For maximum holding power—and as a demonstration of good craftsmanship—face fasteners should be driven so that their heads are flush with the surface of the board. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, though, especially when you’re driving deck screws into wet pressure-treated decking, or stainless steel trim-head screws into cellular-PVC trim. It takes a little finesse to make sure the screws don’t sink too deeply, and that takes time.
Starborn’s Smart-Bit Depth Setter is a nifty little drill accessory that allows you to set a consistent screw depth. I used it to drive different-sized Phillips-head and square-drive screws into treated southern yellow pine, red cedar, and even some very-low-density PVC trim, and found that it worked as advertised.
It’s adjustable, which allows you to set the screw depth; and it seems robustly-built, with metal rather than plastic parts. The tool also has a free-spinning stop collar with a rubber O-ring to prevent the depth setter from marring the surface of the board around the screw. I suspect that the O-ring will be one of the first wear-points, but replacement stop collars are available from Starborn.
When you have a screw gun set up with a Smart-Bit Depth Setter, you will probably want another gun on hand in case you need to back a screw out. The tool is not recommended for use with impact drivers—because the impact motion tends to loosen the locking nut, according to the Starborn representative I spoke with. It seemed to work fine in my impact driver, but I didn’t drive very many screws with it.
The $21 tool will probably shave a second or two per screw off your installation time, so even if it lasts for only a few decks, that’s money in your pocket—along with a better-looking deck for your customers. ?
Andrew Wormer is the editor of PDB.