sorts of questions. Some of these questions are quite stupid, admittedly, but the ones about electric screwdrivers all seem perfectly reasonable and sane. And since they are listed on Google, they must be the ones people are asking the most. So let's go. 

There are of course many answers to this question, but here at T3 we consider the Bosch IXO to be the best electric screwdriver. The most recent IXO is the Bosch IXO 6, but older models such as the IXO 5 pictured here can often be picked up for next to nothing, and are functionally very hard to distinguish from the most recent one. 

The torque of 4.5nM may make macho drill lovers laugh out loud, but that is actually more than enough for the IXO's main job in life, which is assembling flatpack furniture, without damaging any of those precious – and plentiful – screws. Some cordless drills with variable torque can be taken down to a similarly safe level of power, but they are still way bigger and hence more impractical than an electric screwdriver. 

The main difference, with the type of electric screwdriver that we're focussing on here, is power. Although you can get electric drivers that blast screws straight through drywalls and decking, the smaller type that we have in our buying guide tend to top out at about 5Nm of torque. Even the most bog standard cordless drill will have at least 30Nm. The important thing about that is that at low torque you can't put screws straight into most materials without drilling a pilot hole first. On the other hand, if you are largely tightening up cupboard doors or putting together IKEA furniture, you don't need or want any more power than 4-5Nm. If nothing else, at that level, there is minimal danger of over-tightening, or ruining the heads of the screws.

Yes, you can pay more and get more powerful screwdrivers, but then you start to lose the benefit of a much more compact size… at which point you may have been better off just getting a drill and using that as your screwdriver instead. 

The other obvious difference is that cordless drills have a chuck that screws open and closed, to take drills, screwdriver heads and all manner of other attachments of all manner of sizes. An electric screwdriver, by contrast, has a standard-sized, hexagonal socket. That doesn't mean that an electric screwdriver can't have various other attachments – small drill bits for making pilot holes are especially popular – but it does limit their size and potential range.

Last but not least, as you can see from the pics in this feature, electric screwdrivers look a lot more like phasers from Star Trek – a big plus, we think you'll agree.

If you are intending to do DIY rather than getting tradespeople in to do it for you, you probably ought to get both. However, if you only want to get one tool – perhaps due to reasons of storage space or money – go for a drill.

If you are entirely allergic to DIY but do need to put together flatpacks and/or carry out minor, screw-related maintenance and running repairs, you could get by with just an electric screwdriver. If that's you, great, but I don't recommend buying one on the basis that you can get drill attachments for them and so that makes them multi-purpose. The lack of power that electric screwdrivers have means you won't be able to drill much, and certainly not at speed.

Where electric screwdrivers really come into their own is in confined spaces, because they are so much more compact. They're also more convenient to leave out in a utility room – or anywhere really – ready to go into action. People tend to put their drills away, which is certainly best practice, but a bit of a pain when all you want to do is tighten up one screw, or put a painting up. 

• In all seriousness, the answer to this question on Google is basically 'drills are great for putting holes in things, whereas screwdrivers are good for small tasks involving screws', so hopefully I have answered it better than that, at least.

I kind of covered this above, and the answer is 'yes, but not terribly well.' There are drill attachments for electric screwdrivers – they are a drill bit attached to a hex fitting that goes into the screwdriver's hexagonal socket. By definition, this means they tend to be narrow gauge bits only. More seriously, trying to drill with about 5Nm of torque is not a lot of fun if you're in a hurry, or trying to drill through anything more serious than MDF. The big boys with their drills will all laugh at you.

You certainly can, and very effective they are too. All modern electric drills can turn in both directions, most have variable torque, and most are cordless. The additional power, speed and torque that a drill possesses means screws can be inserted directly into most woods without needing a pilot hole. 

Using an electric drill as a screwdriver is an excellent idea. Of course, drills are also much more versatile tools than electric screwdrivers. Their only drawback is that they are a bit limited by their size, in comparison to a compact electric screwdriver. In a confined space, the smaller the tool is, the better. 

Duncan has been writing about tech for almost 15 years and fitness ever since he became middle aged and realised he could no longer rely solely on his boyish good looks. He used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know." Pre-lockdown Duncan was widely regarded as the best-dressed man ever to work for T3 – admittedly not saying much. Post-lockdown he is looking forward to wearing clothes other than shorts and hoodies again very soon, assuming he can still fit into them. He currently writes about cycling, fitness tech that isn’t too heavy, and all things kitchen and home related. 

Find the right laptop for your computing needs with our handy guide

By Richard Baguley • Published 22 December 21

Does Clint make it home for Christmas? Is another Netflix character returning? And should we expect season 2?

By Matthew Forde • Published 22 December 21

T3 is part of Future plc, an international media group and leading digital publisher. Visit our corporate site. © Future Publishing Limited Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. All rights reserved. England and Wales company registration number 2008885.