Screwdrivers - The Essential Basic Tools of Watchmaking
Along with tweezers, watchmaking screwdrivers are likely to be your most used tool while working on a movement.
It is essential to have a wide selection of watchmakers screwdrivers to hand so that you can select the best screwdriver for the task. Make sure you to use the correct size screwdriver, rule of thumb is that the width of the screwdriver tip should match the width of the screw head. This will mean you have good contact and reduce the risk of a stripped screw which you will struggle to remove.
Watchmakers screwdrivers are generally colour coded to tell the difference in blade size but annoyingly, there is no uniformity between manufacturers.
These are the key things to consider when purchasing screwdrivers:
Flat headed screwdrivers. All watch movement parts only ever use flat headed screws, so these should be your first purchase. There are some case backs (mainly on quartz watches) that will use Phillips headed screws, so you may need both types of screwdriver sets eventually. However I would only purchase a set of Phillips screwdrivers if/when needed and probably go for a cheaper option as they will be used a lot less.
Buy a screwdriver set rather than individual screwdrivers (unless you already have some screwdrivers and are just missing one or two sizes). First, each screwdriver will be the same quality and second, it will come with some sort of stand or box for convenient access and use. Remember, a tidy desk means a tidy mind!
Replaceable blades are essential to allow you to sharpen the blades when required and to extend their longevity. Most quality screwdrivers will be supplied with a spare blade.
Bearing quality. It should feel slick and smooth with no drag or resistance when you spin a screwdriver under your finger on top of the screwdriver.
Originally, I bought a cheap set of 9 screwdrivers via eBay, which had replaceable blades.
The first set arrived and had one screwdriver with a missing screw that holds the blade in place. Luckily the seller was very fair and agreed to send me another set. The second set I received was complete, but during use, I discovered issues that you wouldn't expect with a branded set.
First, the blades were not all straight and sharp to begin with, although this was something I was able to resolve myself.
Second, some of the screws holding in the blades were never able to be tightened strongly enough to stop the blade rotating when used with any force, effectively making the screwdriver useless for its intended purpose.
Last, the holes in the rotating stand were not cut precisely enough to fit all the screwdrivers, so some would not sit in the stand as they should.
It was these reasons that opened my eyes to the benefits of a branded set, so I purchased a set of precision Horotec screwdrivers, and I haven't looked back since.
However, recently while working on a quartz ETA movement, I found that my Horotec screwdrivers would not go deep enough in the screw head to provide enough grip to be able to turn the screw. I ended up resorting to using my original cheap set of screwdrivers for the majority of this movement. It seems screws in quartz movements are cut slightly different, so you may come across this. I think ultimately the best solution is to have 2 sets of screwdrivers, which are sharpened at different angles to be able to handle both types of screws.
Bergeon and Horotec seem to be the two main screwdriver manufacturers held in the highest esteem by watchmakers. This also makes them the most expensive option. AF Switzerland also make high-quality screwdrivers at a slightly lower cost.
If you would rather purchase individual screwdrivers, then the general consensus amongst watchmakers is to go for the following sizes:
My set of Horotec screwdrivers consists of 9 sizes, but I can honestly say I've never used the three largest sizes - 2.0, 2.5 and 3.0mm.
Basic Variety = around £6 for a set of 7
Branded Variety = around £12-15 per screwdriver
It's worth splashing the cash for a branded set of precision screwdrivers from Bergeon, Horotec or AF Switzerland, as this is a key tool you will use constantly and if looked after can last a lifetime.
If you think I've missed anything or have anything to add, please comment below.