We're surrounded by seemingly insignificant items that are taken for granted. Consider the lowly screw. I doubt you can pick up any manufactured object that isn't held together by these quiet behemoths. From the toy car you stubbed your toe on last night on the way to the bathroom, to the machine you shakily pour coffee from each morning, each of these items owes part of its functionality to the screws holding it together.

Credit goes to Greek mathematician Archytas for inventing the first wooden screw in the first century B.C. The most common use for these crude fasteners during this period was in oil and wine presses.

Wooden screws would be your only choice at the local Cave Depot until 1513, when a German clock maker developed the first metal screw. These first fasteners were made out of brass or steel wire. Hopefully, you were not in a big hurry when you placed your order with the local artisan for a handful of these early screws. The head of each screw had to be hammered flat after which the slot and the threads had to be hand-filed. Obviously, the uniformity of these screws was lacking. It would be centuries until a British engineer by the name of Henry Maudslay patented a screw-cutting lathe. Later in the 1700s, another Englishman-Jesse Ramsden-made mass production possible by fine tuning the screw-cutting lathe.

Head case

Up till this point, screws simply had a slot cut into the head. To anyone who has partially driven a slotted screw halfway into a board when the head stripped out, the design limitations of this drive are clear.

In 1906, Canadian Peter Lymburner Robertson was demonstrating a spring-loaded screwdriver when it slipped off of the screw and he cut his hand. They say pain is sometimes the mother-of-invention. Enter the Robertson square drive. This drive system proved to be far superior to the slotted drive. The bit was self-centering and could go deeper into the screw. It had four points of contact rather than two and would lock into the head. While Robertson showed prowess in developing this drive and eventually the machinery to manufacture these screws, he obviously was lacking in business sense.

When Henry Ford realized he could save almost two hours of assembly time per vehicle by using the Robertson screws, he asked for a licensing agreement from Robertson so he could control the distribution of the screws. Robertson blinked, thinking this would not be in his best interest. The phrase "the Robertson screw is the best kept secret outside of Canada" was coined after this fateful decision.

Meet Henry Phillips. His design was a direct answer to the automobile manufacturers' need for a fastener that could speed up the assembly lines and be safely used with power drivers. The design that mated this screw so well to these production lines is also what has so many of us shaking our fists at them when we try to use them in high-torque applications. They were designed to cam out. That is, as the torque reaches a certain level, the bit is designed to wind itself out of the screw. This would keep the screw from being over-tightened or breaking off. So, what many of us feel is a design flaw is actually a design feature. Go figure.

Although Phillips founded the Phillips Screw Co. in 1933, he never actually made any screws. The company was simply the sole licenser of the process to manufacture the screw. By 1940, Phillips drive screws were being used by every car manufacturer. Gradually, this X-slot design found its way into every hardware store and toolbox.

Today, there are more and more high-torque applications where the decades' old technology of cam out are simply wasteful, both in productivity and in reliability. One of the latest versions of the immortal screw is the LOX recess. Yeah, I work for the company. But haven't I always been straight with you guys? I've always said I will tout any and all things I feel are improvements over what is currently being used or frankly anything I think is cool.

The LOX system features a non-magnetic stick-fit. Since the screw stick-fits into the bit, you can screw a 10 by 3/4-inch self-driller blind into the back of a steel stud without the screw wobbling off the bit. The advantages of being non-magnetic are two-fold. First, there will be no metal shavings gathering on the bit tip wearing it prematurely. Second, those same little nasties are not sitting there waiting for the chance to work their way into your fingertips as you feed screws onto the bit.

Get the dry out!

Now that I helped you out, it's time for you all to help me. Get out your crayons and draw something. Or if you are creatively challenged, get out your checkbook and pay someone to draw for you. The Dry T-shirt contest is coming fast. I am expecting you to contribute. If however there is no reaction to this simple request, my suspicions will finally be confirmed that no one reads this stuff anyway. I will finally be able to hand in my resignation affecting absolutely no one and life will go on. If, however, I am sorely mistaken and you do care and want to feed my fragile ego, you will respond by generously sending mailbags heavily laden with shirts from far and wide. I will immediately demand a six-figure salary I will share with you all ... really.

Remember: I give all year long-it's time for you to give back!