Screwdrivers are one of the most widely used tools around. Even if you’re not into DIY, you’ve probably got a screwdriver somewhere in your home. They’re the first tool that most people get, and often, they’re the start of a lifelong hobby in craft, carpentry, electronics, or DIY. Screwdrivers are a top drawer tool for every professional tradesperson. They’re simple, and they’re durable.
Many people think screwdriver shapes are limited to the cross and flathead. The truth is that screwdrivers come in many shapes, and each shape has its own slight variations, and using the wrong one can cause permanent damage to your screw and screwdriver.
One screwdriver shape that is becoming more popular is the JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard) screwdriver. JIS screwdrivers are very useful, and using one will make your work easier, and leave you with fewer damaged and broken screws. In this article, we will explore the history of the JIS screwdriver, and how it differs from similar driver shapes, like the Phillips head screwdriver.
What Is a Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) Screwdriver?
You may have noticed that your screwdriver doesn’t work well on Japanese products. This is a common issue. When the driver tip doesn’t fit, you could damage your screw and create an additional problem. It’s better to prevent damage in the first place, because removing damaged and stripped screws is not a simple job.
The reason your screwdriver doesn’t fit may surprise you. Although it may look like a standard Phillips screw, it’s not - Japanese products use screws with a different shape than standard Phillips screws, called Japanese Industrial Standard screws. If you apply torque to a JIS screw with a Phillips head screwdriver, you risk damaging it.
The JIS screwdriver is like the Phillips screwdriver, but there are some key differences. First, JIS screwdrivers have sharper tips than Phillips screwdrivers. In addition, the space between the blades of the X is much narrower - this is because JIS screwdrivers have sharp angles between the blades, rather than flat curves. Finally, they have a flatter angle on the tip. This makes the tip of the screwdriver shorter and allows for better grip and engagement with JIS screws.
Every product made in Japan uses JIS screws, rather than Phillips ones. Japanese electronics, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles all use JIS screws. Japanese products have only been getting more popular over the previous five decades, so more JIS screws are being seen abroad. However, as most people are unaware of the differences between Phillips and JIS, they’re damaging their screws by using the wrong screwdriver.
JIS screwdrivers work on both Phillips and JIS screws without damaging their heads. Phillips screwdrivers, however, could destroy your JIS screws. More Japanese products are becoming available every year, so a JIS screwdriver set is a must-have for any craftsperson or hobbyist.
The History of Phillips Head and JIS Screwdrivers
We have used screwdrivers globally for over 500 years, but for the first 400 of those, they all had the same shape. Slotted screws and flathead screwdrivers were all we had from the late 1400s until the early 1900s, when new types of screws and screwdrivers were developed.
Slotted screws and flathead screwdrivers had issues. Although they had more fastening ability than the nails used before they were invented, the simple slotted design allowed for the screwdriver to slip out of the screw’s head. This could cause damage to the screw and screwdriver, and injury to the person using it.
In 1906, a Canadian inventor named P. L. Robertson invented the Robertson screw. Robertson screws feature a square-shaped hole on the head that can be tightened with an Allen wrench. These screws failed to enter early mass production, though, as the inventor was very protective of his patents. This left an opening in the market that an American engineer named Henry F. Phillips capitalized on. Phillips purchased the design for a self-centering screw with a cross-shaped head and brought it to market. We now know his design as the Phillips screw.
The invention of different screws and screwdrivers revolutionized many industries. When Henry Ford switched from slotted screws to Robertson screws, he noted that the simple change saved him two hours of work producing each Ford Model T car.
Japanese companies were also beginning to use cross-shaped screws, but they developed them without influence from Henry F. Phillips. Phillips owned the rights to his screw design, so the only people allowed to produce Phillips screws were people approved by him. Phillips screws were mass-produced using automated machinery, which made screws with a consistent shape and fit. However, Japanese screws were made by hand, resulting in slight variations in design.
Phillips screwdrivers slipped out of screws at high torque. This was great for the fast-paced, low-skilled labor assembly lines that defined the American industrial revolution. In Japan, however, screws were set one-by-one by expert craftsmen. Quality was key. Screws were meant to fit tightly into their intended location, so they required high torque to set properly. Japanese screws were also made of softer metals like brass, that could be damaged by a screwdriver slipping out.
Japanese manufacturers had so many issues with Phillips head screwdrivers that the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee decided to make a new screwdriver to be compatible with Japanese screws. The result was the JIS screwdriver. The JIS screwdriver changed manufacturing in Japan. It allowed Japanese tradespeople to set screws tight, at high torque, without causing damage, and increased the efficiency of their work.
Do You Really Need a JIS Screwdriver?
The best way to answer whether you need a JIS screwdriver is by asking yourself if you want to keep dealing with damaged screws. It’s easy to strip a screw if your screwdriver doesn’t fit correctly, but it’s very difficult to remove it once it’s stripped. We’ve written an article outlining 9 methods to remove broken and damaged screws - but none of them are simpler than just using the correct screwdriver.
It’s not always easy to find a high-quality JIS screwdriver set in North America or Europe. While some hardware stores may carry them, it's more common to find them from specialty retailers. However, the investment in a quality JIS screwdriver is worth it for anyone who removes screws more than a few times a year.
If you can’t find Japanese Industrial Standard screwdrivers locally, you can always order them online. All the cross-point screwdrivers we sell at Daitool are made in Japan by trusted Japanese companies to the JIS screwdriver specification (unless otherwise stated), and we’ll ship them direct to your door worldwide.
If you want to see why a JIS screwdriver is almost always the best tool for the job, let’s compare JIS and Phillips head screws, and how they work with each kind of driver.
As you can see, the Phillips head screw has more space in the center of the X where the grooves meet than the JIS screw. However, the grooves are the same width on both screws. This means that choosing a Phillips screwdriver with blades the same thickness as the grooves on a JIS screw will result in the tip of the driver being too big to fit the center of the X. If you want to fit a Phillips screwdriver to your JIS screw, you need to match it to the center, which means it will actually be a size or two smaller than it should be, and it will slip out easily.
You can see here that the blades of the JIS screwdriver fit perfectly into the grooves of the Phillips head screw. The little space around the center of the X won’t matter as the driver blades have a powerful grip on the grooves. However, the Phillips screwdriver needed to size down to fit into the JIS screw, so the blades are too thin, and it cannot achieve a suitable grip.
A JIS screwdriver will fit Japanese Industrial Standard screws, like you’d find on your Panasonic TV or Honda motorcycle, and also Phillips screws like you’d find on items made in the USA or Europe. However, using a Phillips head screwdriver on anything made in Japan may cause damage.
Therefore, a JIS screwdriver is more versatile, useful, and causes less damage than a Phillips head screwdriver. If you have a JIS screwdriver set, you will have no need for Phillips head drivers anymore. Now the only question left is, which quality Japanese screwdriver brand are you going to choose?