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Be sure to use the correct size of screwdriver for any drive style. This tip is especially important when you use Phillips and specialty screws. Each drive style comes in several different sizes, and using the wrong size screwdriver can damage the head of the screw. So you may find it handy to buy an assortment of screwdrivers — that way, you’re sure to have the right one when you need it.
Different screws for different jobs
Why the heck do screws have different types of drive heads? No one really knows for sure, but it may have to do with crop circles made by alien visitors to Earth. No, just kidding! Each drive type has its own advantages, depending on the application. Here's a quick rundown:
Most screwdriver-using folks prefer slotted screws for general use because they work with a wider variety of blade sizes. (Even so, only one blade size is absolutely correct for any given screw head.)
Phillips screws are easier to use in automated and semi-automated production. The screwdriver naturally slips into the screw's
slots and makes positive contact with the screw head. This certainty makes Phillips-head screws perfect for manufacturing lines, and most of the electronics gadgets, toys, and other products that you buy use them.
Hex and specialty screw heads provide a positive, no-slip drive between screwdriver and screw. You want to use these heads when the screw has to be really tight, such as with the assembly of a high-speed machine or one that gets jostled a lot, like your car.
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Chapter 3: Outfitting Your Electronics Bench
How many types of screws can there be, anyway? Here’s a list:
^ Slotted screws: Probably the most common of all, these screws have a single slot. Use with a flat-blade screwdriver.
^ Phillips screws: These screws have a plus (+) shaped slot. Use with a Phillips screwdriver. After slotted screws, you probably come across Phillips screws most often.
^ Hex screws: These screws have a hexagon-shaped socket. Use with a hex screwdriver or a set of L-shaped hex wrenches. (You may hear these tools also called Allen or key wrenches.) No matter what specific tool you use, with a hex screw it must be the right size!
^ Specialty screws: These screws use a variety of slot styles. Manufacturers make many of these screws for specific projects or distributors, and you don’t see them often. They go by names like Torx and Pozi-Drive. Don’t bother buying specialty screwdrivers until you need them. Like hex screws, you need to exactly match the specialty screw with the right screwdriver.
Screwdrivers with a magnetic personality
When working with small screws, having a magnetized screwdriver really helps. You can then use the screwdriver to pick up the screw and align the screwdriver (with the screw magnetically stuck to the end) with the hole or
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Part II: Aisle 5, Component Shack: Stocking Up
slot — all with one hand and no cussing! If you don’t already have magnetized screwdrivers, purchase a screwdriver magnetizer at the hardware store. The magnetizer lets you magnetize and demagnetize your screwdrivers and other metal tools.
Not all screws are metal. Some are made of nylon or another plastic material, so obviously magnetizing your screwdrivers doesn’t help much with these screws. Even some metal screws are non-magnetic, so your magnetic screwdriver doesn’t have any supernatural powers over those little guys. These non-magnetic metal screws are often made of brass, aluminum, or some type of stainless steel.
Here’s a trick if you’re using non-magnetic screws and can’t seem to hold them in position. Get a small package of rubber holdup putty, available at any office supply store. Pull off a very small portion of the putty and cram it into the head of the screw. Insert the screwdriver into the screw head. The screw should stay attached to the screwdriver long enough for you to start screwing it into the hole.
Take it off: Wire cutters and strippers
The wire cutter and stripper tool is a must-have for any electronics work. As the name suggests, you use the wire cutter and stripper to both cut wire and strip off the wire’s plastic insulation. You can see a combination cutter and stripper in Figure 3-2. Look for these tools at Radio Shack and other electronics parts stores, or check out one of the better-stocked hardware and home improvement outlets.
With many strippers, you can “dial in” the gauge of the wire. (See the sidebar titled “What the Heck Is Wire Gauge, Anyway?” if you want to know about wire gauge.) This tool allows you to more easily remove just the insulation, without cutting or nicking the wire underneath.
What the heck is wire gauge, anyway?
You measure wire thickness in gauge or AWG (which stands for American Wire Gauge, if you're interested). The smaller the gauge, the larger the wire. The smallest wire commonly used in electronics is 30 gauge, for constructing wire wrap circuit boards (see Chapter 12 for more info on this technique). You should use wire strippers especially made for this small size.