Ergonomics Wednesday – 12 – Screw it, Let’s Talk About Hand Tools

Somewhere along the way I’ve told you that ergonomics is about more than your desk chair, keyboard and mouse (although I have written about all of those things). It is:

an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely

— called also biotechnologyhuman engineeringhuman factors

Because of this, ergonomics is an entire field of engineering. No, seriously, you can get a degree in this stuff. Ergonomists apply psychology and physiology to design, with the intent to make products, processes and systems easier and safer to work with, resulting in greater safety, comfort and productivity.

So, what about the terrible pun in the headline?

When I was a kid, every screwdriver handle looked something like this:

Small philips screwdriver
Caution, old screwdriver handle

Sadly, a great many cut rate, made in China crapola screwdrivers still look like this. Fortunately sometime in the 80s. Well, I think it was the 80s, I worked for a welding supply company; we sold hand tools, and got tons of catalogues, and I vaguely remember seeing the change back then.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, back in the 80s, companies began to experiment with providing a better user experience for the hand-tool user. In doing so, screwdrivers with handles more like this began to appear:

Two black handled screwdrivers
Ah, that’s much better

You can see the significant differences in the grip:

  • It has a greater diameter
  • The shape is contoured to better fit the palm
  • There are no deep grooves along the grip
  • The plastic is confined to top and bottom, with hard rubber where you actually grasp the thing

As a result of these differences:

  • It is more comfortable in the hand
  • You get a better grip using less force
  • As a result, you create greater torque to drive a screw, while using less energy/grip strength

Now, you may doubt all that, but I can assure you, from personal experience that it is true. Around about the time I worked for that welding supply shop I saw a marketing demo for that new type of handle. It was a screwdriver shaft with a handle on each end; one of the old style, and one of the new. The manufacturer invited you to test the grip by:

  • Grasping one end in each hand
  • Twist your hands in opposing directions
  • Try to keep the old style handle from slipping
  • After you test it with your dominant hand on the new grip, reverse it and try with your dominant hand on the old style grip

I took the test and it was absolutely night and day. The newer style grip was more comfortable and provided greater force than the old style.

Now here, all I’ve talked about is screwdrivers, but the principle applies to all hand tools. You can now buy hand tools with much more comfortable, which is to say ergonomically friendly handles. They may cost a bit more, but in addition to greater comfort, the better handle designs also reduce muscle exhaustion and, far more importantly, they reduce the damage to your carpal tunnels.

So, pay attention to your hand tools. Your wrists will thank you for it.