The Best Multi-Bit Screwdriver
The MegaPro 13-in-1 Multi-Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver is the perfect one-stop screwdriver to have at hand around the house. After over 22 hours of research and hands-on testing of 13 different models, I found that the MegaPro has all of the right features: nice ratcheting action; smart, accessible bit storage; excellent bit selection; and a comfortable handle.
The MegaPro costs $28, which may make your jaw drop a little, but this recommendation is for the long haul. This is a high-end screwdriver (which is still quite a bit cheaper than some others I looked at) and is built to last. It won’t be breaking anytime soon or even wearing out. If you don’t lose it, this is probably the last screwdriver you’ll ever need to purchase.
Because of an agreement between MegaPro and Channellock, the MegaPro 13-in-1 is also sold as the Channellock 13-in-1 Multi-Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver. Channellock confirmed to me that their screwdriver is indeed made by MegaPro. I’ve used both tools and it’s obvious that they’re the same. At Amazon, the Channellock is currently selling for $27, one buck less than the MegaPro. Throughout this article, the screwdriver is only referred to as the MegaPro, but if you decide to purchase it, it doesn’t matter which one you get. I did this for clarity’s sake because in the course of researching, I tested another Channellock screwdriver, the 18-in-1. Also, MegaPro is the company that designed the tool, so why shouldn’t they get the credit for its greatness?
Craftsman 9-41796 Ready Bit Screwdriver (about $23). In many ways it similar to the MegaPro; it has the same innovative storage and excellent bit selection. But there are other areas where it falls short; it’s no where near as comfortable to hold and the forward/reverse toggle is confusing to use. But when it comes to an all-in-one package, the Craftsman is still better than the rest.
Why Trust Me?
I’ve been in the trade for over a decade and have been writing about and reviewing tools since 2007. I’m the founding editor of ToolSnob.com and have written for This Old House, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and Tools of the Trade. I’ve done time as a carpenter, a foreman, and a job supervisor mostly building high-end custom homes. Just looking at the raw hours since I first picked up a tool in a professional manner, I’ve probably spent at least a year of my life with a screwdriver in my hand.
Why A Multi-Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver?
After many conversations and back and forth with the internal editorial team, we decided to specifically look at multi-bit ratcheting screwdrivers. Here’s why:
In order to handle all of the screwdriving tasks around the house, you would have to purchase at least ten different screwdrivers in order to feel confident that you could tackle any task. The ubiquitous Philips bit alone has three common sizes found around the house, from the teeny P1 on electronics to the chunky P3 used on fat exterior screws and large door hinges. The same goes for slotted bits, as those three sizes can be found on set screws, on hinges and on radiator valves. Square drives (Robertsons) have two standard sizes—the smaller R1 is used in a lot of trim carpentry, while the larger R2 can be found holding down decks and in other exterior applications. Torx bits have four common sizes and can also fit in Allen-headed fasteners, so they’re found in pre-fab furniture and also tiny set screws. Keeping a supply of individual screwdrivers for all of these uses gobbles up valuable space and leads to you owning tools that rarely get used. Also, in situations like adjusting door hardware it’s likely you’ll need more than one driver: a Philips for the hinges, a Torx for the knob set screw, and a slotted for the strike plate.
With that in mind, it became apparent that the recommended tool would have to have a good bit selection and also a successful on-board bit storage system. In other words, I only looked at tools that provided the complete package in a single unit, the ultimate grab and go tool. There are kits like the GearWrench 40-Piece Ratcheting Screwdriver Set ($65) and the Stanley Pistol-Grip Ratcheting Screwdriver Set ($18) that come in a case and have different handle attachments and a large number of driver bits, but those are overkill for someone who can make do with a regular screwdriver. They also need additional storage space and thus are less likely to be stored somewhere convenient, like in the kitchen drawer or in the trunk of a car.
