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Vessel Phillips screwdrivers

Vessel screwdriver set
A set of Vessel screwdrivers. There are five Phillips bits and one slotted bit.

This report covers:

  • Background
  • First Denny
  • A cheaper imitation?
  • Good fit to head
  • Denny’s remarks
  • BB’s test
  • Magnetic bits
  • Summary

Sometimes this blog is worth a lot more than we pay for! Today is such a day. Today I review and test the Japanese Vessel screwdrivers that reader JerryC (the Pelletgage man) told us about.


In the comments to Part 1 of the Tools you need (to maintain airguns) reader JerryC told us about Vessel Phillips screwdrivers.

For many years, I was a manufacturing engineer involved with process and assembly of electronic components, circuit boards, and higher level modules and appliances. When I worked for Fujitsu, my Japanese manager had boxes of screwdrivers, common #1 and #2 Phillips type, which he called “cross” drivers. He had them shipped from Japan, they were Vessel brand. His belief was that there was a difference between the American and Japanese standards.

There was a noticeable improvement using these Vessel brand tools. You could hold the screwdriver straight up, put a screw on the tip, and roll your wrist to have the driver in horizontal position, with the screw holding in place (not by magnetism).. I tried to find drivers locally that could do this, and had little success. I even gave a Vessel screwdriver to a sales rep for Xcelite. In a few weeks, I received a polite and very specific letter with a diagram showing the grind angles and relief of a Phillips patent driver bit. He admitted that the tooling used at their factory was worn and did not meet certain limits.He thanked me for making this obvious to their staff. My Japanese boss was much amused.

I notice that your small screwdrivers are Wiha brand, and I have tried my simple test on their bits, finding them pretty good. Still, I have several Vessel brand (not usually available in the USA) and they work so much better than most, – I do suggest that these basic #1,2,3 sized drivers made by “brand” manufacturers can cam out and damage a screw that will come right out with a good driver bit.

This guy on YouTube does amazing tests on tools, and this video on screwdrivers does test “camout” and even has the Vessel brand under test.

BB will comment now. That video is excellent! It’s 15 minutes long and I recommend it to all readers. Vessel did not win but it did place high in the running.

Today I will show you the results of a couple tests I both watched and conducted. I’m not trying to sell you anything, but since we have been talking about tools, thanks to reader Alex2no, I thought I’d do more than just comment on this tool that JerryC recommended.

First Denny

My neighbor, Denny is reader sawdust on this blog. He is currently making walnut boxes to be used as bridesmaid gifts at his son’s wedding in October — in Hawaii, no less! Denny does a lot of nice things for me, so to thank him I bought him a small set of Vessel screwdrivers when I bought my set.

As I told you Phillips screws are my bane, and I was really interested in what JerryC had to say about the Vessel brand. The picture at the top of this report is the set I bought for each of us. Each set cost $18 new on eBay and the shipping was free.

A cheaper imitation?

This set appears cheap to me because it has bits that fit into a handle. Every screwdriver I have that fits into a handle has a sloppy fit and is next to useless. That goes double if it’s a Phillips. I sorta bought it for that reason — to see if Vessel got past the cheap combination kit plague. And they did.

I must report that there is no play when the Vessel bit is in the handle! Also the handle is soft rubber that cushions the palm of your hand when you press down hard, as I will do in today’s tests. And by the way, this set does not ratchet. It’s simply a screwdriver.

Good fit to head

You need a good fit of the bit to the  screw head to drive any screw, and in my experience Phillips drivers are prone to cam out of the screw head. Denny says he thinks the screws are the largest part of the problem and I agree. We know how many millions of screws are made and when the tooling starts wearing out the screw head gets sloppy. How will Vessel drivers deal with this?

I’m not testing screws today, but what I can say is the Vessel bits fit the screw head very tight.

Denny called me over to his garage workshop last Saturday to see him use his Vessel drivers for the first time. He was installing brass hinges on the walnut gift boxes he was making for his daughter-in law. Like me he had previously purchased a special set of screwdriver just for this work because he makes a lot of gift boxes and music boxes. He said the Vessel driver bit both fit the small number one screw head tighter and the bit was magnetized powerfully to hold the brass-plated screw. Now JerryC did say his screwdrivers were not magnetized, so there is a difference between what he has and what I’m testing.

Vessel bit with screw
The number one Vessel bit held the Phillips screw tighter than Denny’s other dedicated screwdriver.

Denny made a jig to position his box hinges precisely. He used the screw holes in the hinge as a guide to drill what I thought was going to be a pilot hole but turned out not to be.

Vessel hinge jig
Denny made a jig to install his brass box hinges precisely. The holes in the hinge were used to drill positioning holes

I was surprised when he didn’t drill complete pilot holes for the screws. He just drilled positioning holes to know where to start the self-tapping screws. Then he screwed each screw in by hand, allowing the screw to pull itself into the walnut. Once that was done he positioned the hinge and I held it for him as he screwed the screws into each hole.

Vessel drive screw in
Denny drove each screw in by hand without drilling a pilot hole.

