Sunday, July 10, 2011

Screwdrivers, Part 3: Which Set Do I (or Don't I) Need?

As I mentioned earlier, a good set of hollow-ground screwdriver bits is a must if you're going to work on your machine. You can choose to buy an entire set or buy the bits individually, which may work out cheaper depending on your needs. If you are a gun-owning household, you may already have a set lying around the house, as gunsmithing screwdrivers are hollow-ground. (By the way, the hexagonal shafts of screwdriver bits are standardized, so you can use any bit with any other manufacturer's handle.)

Here I'll review the three sets I have experience with, and point out some purchasing errors I made, in hopes you won't do the same. If you already have some screwdriver bits that fit some Singer parts, do not buy an entirely new set, that's a waste of money. Just wait until the next entry, where I'll cover some individual bits you can add to the ones you have. That will be a lot cheaper.


My first purchase was this B-Square screwdriver set. I got it for $33 at a local gun store, it was the only set they had. I quickly regretted buying it as most of the bit blades are too thin for most Singer screws. That being said, the handle included in the set is my favorite of all I own:

The long shaft provides good torque, and it's my go-to handle for removing tough screws (like the thick ones that attach the potted motor of a 201-2 or 15-91 to the body). I use it with non-B-Square bits.

If you own a wide variety of sewing machines (or guns) you'll be working on, perhaps B-Square's thin-blade bits will work for you, but in practice I hardly use any of them. I wouldn't recommend this set if you're working exclusively on Singers.


The second gunsmithing tool company I looked into was Brownells. Having learned my lesson by wasting my money on the B-Square set filled with bits I didn't need, I painstakingly measured a bunch of Singer screw slots with a caliper to determine the size of bits I would need. I then ordered just the ones I needed at $2.99 per bit, and ordered a short handle and case to carry them all. Brownells also sells screwdriver sets, but I found that none of them had a high percentage of bits that I needed.

The Brownells bits are my favorite of all I own. They're one-and-a-half inches long, making them both easy to handle and useable as mini-screwdrivers in their own right, which I really like.

This short handle I ordered from them (#080-089-005) is good for spaces where the long B Square handle won't fit, like when you need to remove a machine's hinge screws from a case or cabinet.

The short handle is great for getting into cabinets and cases.

By the way I mis-measured some screws and had to re-order some different bits, so I wasted about $20. To help you avoid this problem, I'll cover exactly which Brownells bits are good for Singers in the next entry (it's gonna take a lot of photos).


If you don't want to bother with purchasing individual bits, Chapman Manufacturing Company's 9600 set is the best value for the money. For about $29 you get a good range of 12 slotted-head bits (and some other shapes I never use), the ratchet, and a handle with extension. With just these 12 bits I'm able to remove every screw I've tried on a Singer 15-91 and 201-2. The extendable handle is useful because you can make it a long or short screwdriver, and as I described in an earlier entry, the ratchet is great for taking off the needleplate and feed dogs.

While the Chapman bits are not as long as the Brownells bits, they are also designed to be used as mini-screwdrivers, with a knurled grip area at the top.

The Chapman set is the one used and recommended by Ray White, the sewing machine repairperson whose class I recently had the pleasure of taking. He mentioned that he had heard some reports of people occasionally breaking these bits; in the event of a stuck screw, Chapman bits are designed to break before the screw does, but I have not experienced this myself.

You can mail-order the Chapman set (#K9600) from Ray White here.

You can also order it on Amazon at this link:


If I had to start over with screwdriver sets, knowing what I know now, I'd probably just buy the Chapman set and save the rest of my money. I've spent over $100 to find out what works, and while I can't get that money back, I can at least pass this information on. You should be able to get what you need for about $30, less if you already have some bits or handles to start with.

I like the Brownells for their heft but the Chapmans serve equally well and cost less. I find the B-Square bits, in addition to not fitting Singer screws well, so short that they're difficult to handle. They're so stubby I often have trouble getting them out of the magnetic handles and sometimes I have to use pliers.

Another thing you may want to consider is the size of the cases. For example, if you're going to be the resident repairperson for your quilting group, the Chapman case is the smallest: For guys, it will fit in a jacket pocket; for gals, it will fit in a purse.

Full Disclosure

Lastly, I should mention the Amazon link up above. Whenever you see me put up an Amazon link, that's because I signed up for their affiliates program. That means if you click on the link and actually buy the product, Amazon gives me a few cents. Because this is the case, I don't want you to think I'll push junky products on this blog and try to trick you into buying them. I'll only give honest reviews of products I have direct experience with, and if Amazon sells them, I'll put up a link. Believe you me, any money that happens to trickle in from Amazon is going back into sewing machine repair research.

Go on to Screwdrivers, Part 4: Bits That Will Fit a 15-91


  1. Are any of these handles magnetic? I find that to be helpful.

  2. Ah, forgot to mention that in the review, an important point! The Chapman bits/driver are the only ones in the review that are not magnetic, and the magnetism of the Brownells bits combined with their length does give them some extra utility.

  3. can you suggest where in the UK I can purchase any of these sets you recomend ? I can find some on amazon UK but the postage is very high

  4. Please do a "bits blog" for the 221. Please!!!

    Ready to order the Chapman set but not sure if everything there will work from my 15-91 and 221.

  5. My hunts on CL have left me with a Singer 404 and an Emdeko Zig Zag (from what i can google it is a Brother made in Japan in the early 60s). In my rush to want to clean them up, I immediately realized that I was "buggering" up the screws with conventional screwdrivers. So this lead me to your blog. Now comes the dilemma, I am inclined to buy the Brownells bits, but being so early in my sewing machine acquisition fever, I am a little apprehensive to purchase all of the ones suggested. Since this post is a few years old I wonder if in this time you have had the chance to summarize the must-have bits that will work for a different array of vintage machines?