Medieval armorers used multi-tool-like devices similar to the one shown here to adjust and repair plate armor worn by knights. That's a screwdriver blade at lower right.
Medieval armorers used multi-tool-like devices similar to the one shown here to adjust and repair plate armor worn by knights. That's a screwdriver blade at lower right.

Many familiar carpentry tools and materials have ancient roots. As author Witold Rybczynski points out in his engaging One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw (Touchstone Books, 2000), squares, plumb lines, chalk lines, levels, and toothed saws were all well-known to the builders of the Egyptian pyramids. Chisels, axes, hammers, and nails date back at least to the Bronze Age. The Romans invented the plane and forged-iron nails, and relied on nuts and bolts to assemble the portable wooden A-frames used for lifting heavy objects.

Somehow, though, the Romans never developed the screw. The first known examples seem to date from the 15th century, when armorers and gunsmiths used them to fasten the metal mechanical parts of early firearms to their wooden stocks. Because screws were made by hand and were not commonplace, screwdrivers (or "turnscrews," as they were...

or Register to read the full article.