Stock up on Air Gun Ammo

Denny’s remarks

Denny told me to tell JerryC that these Vessel screwdriver bits work very well. He was surprised by the difference they made, and so was BB, as he watched. So BB asked Denny for a small piece of scrap oak that he could use to test the Vessel bits further.

BB’s test

I went to my garage workshop and drilled a location hole for a Phillips screw. Then I screwed it almost all the way in and back out again. I stopped the first time the screwdriver came out of the screw slot. The hole I used to locate the screw was less than a tenth of an inch deep (less than 0.254 mm deep), so all it did was locate the tip of the screw.

Vessele Phillips into oak
I drove a Phillips screw into oak without a pilot hole.

Vessel campout
This is how deep I was able to drive the Phillips screw into oak without a pilot hole. I stopped when the screwdriver cammed out of the screw head the first time.

I then unscrewed the screw and examined the head. Though the screwdriver had come out of the hole once at its deepest penetration the screw slot appeared to be fresh, sharp and okay.

Vessel screw out
After being screwed into oak almost all the way and then removed, this is what the screw slot looks like.

Then I decided to drill a full depth pilot hole to see whether I could screw the screw all the way flush in the oak.

Vessel screw holes
The hole on the right is the one the screw came out of. See how much larger it is than the pilot hole I drilled on the left.

With a pilot hole I was able to screw the screw in all the way. The driver came out of the screw head once during this operation.

Vessel all the way
The Vessel driver screwed the screw in all the way with a pilot hole.

Magnetic bits

I would like to comment that Vessel bits are very magnetic. They hold the screw securely without outside help. 

Vessel magnetic
Vessel bits are very magnetic.

The Vessel screwdriver is handy, precise and easy to operate.


Oh my — a blog about a screwdriver on what is supposed to be an airgun blog! What is the world coming to?

I took the time to report on this tool because I think it is a standout. Watch that video if you haven’t yet, because there is a lot to learn.

If you are wanting a good Phillips screwdriver, this could be for you. It’s certainly affordable. And it will be easy to keep the Phillips and slotted screws on your airguns tight.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

28 thoughts on “Vessel Phillips screwdrivers”

    • I don’t know if this is allowed, but Amazon has a good selection of the Vessel branded screwdrivers . My screwdriver was delivered the same day I ordered it.

      • rcannon409,

        As long as the product isn’t being sold by Pyramyd AIR it is usually okay to link to or mention another website. One exception would be an airgun dealer who may sell a product that Pyramyd doesn’t stock, but whose business is in direct competition with Pyramyd AIR.


    • Yogi,

      No, I don’t know that. Some people would buy a regular slotted bit and hollow grind it to fit a particular application. That’s what the old time gunsmiths used to do. I did it for Colt Single Action Army revolvers (first generation).


  1. B.B.,

    I want these even worse than ever now. After I read the glowing descriptions of these, I ordered this exact set on May 13. It must be coming by a slow boat from Charlotte, NC, because they still are not here! They are supposed to be here by WEDNESDAY. Ugh.


  2. I agree that this is a worthy topic for your blog, B.B.. A friend told me that the screws in electronics are designed such that you get a better grip on them by filing the point of an American #0 Phillips a little bit and the “cross” of the driver gets a better purchase on the screws. I have done this and agree, the driver fits better, but I have no engineering paper trail to know how true this is. But it was easy enough to test and keep moving forward..
    Phillips screw heads and drivers are such a great invention, but they can’t turn a screw as tightly as a flathead system, because they “cam out” (thanks for new vocabulary)! So any improvements for the gripping power of a Phillips driver is welcome. I’ll get me a set of these drivers, too.

  3. BB
    I may be as close to a Phillips head screwdriver expert as you can get. Probably removed and installed more screws in a single day than most people do in their life. Aircraft access and inspection panels all have countersunk Phillips screws.
    A big problem people have is knowing what sizes they come in and using the wrong size. And confusing Phillips and Reed and Prince ( Frearson ) screwdrivers. The R&P screws have a well defined ‘X” in the screw head and use screwdrivers with pointed tips. They can be hard to distinguish in the small sizes but R&P screws are mostly used in marine or wood use for higher torque. Also square tip drivers.
    This screwdriver looks like it was designed for higher torque applications with its large grip head for palm pressure. There are rubber rings and grips that slide on to regular screwdriver handles to increase gripping area and torque application. We mostly used ‘Speed handles” or battery powered electric drills for removing and installing tight machine screws.
    Most mechanics use hardened Phillips Apex tips for reliability and interchangeability with a single handle. There is no question you get what you pay for with screwdrivers and you should get familiar with using the proper size. A straight slot screwdriver should completely fill the screw slot and the blunt Phillips tip should match the blunt section at the bottom of the Phillips screw head. They are mostly measured as #1 through #4. One being smaller. Bolts are usually used beyond that.
    Small precision, mostly electronics, screws and drivers come in #00 and #000.
    Most good quality screwdriver tips will be sand blasted for a better grip and there are tips that have grooves for better grip on the screw to prevent rounding things out..

