Why Do RVs Use Square Head (Robertson Head) Screws?

What Type of Screw is Used for RVs?

If you’ve recently tried to fix a few things on your RV whether it’s a vent on the roof or removing a panel inside, you’ve probably noticed that the screws are not exactly what you’re used to seeing.

Related RV Product: The Camco Screen Door Cross Bar Handle (click to view on Amazon) makes it easy to close an RV screen door and protect it at the same time.

Most of the screws used in RVs have a square head. This style of screw is called a Robertson screw and there’s some pretty interesting history behind it.

Sometimes RVs will also have what looks like a combination of a square Robertson head and a Phillips.

rv screw robertson philips head combo
RV screw. Robertson Philips hybrid. Works best with Robertson/Square Head drill bits.

Because of the hybrid look, it’s a common mistake for new RVers to try and use a Philips head screwdriver.

This pretty much always results in stripped and damaged screw heads that become almost impossible to remove.

I know because I made that mistake a ton when I first started working on my first travel trailer.

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A Crash Course In Robertson Screws

When I started researching why most of the screws used on RVs were so strange looking I got an interesting lesson in the history of screws.

The square headed screws commonly used in RVs are called Robertson screws.

Invented in Canada the unique square headed screw is very popular in Canada, but not so much in the rest of the world.

Back in the early 1900’s when P. L. Robertson invented the square drive screw only flat headed screws were being used in most of the world.

They started using Robertson screws to put together Model-T Ford’s in the Canadian factories and a lot of time was saved by using the better designed screw.

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Robertson tried to take the design to Europe but due to certain events and the World War it never really took off.

Back in America Henry Ford became interested in using the Robertson screw design in American production but due to a disagreement between Ford and Robertson on production the screw was never brought to America.

For this reason, Robertson screws are still an uncommon sight in most of the world. Canada is the only country that uses them as a standard option.

Today, because of the need for faster production Robertson screws are starting to become more common in factories and workshops in America.

That’s why they are and have been commonly used on most RVs, even ones that are built in the USA.

Why Are Square Head (Robertson) Screws Used in RVs?

When Philips head screws were invented shortly after the Robertson screws they took off in popularity in America and most of Europe due to the better marketing by the inventor and with the help of World War II.

Since then Philips has mostly been the norm for production.

It’s debatable as to which type of screw is better overall but one area where Robertson screws are still the better choice is in the production of boats, furniture, and RVs.

A Robertson screw will hold onto the drill bit. That means you can set the screw with one hand instead of two.

The grip also means the bit is less likely to slip out of the screw head, which not only speeds up production, it also decreases the risk of damaging the material around the screw.

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Last but not least, it requires a lot less pressure to use a Robertson screw which reduces fatigue for the workers who are using a drill all day long.

One of the areas where Philips screws are slightly better is with automated production. Having a screw head that is easier to remove from the bit is a benefit for robots.

Since RVs are still mostly assembled by people and not machines, the Robertson screw is the better option. That’s why it’s the screw type of choice for camper and trailer manufacturers.

What Type of Bit Should I Use On RV Screws?

Using Robertson drill bits and screwdrivers makes life a lot easier when working on an RV.

The size of the square hole depends on the screw size, so you should always have a few sizes of square head bit in your toolbox.

Most standard drill bit sets like this one by Black+Decker (click to view on Amazon) will have a few sizes of Robertson (square head) drill bits.

BLACK+DECKER Screwdriver Bit Set / Drill Bit Set, 109-Piece (BDA91109)

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If you want to have a lot of different sizes on hand for different projects there are Robertson drill bit sets like this one by Baker and Bolt (click to view on Amazon) available.

BAKER AND BOLT Robertson Square Drill Bit Set (PREMIUM Complete 12pc Set)/w Storage Case and Bit Holder -Hex Shank Magnetic Bit Set -THE GIFD COLLECTION -Fortified S2 Steel -Long 2in Heads for Drills

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It’s also a good idea to have a few Robertson screwdrivers handy when you are out camping just in case something needs to be fixed.

#2 Robertson screws are the most common size for RV use. Getting a set like this one by Klein Tools (click to view on Amazon) with sizes 0-3 should be enough for most campers.

Klein Tools 85664 Screwdriver Set, Square Recess with Color Coded Handles and Heat Treated, Chrome Plated Shafts, 4-Piece

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Why is my Philips head screwdriver stripping RV screws?

Even though many of the screws used for RVs look like they could be for Philips head screwdrivers they are normally for Robertson or Square head screwdrivers.

You can sometimes get a large sized Philips head screwdriver to work on the hybrid style of screw used in campers but there’s a huge risk of stripping the head.

It’s recommended to have a few sizes of Robertson screwdrivers in your camper’s toolbox.

#2 is one of the most common sizes used.

Have any more questions about the types of screws used in RVs? Leave a comment below. 

by Jenni
Jenni grew up in a small town in Idaho. With a family that loves camping, she has been towing trailers since a very young age.

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