I was looking for something in an old tool bag and dug out a Craftsman screwdriver-handled bottle opener. It smells like vomit.
Acetate-handled screwdrivers are fairly tough, durable, and easy to clean, but like a lot of materials they age over time and outgas. What’s basically happening is that the Cellulose Acetate Butyrate (CAB) material is slowly decomposing, and the byproduct has a particular smell to it.
I’ve read that it’s the butyric acid component from the chemical breakdown that causes the vomit-like stink.
Should you pass on acetate-handled screwdrivers? That’s up to you. I prefer other handle materials most of the time for greater comfort and ergonomics, but acetate tool handles are usually easier to clean. Cellulose Acetate Butyrate can withstand certain shop chemicals, it’s impact-resistant, and it’s a biopolymer that’s made from renewable resources.
Many brands currently offer acetate-handled screwdrivers, such as Channellock, Craftsman, and Gearwrench.
In my experience, some acetate screwdriver and tool handles will develop a smell over time, but not all of them. The foul odor usually develops when the screwdriver is kept in enclosed storage for a long period of time. The smell will usually go away when you air out a tool, or there are ways you can clean them to remove surface residues.
Acetate tool handles are usually clear or translucent, often accented with a brand’s colors.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my first whiff of acetate-handled tools. I once opened a small plastic tool box and was greeted with the combined stink of an entire set of Craftsman acetate-handled screwdrivers that I had forgotten about for a couple of years.
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Oh, and I also found my Dewalt hickory-handled hammer, with the handle still a sticky mess that’s still wrapped in plastic from a few years ago. Certain plastics and adhesives decompose over time and under specific conditions, sometimes quite unexpectedly. For instance, I have an eraser that melted itself into a clear pen it was in prolonged contact with.
Want to avoid plastics? There are still some decent wood-handled screwdrivers out there, such as from Felo and Grace.
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