Because the ratcheting mechanism allows you to maintain contact with the screw head throughout the entire tightening process, there is less chance for the driver bit to cam out. This can cause damage to the screw head as well as to the driver bit. A stripped screw can be very difficult to remove and most methods (like clamping the head with a set of locking pliers) can damage the surrounding surface. It’s something to avoid.
Ratcheting screwdrivers also work faster than traditional screwdrivers because you don’t have to keep resetting it in the screw head or releasing your hand from the tool. For the same reasons, they’re better in tight awkward spaces, like the back of a cabinet or tightening a leg on the underside of a table.
It’s true that an experienced user like a long-time electrician can work a regular screwdriver almost like a ratcheting one by putting pressure on the butt end of the tool with the ball of their index finger and quickly working their fingers around the handle to move the driver. It’s a good trick to know, but a ratcheting screwdriver gives you the same functionality no matter how you’re holding it.
What To Look For
Even narrowing the field down to just multi-bit ratcheting screwdrivers, I still took a look at over 35 different models ranging in price from $5 to $42. These included tools by box-store brands (Kobalt and Husky), popular big-name brands (Klein, Channellock, Irwin, Stanley, DeWalt, and Craftsman), and also tools from the high-end realm of screwdriving (Bahco, Wera, MegaPro, JH Williams). I did not seriously consider the Snap-On ratcheting screwdrivers because, let’s face it, $70 is way too much for the average person to pay for a screwdriver. But Bahco and JH Williams are both owned by Snap-On, so at least there is some representation of the renowned tool company and their legendary screwdrivers.
To focus my search, I turned to Stuart Deutsch of ToolGuyd.com. Unlike my own carpentry/construction background, Deutsch has a physics and engineering one, so it’s not surprising that of the tool writers he’s particularly sensitive to how exactly things work. He also has very little patience for inferior products.
When I asked him what makes a good ratcheting screwdriver, he said that in his experience, “better ratcheting screwdrivers are designed and manufactured with better materials and smoother, better fitting gearing. You can usually tell immediately how well a ratcheting screwdriver is made by holding the handle in one hand and turning the drive end with the other.”
What he’s talking about here is the actual gearing in the ratchet mechanism. Better tools tend to have finer gears with more teeth. This means that the ratcheting mechanism engages with just a slight twist of the handle, as opposed to a tool with fewer teeth that needs more rotation for the pawl to click over to the next tooth. For the most part, more teeth indicate a better tool and one that is easier to use, particularly in tight spots where you may have limited motion of your hand. I found screwdrivers that ranged from 10 teeth to 45 teeth. (Our selection has 28 teeth.)
There is also the issue of the resistance during the resetting turn, when the pawl is clicking over the gear. On cheaper tools with big, beefy gears this is a hard twist which can actually cause the fastener to move in the opposite direction. On the better tools, this turn takes little effort and barely puts any torque on the fastener.
Regarding the large range in prices, Deutsch had this to say, “as with a lot of tools, a good ratcheting screwdriver is designed for functionality and a positive user experience. Cheap ones are typically designed primarily around a price target, or at least it seems that way, with performance sacrificed and thrown to the wind.”
Deutsch has five things that he looks for in a ratcheting screwdriver. They are:
- Smooth and rapid click-click-click-click-click gear engagement that indicates a fine-tooth mechanism and good fit.
- An easy-to-toggle 3-position switch (forward, locked, reverse).
- A comfortable handle.
- Compact size or on-board bit storage.
- User-replaceable or swappable non-proprietary bits.
He also recommends “staying away from the ratcheting screwdrivers that are prominently displayed in stores around Christmas and Father’s Day, unless you can test one first. If it fits your hand comfortably, has an easy-to-use direction switch, and the gearing sounds okay, then it might be a good buy. If you can’t test it and it’s priced at $5-8, don’t expect great performance.”
Using these criteria, I zeroed in on eleven different models. The tools were all from reputable brands and had decent, if not great, customer reviews at retailer sites. I chose screwdrivers that provided a variety of pricing, storage systems, bit selections, and toggle styles.
