What Is The Difference Between Flathead And Phillips Screwdriver

Screwdrivers can be confusing to the uninitiated. Among others, two of the most popular types are flathead and Phillips screwdrivers. How is one different from the other?

The flathead screwdriver has a flat and wedged tip designed for slotted screws. On the other hand, Phillips screwdrivers have cross-shaped heads that fit screws with X-shaped notches.

What Is The Difference Between Flathead And Phillips Screwdriver

In this article, I’ll discuss the physical and functional differences between a flathead and a Phillips screwdriver. Let’s dive in!

Physical Differences Between Flathead and Phillips Screwdriver

One of the most popular screwdrivers is a flathead. It has a flat, wedge-shaped tip, which makes it ideal for loosening and tightening screws with a straight notch. It goes by other names, including flat blade, straight head, and slotted screwdriver.

On the other hand, a Phillips screwdriver is also called a cross-head screwdriver.

The name itself can already give you an idea of its physical appearance. It has four ribs that taper to a dull point.

You’ll have better driving power with the Phillips screwdriver than with a flathead screwdriver.

In addition, it’s also easier to control, minimizing the chances of sliding.

It can easily stay in place, especially when you correctly match the size of the screwdriver to the screw.


The sizes of flathead screwdrivers are measured as a fraction of an inch.

They can also be expressed in metric measurements.

The most common sizes include the following:

  • 1/32” (.80mm)
  • 3/64” (1.2mm)
  • 3/32” (2.5mm)
  • ⅛” (3mm)
  • 9/64” (3.5mm)
  • 3/16” (5mm)
  • 7/32” (5.5mm)

3.5 mm and 5.5mm are the most popular sizes.

Philips screwdrivers are available in different sizes, which influences their physical appearance, and, more importantly, the type of screws they’re suited to.

You’ll find five sizes:

  • #0: It’s the smallest of the types of Phillips screwdrivers, which fits 0 and 1 screws.
  • #1: Use this Phillips screwdriver if you tighten and loosen size 2, 3, and 4 screws.
  • #2: This is the most common size of Phillip’s screwdriver. It can fit most screw types, including 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.
  • #3: If you’re working with screw numbers 10, 12, 14, and 16, this is the right screwdriver.
  • #4: For screw numbers 18, 20, and 24, choose this size.

Choosing the right size of screwdriver is crucial.

For instance, a small screwdriver in a larger screw will be hard to turn.

Due to the mismatched sizes, you will require more torque and, by extension, more effort to rotate it.

On the other hand, a screwdriver won’t fit in the screw if it’s too large.

Meanwhile, if the Phillips screwdriver is the wrong size, you might end up stripping the screw. In turn, it will be difficult to remove.

Functional Differences Between Flathead and Phillips Screwdriver

Aside from the physical appearance, the two types of screwdrivers also have functional differences.

The chisel-shaped tip of flathead screwdrivers fits the indented line in the diameter of the screw head.

You can also use it as a multi-tool, ideal for prying paint cans and pulling up nails.

The design of the flathead screwdriver is also responsible for one of its shortcomings — the cam-out effect.

This happens when the tip slides from the screw head, which happens due to a lack of centering.

Finding the right screwdriver size to match the screw head can help lessen this problem.

John Thompson of Portland invented the Phillips screwdriver.  However, the patent was credited to Henry Phillips, from whom the screwdriver got its name.

It was initially for mechanical screwing machines.

It increased manufacturing speed, making it a must-have in toolboxes and revolutionizing assembly lines.

The cruciform drive of the Phillips screwdriver addressed inherent problems in flathead screwdrivers, including the following:

  • The difficulty of aligning the screw aperture and driver
  • Slipping of the driver on open ends
  • The slot requires a closely matching bit

Aside from engaging quickly, the Phillips screwdriver is also known for staying engaged on the screw.

You can also easily prevent over-tightening, especially if you’re using a power tool.

After fastening the screw, the screwdriver will pop out.

Uses and Applications

If you attach a flathead screwdriver to a powered driver, the additional force can result in snapping.

More so, adding too much torque might also strip the screw.

As such, it’s best to limit its use to light to medium-duty applications like woodworking.

We can further categorize flathead screwdrivers depending on the intended use:

  • Keystone: The screwdriver comes with a flat and tapered blade on the side, with a slightly wider shaft. This gives it added durability and turning power.
  • Cabinet: While it also comes with a flat head shape, the blade is straight with the same width as the tip instead of being tapered. While it can be used like a keystone, its shape makes it highly suitable for reaching into confined spaces.

The Phillips screwdriver is suitable for heavy-duty tasks, including industrial work.

After setting the driver on the screw, it’s easier to apply more torque.

The screw forces out the bit when you over-tighten it, which is also a great way to prevent screw damage.

While you can find modern screws that will work with both screwdrivers, it’s typically recommended that you use a flathead screwdriver for loosening and Phillips for tightening.

Other Types of Screwdrivers

While flathead and Phillips are two of the most common types of screwdrivers, you’ll also find other designs, including the following:

  • Torx: It has a six-point star notch, ideal for removing or driving Torx fasteners. They’re not commonly used in households but are essential when working on appliances or electronics.
  • Hex: The best choice for tightening and fastening screws with hexagonal slots, it’s typical for furniture assembly. You can also use it for Allen keys.
  • Robertson: Also known as a square screwdriver, it’s designed to fit in screws with a square recess. It can grip on the side without slipping, allowing it to drive with higher torque.
  • Precision: This small screwdriver is best for precision work and driving small screws, such as appliances and phones.
  • Multi-Bit: If you’re looking for versatility, this is a must-have. As the name implies, you can change the bits depending on the screw type you will fasten or loosen.


Screws are available in different shapes. Therefore, you need to find a matching screwdriver for fastening or loosening them.

Flathead and Phillips are two of the most common screwdrivers.

Flatheads, as the name denotes, are flat and best for slotted screws.

On the other hand, Phillips screwdrivers work best for cross-shaped screws.

Cheers, tools owners!

Hi there! My name is Jack and I write for ToolsOwner. I have a passion for everything related to tools and DIY projects around the house. You often find me in my workshop working on new projects.