Reed & Prince Frearson Drive vs Phillips
The Frearson drive does look a bit like a Phillips at first glance, but the two are not the same. Trying a phillips bit in a frearson drive screw or vice-versa will bring little more than stripped screw heads and fist pounding frustration. But why would you want to use one over the other? What are the advantages of a Reed & Prince (R&P) Frearson over a Philips head? Hell, where did it even come from?
The Frearson Drive
The Frearson screw drive, also known as a Reed & Prince (R&P) may look similar to a Phillips, but the shape is different in a beneficial way to the wood boat builder. The Frearson has a sharper tip and large V-shaped angle. The recess in the fitting is a perfectly formed, sharp cross and that allows for a higher amount of torque to be applied before stripping out. They're common in the marine industry, and boat builders wanting to apply larger amounts of torque on screws in hardwood timbers tend to prefer using them with power tools. Frearsons have a much greater amount of resistance to "camming out" or stripping when torque is applied.
The drive dates all the way back to 1873 when it was invented by British engineer, John Frearson and it's still a favorite of boat builders today. Many classic boats, including Chris Crafts and Gar Wood for example are fastened with Frearson wood screws. Frearson drive are also commonly referred to as Reed & Prince drives, or R&P, as they were well known during their time being manufactured by Reed & Prince Manufacturing Company of Worcester (prounced wooster of course!), Massachusetts.
Of course Phillips drive screws are far more common, and are what the rest of the world outside of the boat building fraternity uses when reaching for a common cross headed screw to fasten drywall, build a deck, or put together some furniture. They can be had in any hardware store, along with the screwdrivers and bits to drive them with.
Philips screws have a much rounder tip, and a finer angle on the "V" crosses. This makes quickly inserting a driver faster, but does result in a less secure fitment with less surface area of the driver bit in contact with the screw.
Phillips head screws were designed as a direct solution to problems with slotted screws. They had more precise alignment of the driver, which avoided slippage and they were much easier to drive with power tools.
The design is often criticized for it's tendency to strip or cam out, even when low amounts of torque is applied. Clever people making clever excuses for the drive called it a "feature", allowing assembly of more delicate parts without overtightening the fasteners. If it was a feature, then the original inventor John P. Thompson surely didn't know about it because it was never mentioned in the original design patents.
When to use a Frearson (R&P) drive screw?
Use a Frearson drive with screws made of softer metals, as you'll experience less stripping and cam out. Also reach for Frearson when screwing in to hardwoods and lots of torque will be required to drive the screw home.
Planking up that old schooner with mahogany on oak? Frearson or slotted screws are the only way to go.