In order to test out the screwdrivers I used them to hang towel bars, tighten hinges, install TP holders, make adjustments to radiator valves, tinker with pocket door hardware and do some light electrical work. Adding to that list, I assembled toys, adjusted cabinet doors, fixed a sagging gate and hung some light fixtures. I put together a pre-fab bookshelf, repaired a busted worklight and installed three screen doors. My list could go on, but it’s safe to say I used the tools in a day to day fashion that any moderately handy person would use them, doing the little things that may need to be addressed in your own a home or a condo, many of which apply to the apartment-dweller as well.
In addition to this loose-form testing, I checked the bit tips for stability by trying to strip them out. To do this I sunk a 3-inch drywall screw into wood and then, using the screwdriver tips in a cordless drill, I tried to remove the screw while holding the drill at an angle. I then moved the back of the drill around in a circle like I was stirring a pot. This caused the driver tip to skip and chatter over the screw head. It never gained purchase but caught it enough so that the working edges of the bit got a severe thrashing.
The MegaPro was the one screwdriver I found that does everything right. There were other tools that had additional features, but when it came to the basics the MegaPro was the most consistent. As far as a tool that delivers a great ratcheting action, fantastic bit storage, a useful selection of bits and an oddly comfortable handle, the MegaPro is the one to beat.
Another useful aspect of the rear cap is the fact that it can spin separately from the rest of the body. This means it can remain stationary while the rest of the tool spins, which allows you to apply extra pressure in certain situations. For example, if you’re working over your head (like on the top hinge of a door) or trying to extract a semi-stripped screw (and need to exert a lot of pressure on the screwdriver), you can hold the tool with your palm against the butt end and really lay your weight behind the twist. Even with this kind of pressure, the screwdriver can freely spin while the cap doesn’t. This means that the pressure from your palm isn’t fighting against the twist of the handle. Also, because your palm is pressing against a stationary piece instead of a twisting one, you won’t ‘rug-burn’ a fiery hole into your palm.
Even with the roomy storage capacity for the six bits (which really are 12 different driver tips), the handle is ergonomically molded and fits the hand to a point that far, far exceeded any of the other screwdrivers. It has a teardrop shape that tapers at the neck providing a nice groove for the thumb and forefinger. The gripping area of the handle is mostly rubberized and has a series of nubs in it for better purchase.
Between the handle and stem is the ratchet control. This is a 1-inch long collar, textured for easy gripping. Click it to the left to tighten a screw, to the right to loosen a screw, or to the center to lock the stem and use it as a standard screwdriver. The large size of the control makes it easy to use with one hand by sliding the thumb and forefinger forward.
The ratcheting mechanism in the MegaPro has 28 teeth. The Bahco, DeWalt, and Wera all have more (45 teeth), but each of those tools has a drawback with their storage systems (more on that in a bit—no pun intended). The MegaPro’s ratcheting action is very nice and quiet. When you twist the handle to reset the ratchet, the MegaPro puts almost no torque on the bit tip. According to Deutsch the tool “has the smoothest ratcheting mechanism I have come across in a screwdriver.”
The MegaPro comes with six double-headed driver bits, totaling 12 bits. The thirteenth function is the ¼-inch hex end of the stem, where the bit sits. This can be used for hex headed screws, like the kind you might find holding the rear panel of your washing machine on or on a pipe band clamp.
The bits included with the MegaPro:
- Philips #0, 1, 2, 3
- Slotted #4, 6
- Robertson (square drive) #1, 2
- Torx #10, 15, 20, 25
This is one of the more comprehensive bit selections I found in a single screwdriver. Of the 11 screwdrivers tested, only the Craftsman, Lutz, Channellock, and DeWalt had more bits, however the Craftsman and Lutz also repeat bits to get a higher number so really only the DeWalt and Channellock effectively have additional ones. The DeWalt has a #3 Robertson and a larger 5/16 slotted. The Channellock has a selection of both Torx and hex head, but doesn’t include Robertson bits. The #3 Robertson is a rare bit and the 5/16 slotted is a nice addition, but the larger #6 in the MegaPro can cover the usage. The MegaPro doesn’t have the most bits, but it has all of the necessary ones and nothing more. Additional bits would only serve to add more bulk.
