Roberston Screw – coming to an end

The history of the Robertson screw is 105 years long, longer than even the Phillips screw, but it’s days are now seemingly numbered.

A while ago, I posted about Kreg and their new screws (being a combination of a square drive and a Phillips drive), and how much I disliked them – with the advantages of the Robertson screw completely compromised by a new design for the head which has both a Phillips design as well as a square drive.  Where once the Robertson screw would remain firmly on the end of the square drive without falling off, and no real tendency for the driver to ‘cam-out’ of its engagement with the screw, the inclusion of the Philiips head meant the screw would fall off the driver, and cam-out was a common experience.

Had gotten to the point with the Kreg screws that I might as well just use Phillips, or find another supplier.

So at the show, I dropped into Screw-It screws, and although the initial observations looked good when looking at the softwood screws, I was shocked when I saw the hardwood ones.  They are now the same.  Disasterous.  Personally, if you want to use a Phillips drive, buy a Phillips screw.  If you want a Robertson square drive, buy a Robertson screw.  I don’t see why they have to be mixed together, compromising both types.


Had quite a chat with them about it, and they confirmed that these are the only ones that are being made now, and they cannot get them either.  Unless you are prepared to place a special order (minimum quantity around 120000 screws) with the manufacturer.  I can see the future, and it is the softwood ones will go the same way too, and then, unless there is a huge groundswell from the end users complaining about the new heads being rubbish, that’ll be the end of the 105 years of genuine Robertson screw head screws.

Someone please tell me I am wrong 😦

Well that is disappointing @kregtoolcompany

I am a definite fan of Kreg, of their Pockethole Jig, of their other tools and accessories (and would welcome more in the workshop).


I was in Carbatec last night, having a bit of a chat, and we got onto the Kreg screws that came in my new Kreg container. These are the ones that are the bastard child of the Robertson screw and Phillips screw. I hate them. They cam out easily. They fall off the end of the square drive. They have wrecked all the advantages of the Robertson screw head, and gained nothing.

But I was hoping it was some random supplier not providing the standard Kreg screw.

On the shelves in Carbatec are new boxes, all Kreg, and all filled with these new screws. I am so disappointed. I will definitely be purchasing some of the big boxes of the old screws before they become unavailable. Then, I will switch to a supplier of Robertson screws that haven’t been compromised with a Phillips head.

On the Kreg website they still show the old heads, and make a big deal about how they don’t cam out etc, which is one of the massive advantages of the original ones. I don’t understand why they have decided to drop that engineering philosophy. I have been exclusively using the new ones recently, attempting to use them up as fast as possible, and they have been falling off the driver, and regularly suffering from cam out (that is when the driver disengages from the head of the screw and spins on the surface, burring screw and drive head alike). They have already wrecked one of my Kreg drivers.

Please Kreg – can we ditch these new ones and return to the tried and true? Please?

Robertson Screw

I am going to paraphrase (aka butcher) the history badly, but there are plenty of websites providing a fuller history.

Around the turn of the 20th century, an inventor called Robertson came up with a cold forming method for producing a screw head with an internal square drive, with a tapered socket.  It would have been huge, especially as it was initially very popular with Henry Ford, and the fledgling car industry.  They would save considerable time in manufacture.  The taper makes it very easy to use the screws one handed, and means they stay on the end of the driver easily.

However, Robertson was not prepared to license the screw design to Ford, so they went with the Phillips instead.  I guess Henry was a relative of Steve Jobs!

The Robertson is the screw of choice in Canada, but did not get much of an uptake elsewhere (particularly the US) – either because of the Ford thing, or simply because Phillips is local, and Robertson is “foreign”.

In more recent times, Kreg have been making the screw increasingly popular with their pocket hole jig.  Certainly that is where I first came across them.  They have been my screw of choice for a while now, leaving flats, Phillips and Pozidriv stripped and in the dust.  I am a definite fan for a number of reasons – they don’t strip.  I use them over and over with jigs, and they screw in and out time and again.  It isn’t that I am being thrifty, (although why waste a good screw), but it also means I don’t need to try to extract a screw that has stripped out.  Even if a Robertson is painted over, you can extract it easily.