    Stay away from those cheep tool sets in plastic tool cases. Expensive ones in quality plastic tool cases like those from Chapmanmfg.com are outstanding. Stick with brand name tools. You wont regret it.
    And avoid hardened and tempered chrome vanadium screwdrivers and Phillips tips. They are too brittle and will break apart. under torque.
    Apex tips can be used with magnetic holder extensions and then there are spring loaded screw starters that capture and hold screws for inserting them in small tight places. Magnetic screwdrivers can be a pain when used around other metal parts that pull them away.
    Another great tip for removing a really tight Phillips screw is to apply a small amount of valve grinding compound to the screwdriver tip to increase grip. May save you from needing to drill a hole and using an EZ out screw extractor.
    Then there is the Impact hand held driver that is hit with a hammer and spins the screw with a cam action under hammer pressure to keep it from lifting and rounding out the screw slot … Just take note of what material it is you are taking a hammer to !
    Boy I sure do love specialized tools.
    And Chapman has a gunsmithing set.

    • Bob M,

      In the past, I’ve “improved” some Phillips screwdrivers by filing the point off of them. I guess I now know that what I was probably starting with was what you call an R&P screwdriver. Live and learn. Is Apex a brand or a style of tip?


      • Half,
        May be what you did. Some small #1 Phillips look pointed and there are slight variations from various manufacturers. It may help with both types depending on the screw head dimensions. Not all tools and screws are made to a standard, like Mil-Spec.

        Apex is a professional industrial tool manufacturer. They have their name engraved on their screwdriver bits used widely in the military and aviation and have simply come to be known as ‘APEX Tips’ even if made by another company. There are cheap imitations..
        Here is a pic of some Apex tips, holders, magnetic extension, screwdrivers and screw starters.

        • Another ‘tip’
          You can use a crescent wrench on the flat spots of those apex tips to get extreme leverage to rotate the screwdriver while really putting your weight on to the screwdriver handle.

  4. Jerry and BB, thanks for the recommendation. I may order a set.
    Have you guys ever tried a cordless electric screwdriver with torque setting when working on guns? I find them very helpful. I set the torque very light. That way it only gets the screw just firmly seated and then I lock the screwdriver to tighten it. Also, with the torque setting very low, screws will not start cross threaded. Being able to hold the screwdriver straight in place makes it easier to get parts aligned. The cordless electric screwdriver makes quick work or those long screws too.
    David Enoch

  5. FM no fan of Phillips screws, but, like palmetto bugs and iguanas in Florida, they’re everywhere. This was very informative and believe it will be good to add this tool to the toolbox. Thanks to all who contributed suggestions, advice and links on the subject. Definitely, this type report belongs on this blog. If your tools are no good, you won’t do your airgun any good.

    And why do manufacturers use Phillips screws for securing things in the most inaccessible places? That used to be FM’s pet peeve when he worked on his MGB – but now, that is someone else’s dilemma.

  6. BB,

    Whenever you consider buying a tool or other work shop product or supply, you should check out that Project Farm YouTube channel. That guy is as thorough as anyone I’ve ever seen at testing tools and supplies like glues and duct tape, etc. He buys all the products himself so there is no bias. He is very ingenious at devising his tests as well. I have a folder on my computer dedicated to screen shots that I’ve taken of his results charts. I use it as a ready reference whenever I need to buy something and want to get the best I can afford. If he was a little older he might even deserve the “Godfather” designation. LOL


  7. My experience with Vessel tools dates to 1991 or so. I was a manufacturing engineering manager at Fujitsu in Richardson, TX, and my Japanese manager was a very good technical person, excellent with equipment. He had his contacts in Japan send us boxes of ordinary looking screwdrivers, which I though were common #2 Phillips tools. We had perhaps 100 operators who assembled telecom hardware. I was curious why he did this, and he explained that they were “cross” drivers, different from Phillips. As Tom quoted, they worked great. We were buying our hardware locally, and the screws were US sourced stainless steel, in both metric and US sizes, typically pretty small for sheet metal applications. We had a large number of electric drivers, too – mostly excellent HIOS torque controlled tools.
    Mr. Iimura (my boss) probably handed out 20 dozen of the hand drivers over a span of months, and sometimes he ran out. At that time, Vessel did not have any US distribution. I could easily check for the “fit” of the driver bits into the screws, and I decided I would find a local source. I looked at local hardware stores, and found few if any that compared. The communication with Cooper Tools was surprising, the “FN Standard” drawing (Fujitsu had their own specs for many types of hardware, tools, and other industrial supplies) was also given to them. They sent back a US Patent Office drawing for the original Phillips patent, and it was IDENTICAL, so it was not simply a matter of the “JIS” standard being different. Another Japanese engineer who had heard the story of the search for a US screwdriver went on a trip home, and when he returned, he brought me back two screwdrivers, #1 and #2 Vessel models, which he said were top of the line. I still use them and they are the best screwdrivers I have ever seen. “Tang through”, hefty beauties, and they work well on any screw I have tried. Looks like you can order the same drivers today from eBay sellers in Japan. Expensive and worth it, IMHO. Also note, I did find the Apex Tool bits (also owned by Cooper Tool Group then) to have good fit to our variety of screws, and we used them for our power drivers.

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