Most of the screwdrivers I tested are compatible with standard 1-inch driver bits that magnetically sit in the end of the stem. The MegaPro is different. It uses double-sided bits with a spring-loaded ball bearing at the middle of the shaft that locks them into place. My experience is that this sort of mechanical connection is stronger than a magnetic one. The downside of it is that with the 1-inch screwdrivers the magnet is often powerful enough to carry through and magnetize the bit. This can make it easier to handle smaller screws or ones in difficult spots. The bits are also not as easy to replace if one gets lost. The small 1-inch bits are readily available in any box store or hardware store. The double-sided bits with the ball detent might not be found locally and they’re more expensive. Amazon has some for $4-10 depending on the pack.
If you recall, these special bits go against Deutsch’s initial comments on what he looks for in a ratcheting screwdriver. I didn’t ask him specifically about this issue, but when I asked what screwdrivers he recommends, the first thing he said was the MegaPro 13-in-1. It’s realistic to say that he has come to the same conclusions that I have regarding the tool.
Because the MegaPro takes 2-inch double-sided bits, the hole at the end of the shaft where the bits go is very deep, so standard 1-inch bits are not compatible with the tool. A potential downside of this is that if you’re in need of a special bit, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to trot down to the local Home Depot and pick it up. I’m not convinced that the average person will ever need to do this. The twelve bits that come with the tool are going to cover any around-the-house needs.
If you feel strongly that you will eventually need a wider selection of bits, MegaPro sells the 211R1C36RD 13-in-1 Ratcheting Automotive Screwdriver (about $40), which is compatible with 1-inch driver bits and not the proprietary ones like our main pick. These are not only easier to replace if lost, but they allow you to customize your bit selection very easily. The bit carousel on the automotive version is designed a little differently in order to hold the smaller bits and the tip of the screwdriver is magnetic, so they won’t fall out during use, but otherwise it has the same ratcheting mechanism and the same handle.
Were it not for two things, this screwdriver would likely be our main recommendation. First, it is designed for the mechanic, so the initial bit selection isn’t as well-rounded as our pick. It’s missing the smaller square drive and the #0 Phillips, replacing them with a wider selection of Torx sizes, which are less likely to be used in a home setting. For some, removing these bits and buying replacements will be no problem, but we feel that most will be happier simply buying the tool, knowing that it already comes with the best selection of bits. Secondly, the automotive version is much more expensive, closing in on $40.
A final benefit of the MegaPro is that you get to choose your color scheme. Like I said, the tools from Channellock and MegaPro are identical, so if you’re into red and black, go MegaPro. If you dig the blue and red superhero thing, head towards the Channellock.
The MegaPro is made in the USA and has a lifetime warranty that covers manufacturer’s defects. It doesn’t cover misuse or wear and tear, so if you run over it with the lawn mower, you’re out of luck. The warranty also doesn’t cover the bits. Over at the MegaPro website, there is a video of Hermann Fruhm, the founder of the company, saying that since 1994, they’ve never had a single handle break and in that same time they’ve never had a bit strip out in the stem of the tool.
I can also personally vouch for the durability of the MegaPro and its bits. I’ve owned one for the past three years and have used it relentlessly in a construction setting (my original review of the tool is here). From all of that abuse over all of that time, the bits aren’t showing any wear at all and the body of the tool only has a slight scuff here and there. I also still have all of the bits.
The MegaPro warranty is not unusual for the high-end tools. JH Williams and Bahco both had the same. The Craftsman website doesn’t have any specific warranty regarding this tool, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t their full, lifetime warranty. The Kobalt tools have the same full-lifetime warranty.
I’m not the only one who likes the MegaPro. The tool has received extremely high marks from reviewers and people. At Amazon, the Channellock version of the tool has received 11 reviews and all of them are a perfect five stars. This comment by Mana is typical: “Silky smooth operation. Great for everyday use or just for the Saturday mechanic. Grip is extremely comfortable and the self storage bits are secured well in the handle.”