Can’t say I have ever driven one by hand though – I’m always using an impact driver (or drill) to drive them.  They mount on the end, don’t fall off, and drive superbly.  Unlike Phillips, these don’t cam out under high torque, and that is what really kills Phillips screws.


The latest application was all the way along the front fence.  I made it a number of years ago, and since then the pickets have become hard, and brittle.  I initially tried to use a pneumatic nail gun with galv nails, and every single nail split the picket in half.  Take 2, I tried to use the original galv nails I used when first making the fence, and each nail bent.  So Take 3, and out came the Robertsons.  The Festool CXS drove screw after screw, smooth as you’d like.  Not a single stripped head, not a single one fell off the head of the driver.  That alone saved time, and aggravation.  While one was screwing in, I was already able to reach into the box to pull out another handful to continue with.  You can see why they would have saved ol’ Henry so much production time.

Sinking one in the Corner Pocket(hole)

With the Pockethole Jig securely mounted with a large support area, it makes cutting the pocketholes in a table top very easy.

In this case, I wanted to join two pieces of particle board along a 45 degree cut to create the corner bench.

Ripping the benchtop

Ripping the benchtop

Firstly, I prepared the benchtop from an old work desk (amazing what gets thrown away these days) (Remember I did get the max score on the cheapskate woodworker quiz!).  The top was ripped to 400mm wide, for no particularly good reason, other than it looked about right.

Benchtop laid out

Benchtop laid out

I marked out the location of the pocketholes (this only has to be approximate – given it is on the underside and therefore won’t be seen).  I chose centres of 100mm, and had holes going from both sides of the mitre to maximise the joint strength (and obviously making sure that the screws were not going to run into each other!)

Ready to cut the Pockethole

Ready to cut the Pockethole

Now you can see why I wanted the extra capacity for the Pockethole Jig.  It is then a very simple, and quick operation to cut the required holes.

Cutting the Pocketholes

Cutting the Pocketholes

Here the holes are being cut.  The depth of the hole is regulated by the stop that was set earlier.  The ‘secret’ about the pockethole, is it creates this elliptical opening at an angle in the board which does not go full depth.  A pilot hole continues on another 8mm or so further guiding the screw.  The bottom of the main hole is flat, so it gives a good area for the head of the screw to press against.  I’ll go into more detail (photographic rather than continuing a lame description) in the near future.  Needless to say, it is very easy, and by planning the project with this joining method in mind, it is easy to locate the pocketholes out of sight.  If need-be, there are plugs the correct shape to fill the hole, and disguise it’s existance (or by using a contrasting coloured plug, to use it as a feature)  Personally, I just keep the pocketholes out of sight.

Benchtop Joined

Benchtop Joined

Here is the resulting (underside) of the benchtop, all joined with the Pockethole joint.  The screws used are the square headed Robertson screw (which actually predates the Phillips screw head by about 20 years).  They are particularly suited in this application being a full recess-drive type fastener, and as such stay properly located on the square drive (provided with the jig).  Phillips screws can also be used (so long as they have a flat bottom to the head, and ideally are ferrous so can stay located on a magnetised driver).  Of course the purists swear that the Robertson screw is the only one that should be used. (Seems strange using the term purist and Pockethole in the same sentence).

I attached the ‘legs’ for the bench in the same way.

The Commissioned Bench

The Commissioned Bench

The resulting bench, in location with the sanders ready to go.  I also decided that it would make a reasonable location for the also-homeless scrollsaw.  I’m feeling more organised by the minute.

Now that this corner is sorted (and there is plenty of storage capacity under this bench as you can see), the next task is going to be ripping the large rolling cabinet in half, and wall-mounting the resulting cupboards.  Given the size and weight of the cabinet (even empty, with shelves and doors removed), this will be an interesting task.

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