Some of the first things humans made were likely shelters. Originally they were just fitted together as best as could be. The boughs and fronds, first used for shelter right where they grew, later collected and used elsewhere, had their ways of fitting together. At some point other materials started to be used. Sticks, stones, lengths of vine or root, used as braces, shims and connectors. Then it was possible to construct a shelter that was more than a lean-to, though its form was still largely dictated by the materials used.
When we began to imagine what the dwelling should look like before building it, then we needed to be able to fasten the pieces together in arbitrary ways. And we needed to get systematic about it, instead of always having to improvise. Notches in sticks and logs would help them lock together. They would continue to be tied and notched for ages, then pegs would join the toolkit. It’s known that woodworkers in ancient Egypt used pegs to fasten wood together. It meant drilling a hole with a bow drill, like an archer’s bow with its string wrapped around the drill bit. Pulling it from side to side caused the string to turn the bit.
The Romans improved on that with the auger. They also invented forged iron nails, or at least took credit for it. Until the late seventeen hundreds, all nails were made by hand – forged, beaten or cut to shape. That’s also about the time the metal screw became commonplace, when machines were being developed that could mass produce them. Handmade metal screws first appeared in Europe three hundred years earlier, and wooden ones were used by the ancient Greeks.
To turn in a screw takes a screwdriver. Modern screws have specially designed heads to fit a specific type of tool. The most common are the slot, the x-shaped Phillips, the hexagonal Allen and the square Robertson. The best of the bunch is the Robertson. The screw and driver were invented in 1908 by Canadian P.L. Robertson. He got a patent in 1909, but that didn’t help when an English licensee stole his rights. It cost him a lot of trouble and money to get them back and he would never license their production again, even to Henry Ford.
Now Robertson screws are rare in the UK and barely at 10% of the screw market in the US. But in Canada they account for 85% of screws sold.