The MegaPro version of the tool has five reviews. Four of them are 5-star and one is 3-star. The dissenting user feels that the bit selection isn’t flexible enough. He doesn’t explain what bits he wished he had, but as I’ve said, the ones provided in the tool are certainly enough to handle all of the standard around-the-house tasks. Also as I’ve said, a tool with the same features but compatible with 1-inch bits is available.
Ethan Hagan, writing at BobVila.com, says, “The smooth-action ratcheting mechanism excels, and the tool’s innovative bit storage is a refreshing change from the jumble found on many competitors’ products.”
Stuart Deutsch, in his original review of the tool, says that “everything about the Channellock 13-in-1 just screams of quality – from the bit-holding cartridge and comfortable texture grip, to the ratcheting mechanism and direction selection switch.”
Megapro also offers the 171BK/RD-R 7-in-1 ($20), a compact version of the 13-in-1. Both tools have the same rear-loading bit storage, the same spinning cap, a 28-tooth ratchet, and a similarly designed handle, with the compact’s being about an inch shorter. Because of the truncated handle, the compact has a smaller storage carousel that has the ability to hold six 1-inch bits (P1, P2, R1, R2, #4 slotted, and a #6 slotted). Another difference is that the tip of the stem is magnetized which can be a benefit with small hardware screws, but also an annoyance in other situations as the magnet can picks up metal dust and attract screws that it shouldn’t.
The overall fit and finish of the compact seems to be a step down from the 13-in-1. The rear cap doesn’t close with the same nice “pop,” the handle isn’t as comfortable, and the bit storage is a little more difficult to open. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad or poorly made tool, but it just doesn’t achieve the greatness of the 13-in-1. It’s a nice screwdriver, but the 13-in-1 is an excellent one.
So if your house or apartment is only going to have one screwdriver, the 13-in-1 is a better fit. But still, with all that the compact version offers, including the price, it would be a good choice for a secondary tool. If the big one lives in the garage, the compact can live in the kitchen drawer or the glove box. Or maybe you’re like me and have a screwdriver stashed on every floor of the house.
Aside from these two tools, MegaPro manufactures about 20 other screwdrivers. Of these models, the majority of them come with specialty bits designed with a specific trade or task in mind such as elevator maintenance, HVAC, and RV repair, just to name a few. They do offer a 15-in-1 model, which adds two additional square drive bits and has no ratcheting action. To store the additional bits, the handle is much bulkier and loses the hand-fitting ergonomics of the 13-in-1. The additional bits are quite rare and aren’t likely to be found in your house. In 10 years of construction, I don’t think I’ve ever run across a 0-sized square drive screw. So basically the additional bits that you’re never going to use aren’t worth the loss of the ratcheting action or the comfortable handle. Of their tools, only the 13-in-1 combines a useful selection of bits with the ergonomic handle and a ratcheting function.
Another company, L.H. Dottie, also has a co-branding agreement with MegaPro. Its version of the 13-in-1 screwdriver is available at Amazon for about $50. Because this tool is identical to the MegaPro (down to the color scheme) but at a much higher price, we opted not to recommend the Dottie as an alternative.
Long-Term Test Notes
I’ve been using the same MegaPro 13-in-1 for the past five years, four of which were spent in a construction site setting. After considerable use, the tool still works great and the bits show zero deterioration. Even the Phillips #2, the most used tip, has maintained its original shape with no rounding over of the edges. Aside from a couple paint splatters and a scratch here and there, the MegaPro is exactly as it was five years ago when it came out of the packaging.
The Craftsman can hold 14 bits, two more than the MegaPro, but this translates into a fatter carriage and beefier handle, which has more of a tubular shape and doesn’t ‘teardrop’ like the MegaPro. The extra bits are duplicates, so they don’t improve the functionality of the tool. Using the Craftsman alongside the MegaPro, there’s a tremendous difference in the comfort of the handles.
