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In one of my only non-martial arts jobs as an adult (pre boat life), straight out of college, I installed residential and commercial alarm systems. Not to make that sound too glamorous, what I really did was grunt work, running wires for the main technician (a skill that has obviously had some carryover into boat life).

Each alarm component that we had to install, similar to many items that are available for purchase these days, came with a little sealed bag full of screws to attach the device. In every single case, immediately after opening the box, we would throw that bag of fasteners straight in the trash. Why? Because the screws that came with the alarm pieces were either Phillips head or Slot and we used only Robertson screws.

Another great Canadian invention!

Those outside of our home country may not be super familiar with this Canadian invention. If you’ve ever used them though, there is no comparison between Robertson screws and the more common screw head variants. Just the other day when I was installing the slide-out cupboard drawers that we purchased, I was able to use the last remaining Robertson screws that we brought with us from Canada (stainless, of course). Unfortunately, I ran out before I had all of the drawers installed and so had to resort to using the more common Phillips head screws that we had on hand. It should be noted that the amount of swearing increased considerably right at the time of the shift in materials!

Is the world likely to change to this obviously superior technology? No. Do I want to get my hands on some more stainless Robertson screws? You bet. The question is, do they even sell them outside of Canada???

In other news, I spent a couple of hours yesterday with my hands in a bucket of gasoline servicing our two sheet winches. The following video details the process pretty well. Although it is not that much harder than the guy in the video shows, it is no where near as clean a job as he represents!

32 Comments

  1. I love Robertson screw. What is even better about them here in South Carolina is that people don’t borrow my screwdriver so it never goes missing!

  2. We rarely see square hole screws in UK. Posidrive is much the commonest for smaller screws because it is good with power drill bits. For larger screws and fixings it is always Allen screws, ie hexagonal holes and keys. Torx doesn’t seem to have caught on except in some specialist electronic equipment.

    Mike

  3. Incidentally, Philips heads are now very rare here having been replaced with the much more satisfactory, though similar looking, Posidrive.

    Mike

  4. Robertsons are a mixed blessing outside (I presume) of Canada. My boat was made in Nova Scotia and is thus chock-full of Robertsons. I’ve got plenty of Robertson tips (although trying to find a fixed-handle driver is a lost cause in the States), but every time I need a boatyard to do anything, I’m always paying for extra hours while they scratch their heads and hunt around for the proper tools.

    BTW, most people don’t realize this, but the Phillips driver was *designed to cam out* — the original intent was for factory assembly using power drivers, and the concern was overtightening of the fastener. The Phillips design prevented overtightening because the driver “cammed out” of the fastener before too much torque could be applied. Of course, it later found its way into common use, and this “feature” has become instead a liability — tool and fastener manufacturers have been working for years to limit the very cam-out for which the fastener was originally designed.

    The US solution for high-torque applications is the “Torx” fastener, which can accept much higher torques than Robertson without stripping. And I’ve got plenty of Robertson fasteners with, uhh, rounded-out “squares” to prove it, along with some rounded-off Robertson tips. 🙁

    Sadly, I don’t think you will find Robertson-head fasteners outside of Canada. They are available in the US by special order, but I have never seen them in a hardware store. (They are more common here in the cabinetry industry, and millwork specialty suppliers do carry them.) I would guess the islands would be similar.

  5. Mike, you can find stainless Robertson screws at both McMaster-Carr (www.mcmaster.com) and McFeeleys (www.mcfeelys.com).

  6. Their is a square type in the US but it is not a Robertson. The square doesn’t have the cambered sides but is straight. If you buy what looks to be a Robertson drive but get a square one, it will work, but never feel right because it won’t seat firmly. It will be annoying.

    Maybe for a discount on a charter one of my bags can be filled with screws and drivers…. 🙂

  7. The only problem I have with the square head is that if you have to go at it from an angle it will strip easily. The Philips head screw is better in that regard.
    The worst is when a boat has all kinds of different screw types as having to find the right shape, the right size driver is a pain in the rear. I’m replacing the square heads with Philips on my boat

  8. Home Depot offers square drive SS screws which we use abundantly around our family’s beach house.

    http://m.homedepot.com/s/stainless%20screws%20square%20drive?searchtype=text

  9. http://www.boltdepot.com/Sheet_metal_screws.aspx?nv=l

    Works fine on wood. The allen socket machine screws are also great for adding bits to spars. They have reasonable shipping in States … try them for Carib.

  10. Hi Mike and Rebecca,
    From one Canadian to another, what different sizes of Robertsons would you like? Let me know and tell me where to send them. I’ll have them to you in no time.

    Chris

  11. We used to screw down decks with Phillips head screws and were really happy when the Robertsons head came out. Now that we use Torx head screws we have the same opinion of the Robertsons head as we used to have of the Phillips head. Ain’t progress grand!

  12. Good post Mike, on an important but all to easily forgotten topic. When building JOANA, I exclusively used Robertson screws and have thousands leftover in my spares bins. Some day, the next owner may appreciate this, or curse it!

  13. a. Yup, Home Depot square head SS screws work fine. I’ve used them on some long-term waterline projects (ladders, rub-rails). But sizes are limited.

    b. Many US screws take EITHER Philips or square drive.

    c. I prefer the square drives in larger sizes (long deck screws) but find Phillips faster in smaller sizes, particularly in ferrous screws where a magnetic holder works. But you need to use high-grip drivers. Yes, it would be good if the design was modified just a little to reduce cam-out, since the self-aligning is better.

    d. Not having the right driver is silly. We’re talking peanuts.

    e. Technique matters, as does replacing drivers at the first sign of wear. Just a cost.

  14. I went through some trouble to locate a good set of Robertson drivers … so I could use them to take out “stripped” Phillips head screws.

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