Folks, the first time I saw a cordless screwdriver, or power screwdriver, it was a little Black & Decker Quantum 3.6 volt model – probably 15-20 years ago. Do you remember Quantum? They were the green and black line of tools that B&D introduced to try and be a step up from their basic black and orange B&D line. My dad had bought it for me because I had been diagnosed with carpal tunnel and my hands were in tremendous pain and stiff. For folks who have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), you know it sucks. For those of you who do not have it but use your hands a ton, you do need to worry about it. Let’s talk about this injury known as CTS that totally sucks for people that use their hands a lot. By the way, did I mention it sucks?
This definition is from Wikipedia “Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a medical condition due to compression of the median nerve as it travels through the wrist at the carpal tunnel. The main symptoms are pain, numbness, and tingling, in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the thumb side of the ring fingers. Symptoms typically start gradually and during the night. Pain may extend up the arm. Weak grip strength may occur and after a long period of time the muscles at the base of the thumb may waste away. In more than half of cases both sides are affected.”
As your tendons go through your wrist, there is this sheath called the carpal tunnel (CT) that they go through. As the tendons pass, they rub the ligament and can get irritated and swell thus reducing space and compressing nerves, which then causes more irritation, more swelling and more irritation and more swelling, etc.
For me, manual screwdrivers suck. My hand is bent and fingers closed and then I am twisting my hand to turn the screwdriver. This really puts strain on the tendons going through the CT. Whenever I do a lot of work with a screwdriver, boy do I feel it later or the next day. Guess what, because of all the stuff I do in my shop, typing on the computer and what not, I can’t escape it. I’ve had CTS for 22+ years but opted to manage it vs. have surgery. Some days, I manage it and others it manages me might be a better way of putting it but I have learned a lot.
To be clear though, when you have carpal tunnel, it really pays off to learn what you need to do differently to put less stress on the tendons going through the carpal tunnel that causes the inflammation. It used to be that after working on something, I would definitely feel it but by trying to reduce the manual twisting as much as I could, I didn’t hurt as much later that night or the next morning. I also learned how to stretch my hands and the benefits of Aleve (naproxen) and Advil (ibuprofen). It wasn’t “one” thing that had to change – it was changing as many things as I could – even how I typed on a computer. Using a cordless screwdriver was one of many changes that helped.
So, back to the story. My dad gave me the cordless screwdriver and I immediately scoffed at the notion of a cordless screwdriver (manly men don’t need them, right? I was wrong!) but the fact of the matter was that the twisting motion used to set and remove screws was tearing up my hands. So, almost reluctantly, I gave it a try while questioning my man hood! What I found out was that it actually made a big difference. By using the cordless screw drivers as much as I could, I found that it made a big difference with my hands because I did not need to do the repetitive twisting motion when I needed to do a lot of screwdriver work — I was going to say screwing but that really looks funny in writing 🙂 It made such a big difference that I was a convert to power screw drivers. Sure, I still have dozens of screwdrivers and nut drivers that I use when I must, but when there is a lot of work to be done, I grab the power screw driver.
In addition to reducing wear and tear on my hands, there was another big benefit too in regards to productivity – I could set and remove screws way faster than before. Granted there were still times where I needed more torque or needed to “feel” the screw that made me do stuff by hand or break out one of my big cordless drills. In case you are wondering, cordless screw drivers are smaller, lighter, easier to maneuver and can turn slower for hand work than a drill. Bottom line, I did a lot less manual twisting with my hands.
My dad had the foresight of getting me a unit with removable batteries and over the years with many cordless tools, I’ve found it pays off to have more than one battery so you aren’t dead in the water waiting for the battery to charge.
I also found out that using the magnetic quarter inch bit holders allowed tremendous flexibility for driving all kinds of screws – philips, blade, torx, hex, small nuts, etc. Over the years, I have tried tons and tons of them. Cheap bits break or wear faster – for example, the sharp edges of a philips bit rounding over, the magnetic bit older cracking, etc.
I eventually wore out the Quantum and bought a B&D Vp810 Pivot Driver that used the same Versapak 3.6 volt batteries and both had a clutch and the handle that could pivot. I used the heck out of that thing for a few years (and it is still on a shelf in my shop) but wanted more torque as I really wanted the tool to have broader use so I dug around and bought my current cordless screwdriver, which is an 8 volt Dewalt DCF682 that I’ve had for probably at least two years and use it constantly – probably at least once a day on average.
Being a tool geek, this unit has a gyroscope that senses the direction your hand is turning and by how much. It then turns the motor in the same direction and boosts the speed up according to how much you turn your hand. It’s a bit weird at first but then it becomes second nature. There have been a few tight spaces where I wished there was a switch but 90% of the time, I am pretty happy. It’s also faster at speeds up to 430RPM than the old VP810, which was up to 180 RPM and it does have more torque as you’d expect given the higher voltage.
My exact model is no longer being produced but you can find it on eBay and other secondary markets. Dewalt now has a new model – the DCF682N – that also gets great reviews. From what I can gather, it has two notable improvements over my model, namely a handle that can pivot and a 15 position clutch. I’ve never really missed having a handle that angles but a clutch comes in handy to prevent over-driving a screw. It’s the DCF682N1 and it gets great reviews. You can get it with just the driver, battery and charger or a better deal with the driver, charger, two batteries and a carry bag. I would recommend the kit because for the price of a second battery you can get it and you absolutely want a second battery to avoid delays.
I hope this helps you some. Over the years, I’ve gone from scoffing at these cordless screwdrivers to absolutely being a user and defender of them. Like all tools, they have value when used at the right time for the right task.
Here’s the basic driver and the full kit as at the bottom:
Absolutely get yourself some good bits to maximize your flexibility. Watch out for cheap import bits that round over very easily. I have a bunch of sets and recommend these:
This set has a ton of bits including some of the oddball security bits.
Lastly, I strongly recommend getting some long bits to reach down into holes. The bit holder is frequently to wide to fit down into holes or too short to reach something so these long bits really help. I probably use mine the most when taking apart electronics and home appliances.
I hope this helps some. Bottom line, if you have CTS or are worried about CTS due to a lot of handwork including driving screws, get yourself a power screwdriver. It’s another tool that has a time and a place to help you out.
If you want to learn more about CTS and how to manage it, check out:
Definitely learn about stretches that can help. There are a ton of videos on youtube and it pays to actually see how to do them. Here’s one example:
Please note that I am not a doctor and the above is not medical advice – just my experiences and opinions. See a doctor if you are having pains and get the problem properly diagnosed.