The Lutz 15-in-1 ($16) is about as bare-bones as a ratcheting screwdriver can get. It has a large 10-tooth gear so you have to really rotate the handle for it to catch. Six double-headed bits live in the handle and one is stored in the tip of the stem. To get at the bits, you need to rotate the end piece until a cut-out opening lands on the desired bit. When the tool is in use, the bits rattle around a little. Like the MegaPro, they have the spring-loaded ball bearing in them, but unlike the MegaPro, these aren’t particularly durable. They did fine when I was using the tool in a normal fashion, but during the aggressive testing, the edges wore down quickly, indicating that over time you’ll be replacing them. The handle is comfortable but 100% plastic. The toggle is a three-position switch aligned with the stem of the tool. It works, but if you’re in a tight spot and need to change the direction, the collar style of the other tools is much better. The bottom line is that this tool comes with a good bit selection, a clunky yet functional ratchet, and a build quality that achieves just enough to keep the tool working.
Of all of the under-$20 screwdrivers, the Milwaukee 10-in-1 square drive ratcheting screwdriver had by far the best overall build quality. The toggle is very easy to use with one hand and the nose of the ratchet is protected by a metal sleeve. The 20-tooth gear is very smooth and the rubberized handle is comfortable. Six 3-inch bits are housed in the handle with a seventh living in the nose of the tool. The eighth function is the ¼-inch hex at the end of the stem. Because Milwaukee is a pro-level brand that designs tools for electricians (among other trades) the ninth and tenth features are a small wire stripper nested just below the toggle and a wire bender located above the toggle. Interesting features to have, but not likely to be of much use to the average homeowner.
The bit selection covers all of the primary bases (two Philips, two slotted, three Robertson), but leaves out the Torx bits, so Allen-head screws are beyond the capabilities of this one. The tool also uses 3-inch bits which are going to be tough to replace if one gets lost or becomes damaged. They’re durable though, and only showed a little wear after the torture test. The bits slide into the back of the handle for storage and are pressure-fit in place so they don’t fall out. To remove one, you need to push it out from the nose end where the tip of the bit is exposed. You can also use the seventh bit to push it out. It’s an OK system, but it’s not always easy to get the bits out, particularly if you’re using your fingers to do it.
The Kobalt 13-Piece Ratcheting Screwdriver ($10) has some problems. It was the most inexpensive model I tested and it shows. The bits are stored in the hollow handle on a removable cartridge. To get at them, you need to unscrew the back of the cap and slide out the cartridge. It’s not the worst set-up, but the threads on the cap kept getting crossed and after taking it on and off a few times, they were in pretty rough shape. Even though the stem is only 1¼ inches long, it has a pretty severe wobble to it. To compensate for the short length, the tool comes with a 2-inch extension piece. That wobbles too. To top it off, the bit wobbles in the extension piece. So, by the time you’re done, you have a stem that is only 4 inches long (with the bit) and has a deflection of ½ inch. This is not a well-made tool.
On the other hand, the JH Williams WRS-1 ($33) is a well-made tool, but it suffers from poor design. It has a smooth 26-tooth ratchet and a nice forward/reverse toggle. The bits are stored in the hollow handle and are made accessible by unscrewing the rear cap. The bits aren’t stored in any carousel or carriage so they’re just loose in the handle. I’m not in favor of this system for three reasons. First, to get a bit, you have to unscrew the cap, dump the bits out into your hand, sift around, find the one you want, dump the rest back into the tool, and then screw the cap back on. It’s a far cry from simply popping out the MegaPro carousel. Secondly, if you’re applying pressure to the rear of the tool while turning the handle, there’s a chance the cap will start to unscrew. The final reason is that when the bits are in the handle, they rattle around and make a really annoying noise. So every time you use the tool it sounds like a baby rattle.
