Friday, December 7, 2012

The "Perfect Handle" Screwdriver

These old types of screwdrivers turn up very infrequently in my neck of the woods where they're commonly referred to as "mechanics' screwdrivers."  Only two of the examples above have any identifying marks.  One says "Irwin" and another "Steel Warranted Germany."  Several have numbers cast into the blade at the end, perhaps to signify length, or perhaps because at one time some manufacturers had their own blade width classification system.  

As late as the mid-Thirties, you could still find drawings of this type of screwdriver in woodworking texts
Alexander S. Hamilton.  Woodwork for Junior High School Students Grades VII, VIII & IX.  Toronto:  The Copp Clark Co., Ltd., 1936.
Because of their heavy construction, users could hammer on the handle end with impunity (to the tool, not necessarily to the workpiece).  

The design for this form of screwdriver was first patented in the U.S. in 1903 by William S. Ward.  Apparently, they're commonly referred to as "Perfect Handle" screwdrivers because this is the name under which they were sold by the American manufacturer to which Ward assigned his patent:  H.D. Smith & Co. of Plantsville, Connecticut.  According to information on the Lee Valley Tools site, the H.D. Smith company was founded in 1855 to manufacture carriage hardware.  By 1910, they had turned to the production of high-quality forgings and tools, eventually turning out  cold chisels, a barbed-wire cutter, a hatchet, farriers' nippers, drawknives, screwdrivers, hammers, pliers, pipe wrenches, pry bars, a tack puller, tire-changing tools, wrenches, and valve spring lifters.

  The Lee Valley page notes:
"A feature of many of their tools was the "Perfect Handle" where the tool, forged from a single billet of steel, had a wooden handle riveted on. They drew on the scientific explanation of relative heat conductivity of materials, by Prof. Lawrence Hodges, to say that these tools would be comfortable "in the hottest of heat and the coldest of cold."
1920 Catalogue
H.D. Smith also produced tools under several other trade names.  My favourite is the one they used for their slip-joint pliers:  "Gittatit."  Unfortunately, they were unable to weather the economic depression and were acquired in 1930 by the Trimont Manufacturing Company, which discontinued the screwdrivers.  The screwdrivers were, of course, widely imitated by other manufacturers, which explains the Irwin and German-made ones in my collection.

For tips on how to restore such screwdrivers, see Perfect Handle Tool Repair.


Anonymous said...

I have a 9" screwdriver with
"H.D.S. & Co. Patented
....Conn. U.S.A."
printed in a "ribbon" around the metal shaft. Butt end is flat, or has been hammered in use, wood looks like dark oak. None of the similar pieces on the web show this ribbon label. Do I have something previous to 1930? Thank you for your time. ~ Steve

The Duke said...

Sorry, I'm not an expert on old tools, so I can't help you date your screwdriver. However, if you care to send some photos, I'd be happy to ad them to the post! Thanks for visiting.

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Anonymous said...

I have a 16” perfect handle Irwin 10 and I can’t find out what it might be worth because I have a old set of gun smithing and clock wooden/ flat handled screw drivers/turn keys I’m trying to put up for sale and I want to be fair but not jip myself! Lol I’m reaching out to the community in hopes of maybe getting some one whom may know about this tool!! Thank you and I love the tools you have available!! Great posts!!