General Question

thorninmud's avatar

Why does the slotted screw persist?

Asked by thorninmud (17701 points ) October 31st, 2011

This is a question about screws, yes, but also more generally about the persistence of inferior technologies.

I can see why slotted screw heads were the dominant technology for a long time; with old manufacturing methods, it was super easy to cut a slot across the head of a screw, and a flat screwdriver is easy to form. But they positively suck. Nothing keeps the screwdriver from slipping out of the slot, so it usually does (multiple times). It’s extremely easy to chew out the slot and render the screw useless, just by tilting the screwdriver slightly off-axis.

We have vastly superior ways of making screwdriver recesses in the heads of screws these days, and they’re all formed by essentially the same process. Phillips-head screws have existed since the 30s. Now we also have square-drive, hex, and Torx, all of which beat the heck out of slotted screws. Phillips-head screws and drivers are about the same price as slotted. Pretty much everyone who has a straight screwdriver also has a Phillips screwdriver.

Why are these damned things still around? Who would care if they vanished? Am I missing something here?

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23 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

You can’t pry open a paint can or putty container with a Phillip’s screwdriver.

JilltheTooth's avatar

As long as I have a dime in my pocket, I will embrace the slotted screw. Besides, there’s a lifetime warranty on my Craftsman screwdrivers. I got them a long time ago, they still work well.

thorninmud's avatar

@gailcalled That’s true, but couldn’t we just sell the screwdrivers as lid pryers and forget about the screws?

@JilltheTooth If you were going to Home Depot to buy a pack of screws and you could get the same screw with either recess, would you prefer one over the other?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

In a pinch just about any flat piece of metal works like a screwdriver. Torx are nice but there’s no chance of substitution.

gailcalled's avatar

@thorninmud; That is true; and my family, over the years, has also used the tip of most of my carbon steel knives for the same purpose.

thorninmud's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Yes, I can see why you’d be glad the screw is slotted if you were trying to do an emergency repair and didn’t have tools. But I’m pretty sure that scenario didn’t enter into the decision process of the guy who put that screw in. I guess I’m asking why did he use a slotted screw, since it undoubtedly made his life harder.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Actually, @thorninmud , I would actually prefer the slotted screw, if only for its simplicity. A number of devices can be used to tighten a slotted screw, but a screw with a specific head needs a specialty driver. I’ve assembled enough things to be frustrated at my lack of the correct size of Allen wrench, and that weird “thap thap thap” noise that a phillips makes when the driver is not exactly the right size. The screw itself functions the same, so the slot is my pref.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Because they’re cheap and easy to make. A lot of the fancier drive types, particularly those that are tamper resistant, need to manufactured to very precise tolarances as do the tools needed to use them and that adds to cost dramatically. Yes they may be technically better but if youre using a lot of screws an extra cent a screw (going on the prices comparing similar size slot screw to torx) can quickly add up.

thorninmud's avatar

@Lightlyseared That’s true of hex, square, Torx and tamper-resistant, but the price difference between slotted and Phillips is very slight, and I’d think that any operation that uses large quantities of screws would very easily make up for the extra cost of the Phillips in increased assembly speed. After all, Phillips drive was developed especially for mass assembly operations because slotted fasteners were so clumsy.

jrpowell's avatar

Have you ever used a butter knife as a replacement for a flat head screwdriver? I do all the time and I love it.

wilma's avatar

I hope they don’t stop making slotted screws. That is the only kind that I will use in my old house. (If they are visible at all.)
A phillips head screw just looks wrong in a 100+ years old house.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I haven’t ever stripped a slotted screw, but I’ve stripped many screws that were phillips, hex, and square tipped. So, based on that alone, I’ll stick with the slotted screws when I have a choice.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

A technology will persist when it is adequate. A superior technology is useless if the current technology is good enough.

It may edge the old technology out over time, but it needs to overcome a great deal of inertia.

You are imagining that there is great deal of pressure to evolve, when in fact, there is very little.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
saint's avatar

Why doesn’t every gun on earth fire a 9 mm round? I thought diversity was a virtue.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Nullo's avatar

I find that I’m more likely to chew up an obstinate Phillips, or else chew up the driver. And I frequently find that my Phillips screwdrivers are the wrong depth for the screw in question, resulting in an inadequate grip. The flatheads aren’t so persnickety.

thorninmud's avatar

So, does this mean you won’t all be joining my “Occupy Home Depot” protest?

JilltheTooth's avatar

Go forth, @thorninmud , occupy away. I won’t support your stance, but I’ll bring you coffee… :-)

wilma's avatar

You think that the slotted screw is an inferior device. I think quite a few of us disagree.
You can stand up for what you believe, but the rest of us will have to follow our own hearts when it comes to screwing.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Oh, @wilma, tee hee!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@wilma I really didn’t expect this question would make me laugh. Nice!

dappled_leaves's avatar

And cleverly crafted to avoid the diligent eyes of the mods… unlike my own unhelpful quip above. :P

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