The Kobalt Double-Drive ($16—comes with a micro screwdriver as well) has the same style of storage as the Williams. It also has a very large handle, some of which is needed to house the unique double-drive system. Because of some sort of differential gearing (thanks to Deutsch for the explanation), the Kobalt has the ability to turn the stem on both the forward turn and the resetting turn. This means that the tool can move a screw twice as fast as a standard ratchet. This feature can be disengaged (it just matters which part of the handle you’re holding) and the tool behaves like any other ratcheting screwdriver. The downside is that the toggle only has two positions; forward and reverse. There is no locking position. It also makes for a very large tool. The sheer speed at which it can drive a fastener doesn’t offset the iffy ergonomics, the lack of a locking stem and the subpar storage system. Also, the bits on both Kobalt tools held up poorly during the torture test.
Operating with a similar function is the Stanley FatMax Hi-Speed Ratcheting Screwdriver ($26). If you turn the handle while holding the front-most collar, the stem spins at a very quick rate (4x normal according to Stanley). Like the Kobalt, this comes with the sacrifice of the locked position. The bits are stored on a removable carousel located at the rear of the handle. To access, you have to turn the rear cap a ¼ turn and pull the piece out. The cap is small and is hard to grip, making the whole process far more difficult than what it takes to open the Megapro. The handle is also on the bulky side.
And speaking of massive handles, the Stanley 68-010 ($13) tops them all. The 7-inch handle is comfortable, but the toggle is difficult to use and the bit storage is up at the nose of the tool. The six bits (half of what the MegaPro offers) are each nested in a half open carousel around the stem. To access a bit you have to rotate a collar around and line up the open slot with the bit that you want. Getting the bits out was difficult, and on more than one occasion I had to hit the tool repeatedly against my palm in order to get one free. As with most of the other sub $20 tools, the bits were easily damaged during the durability testing.
Channellock’s other ratcheting screwdriver, the 181CB 18-in-1 ($16) has a variation on the hollow handle storage system. To get at the bits, you unscrew the cap in order to reveal six holes each with a double-sided bit in it. The threads on the cap became mangled very quickly and I didn’t like how I had to plug five holes while dumping a bit out of the sixth. The ratcheting action is loud on this tool and the whole thing feels heavy and clumsy.
The Bahco ($38) is a very nice tool and was one of the most expensive ones tested. The 45-tooth ratcheting mechanism is smooth and the teardrop handle is comfortable. I also liked how a small portion of the stem was knurled. I often find that I’m twisting the stem as I’m turning the handle and this tool provides a little gripping area for that maneuver. The downside is that the storage system only holds six bits and is difficult to use. To get at the bits, you need to simultaneously press buttons on both sides of the handle to release a spring-loaded cartridge from the back of the tool. It’s very difficult to get the bits in and out of the holder and the cartridge has to go back in the tool a specific way, so on a number of occasions, I had to monkey with it a bit to get it back. I was expecting something a little more efficient for a $38 tool.
The storage system on DeWalt’s Ratcheting Screwdriver ($21) is the same as the MegaPro’s, but it doesn’t work well at all. The carousel sits loosely in the tool, so it wobbles all over the place while bits are being taken in and out. Popping the carousel out of the handle takes two hands and there is barely any place for fingers to make a purchase. Lastly, the little holding clips don’t do their job, so when I did manage to get the handle open, loose bits came tumbling out of the back of the tool. The DeWalt has a 45-tooth ratchet that takes a good amount of pressure to reset the gear, not at all like the feather touch of the MegaPro. One nice feature of the DeWalt is that the stem can be removed to shorten the length of the tool from 10 inches down to 5½. This is a nice feature for tight spots, but the tradeoff is that the stem sits loosely in the handle and has about ¼-inch of deflection.
The Wera 27 RA ($42) was definitely the coolest looking of the tools and the one with the most unique storage system (not to mention the most expensive). A button on the butt end causes about ¾ of the handle to shift back revealing a bit carousel in the center of the tool. There is space for six 1-inch bits. The shape of the handle is bizarre with three concentric concave areas for the hand to grab, but it’s very comfortable to use and all of the ridges seem to be in just the right places. The toggle switch and ratcheting action are both very nice but the limited bit storage coupled with the price pushed it out of consideration.
