A simple gem: a screw. How was it made by hand before industrialization? A crazy question? For someone who (in Flanders) missing a screw, there is (in the Netherlands) a screw loose: it is not ok. But I was confused too, so I went looking around anyway ...

The history of the screw is on loose screws (= uncertain).

Thread cut from wood was first used in Egypt (around 2500 BC) for (olive, oil and wine) pressing. Archytas of Tarentum (428 BC - 347 BC) is said to be the Greek (re) inventor of it. Archimedes (287 BC - 212 BC) used the screw principle in his famous spiral to jack up water. Possibly she already existed earlier in Egypt. It was used for land irrigation and to remove lens water from ships. The Romans used the Archimedes screw to drain mines. It was described in "Mechanics" by Heron of Alexandria in the first century AD.

The Romans also used a screw as a lock to secure a bolt or door beam. The nut was fixed in the door. The key (balanagra) fitted accurately to the screw head.

Our word "screw" comes from the old French escroue of the Latin scrofa, just like the English screw. A writing from 1477 already mentions a schruyve. In 1567 it was written that "De persse [is] ... of bouen fixed with spies, locks, vysen, or scroes."

The classical Latin meaning of scrōfa is (female) pig. Later also (pig) vagina and hole. A link sometimes made earlier with the threaded pig's tail is less likely. Since the 18th century people also speak of mother or nut screw, "screw nut" and father or boat screw. Hence our nut.

As a clamping tool, the word is a part of vice and thumb screw. The thread is used here to move something and to exert pressure.

schroef1750The earliest screws were made by hand, no two screws were alike. Shaping the threads on a stick was time-consuming and made screws very expensive. From head to wire, many file tracks characterize this old craft. Speed ​​(the displacement of the thread with one revolution) and thread shape were irregular.

The first metal screw was probably invented by a German clockmaker around 1513.

The German mining engineer Agricola described in 1556 how metal screws were used as a better alternative to nails.

In 1586, Jacques Besson, court engineer for Charles IX of France, made the first screw cutter. After makers of scientific instruments such as microscopes, clock makers and gunsmiths also designed screw-cutting machines. Antoine Thiout introduced a lathe with a screw drive around 1750. In 1760 the English brothers Job and William Wyatt filed a patent for the first automatic screw cutter. Their machine could cut 10 screws per minute.

In 1770 the English instrument maker Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800) invented the first well-functioning thread-cutting lathe. Countryman Henry Maudslay (1771-1831) invented a larger one in 1797 with which screws could be made in mass. In 1798 David Wilkinson invented similar mass production machines in America.

The British Sir Joseph Whitworth is the inventor of a universal thread (1841) and standard.

Wolfegg Castle is located north of Lake Constance in Germany. In the library is a 15th-century book with the first description of the screwdriver. The screws were mainly needed for armor, but later also for mechanical parts of guns for which gunsmiths further developed the screwdriver around 1740.

In nature a screw-and-nut leg connection occurs at the Papua beetle, it makes a rotational movement possible. Screws are in our DNA. Or at least the helix form.

Tips & tricks:

• Use the correct, well-fitting screwdriver format.

• If a screw hole became too large due to wear, you can drill the hole larger and put a dowel in it to drill a new hole.

• There are one-way or single-use-screws or security screws that are burglar-proof for locks and doors. You can turn them in, but not turn them out.

• Loosen tight screws:

o Give it a few taps

o or use an impact screwdriver

o heat the head with a soldering iron. The screw will expand and shrink again after cooling. And then it often works.


Have you ever seen anything like this?

A very curious gem. But a very simple and strong design. Is it a unique concept, or an accidental trial that was lost in the folds of history, and by chance was discovered in 2020?

The great thing about a websites and blog is that you get interesting questions, contacts and ideas all over the world. From Alaska (about "watering” trees) over India (carbon footprint) to Brazil (groundwater wells). And recently (May 2020) an email from Jim Escobar, "Old Screw Found in NW USA (SW Idaho), near Oregon Trail." His 10-year-old son James (jr) went out with his metal detector and returned home with a rusty nail. Through internet searches, they found the article I wrote about the oldest screws found in on Surv’live’l. Because the found "nail" clearly had one groove in the head, and a twisted screw thread.

When you see it, it seems simple and straightforward. You forge a square nail and turn the square shank more than 360 °. I suspect this can even be done cold with a tap wrench.

Only: the thread was manually filed in all known old screws. A very time-consuming and expensive work that leaves clearly legible traces. If it is so easy with ironwork, why didn't we know this system? Why (to my knowledge) have no similar copies been found? A screw "avant la lettre". I hope research (at Smithsonian and / or elsewhere) can shed more light on this finding. It seems very special to me: both the product and the fact that nothing is known about it in our history.