The ratcheting screwdriver made by Klein ($20) is designed for the electrician and didn’t translate well into general homeowner use because of its bit selection. I didn’t test it in my research, but I’ve used it enough in the past to vouch for its overall quality. The Klein has room for six bits and a reversible stem.
Another class of ratcheting screwdrivers that exist are the two-speed ones like the Klenk SAB710 ($24) and the SpecTools Overdriver ($35). These tools have a ring on the handle that can be held stationary in order to gear the ratcheting mechanism to a higher setting which delivers four times the turning speed to the handle (but only for low-torque applications). These tools are well received and do offer speed, but again, when compared to the MegaPro, they come up short in other areas like bit storage and general ergonomics.
Finally, there are quite a few very nice screwdrivers that we dismissed because they don’t have a ratcheting feature, which we feel is essential. Chief among these is the Picquic X-& SixPac Plus (about $13) and the original MegaPro 151NAS 15-in-1 (about $25).
What to Look Forward To
We’re currently in the process of acquiring a sample of the Nebo Ultra Socket Combination Kit (about $20) for testing, which was highly recommended by a reader. While we’re a little wary of the screw cap of the bit storage compartment, we’re curious if the pivoting stem will provide enough added maneuverability to offset this. As soon as we get a chance to evaluate it, we’ll update the guide. We’ll also be looking at the Marshalltown SDR19SG ($20) and the Husky Ratcheting Screwdriver Set ($10).
In addition, we’re tracking the recent release of the Wiha Pop-Up Screwdrivers. These look like very nice tools from a manufacturer with a stellar reputation. At the moment, they have yet to release a ratcheting version, but if they do, we would see it as a solid challenger to the MegaPro and will test one as soon as we can.
Beyond all of these manual tools are cordless screwdrivers. Many of the large tool companies from Skil to DeWalt include one in their product lines. They generally come in two voltages; the very light-duty 4-volts and the slightly heavier-duty 7.8-volts (also called 8-volts). The pro models like the Hitachi are in the $60-70 range while the homeowners brands like Skil sell theirs for around $20-30. One interesting new tool that is getting a lot of attention and some very good reviews (here, here, here, here, and here) is the 4-Volt Black and Decker Gyro. It senses the user’s wrist motion and activates the tip accordingly. Tilt the tool to the right and it spins clockwise, tilt it left, counterclockwise. DeWalt also just announced their own 8-volt tool with the gyro technology.
Skil has recently released something called the Quick-Select 4-Volt Max Screwdriver ($60). The tool is powered by an internal Li-ion battery and has a strange onboard bit storage system. All of the bits remain inside of the tool; when you want to put a new one in, you rotate a large collar piece like a six-shooter and slide the desired bit forward to the nose of the tool. Worx makes a similar tool as well, the Semi-Automatic Power Screwdriver ($45).
Wrapping it up
So of all the screwdrivers that I looked at, the MegaPro was clearly the best. It comes with all of the right bits, stores them in a convenient and easy-to-use fashion, has a handle engineered perfectly to fit the human hand, is backed by a solid warranty and the butt end rotates for high-torque situations. All around, it’s a great screwdriver. It might cost a little more than you initially wanted to spend, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with it.
ToolGuyd.com“As with a lot of tools, a good ratcheting screwdriver is designed for functionality and a positive user experience. Cheap ones are typically designed primarily around a price target, or at least it seems that way, with performance sacrificed and thrown to the wind.”
Top Tools 2012: ChannelLock 13 'N 1 Ratcheting Screwdriver, BobVila.com“The smooth-action ratcheting mechanism excels, and the tool's innovative bit storage is a refreshing change from the jumble found on many competitors' products.”
mana, Amazon.com, January 10, 2012"Silky smooth operation. Great for every day use or just for the Saturday mechanic. Grip is extremely comfortable and the self storage bits are secured well in the handle"
Originally published: June 26, 2013