This book is based on two ideas. One is that the magic we understand is safer and more powerful than the magic we don't. This is not a hands-on how-to book. Don't look for any instructions for taking a screwdriver to this part or the other. But perhaps your knowing more about what's going on inside all those stoic components makes them a little less formidable when something does go awry.

How do you exactly understand that? You can take something someplace, but how can you take it to something?

4 Answers 4


Take [a tool] to [an object] means to use that tool on the object, especially in a reckless or destructive way. There's also a related expression take to [an object] with [a tool].

In 1989, after misleading reports from a DDR bureaucrat, frustrated Berliners took a sledgehammer to the wall separating them from the West.

Hurrying to lay in fuel for the winter, Peter took an axe to the woodpile.

Carrie Underwood has a song, Before He Cheats, which includes the line,

I took a Louisville slugger [a baseball bat] to both headlights [of her erstwhile boyfriend's car]...

  • 1
    Laughing at my desk at 'erstwhile'. +1 Not sure why I found that so funny. I'm sure it's correct usage and everything but I honestly can't think of when I could possibly have least heard the word erstwhile.
    – Dan
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 18:07
  • 4
    @Dan - and yet, as I read your comment, I thought, "This guy is going to find a way to use erstwhile in casual conversation. Soon. Probably tonight if he can" Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 22:17

taking a screwdriver to (something)

is an expression used when a person without necessary skills tries to fix something (as the example says).
One example would be to refer to someone trying to fix their washing machine or TV set.

The TV stopped working. I'll take a screwdriver to it (the TV or "part").

"screwdriver" is used since it is a generic tool that anyone would have.

  • 1
    It doesn't mean the person can't fix it, it just means they will be using a screwdriver to do the disassembly. And the expression is usually used with whatever tool is appropriate. If there are screws, it's a screwdriver. If it needs cutting, you'd take a knife or a saw to it.
    – Karen
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 13:01

To take a tool to something is to to use that tool on the object. Normally when assembling something, there are instructions on how to assemble it, including fine details on what to screw in and where. You would be told where to take the screwdriver.

Because of the preceding statement;

This is not a hands-on how-to book.

We can take "Don't look for any instructions for taking a screwdriver to this part or the other" to mean to not expect such fine detailed instructions as you would get in an assembly manual. It won't tell you explicitly what to do. It's not a standard expression, but rather a metaphor.

  • I wouldn't classify it as metaphor. It literally means to take a screwdriver to a specific part's location, with the understanding that you're going to use the screwdriver on said part in some way. It's just somewhat awkward phrasing.
    – MichaelS
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 20:59
  • I'm not sure of the contents of the book but depending on whether the book deals with something that could have bits of it screwed in or not, it could be a metaphor. My guess was that the book was on the subject of something more theoretical, and thus it would be a metaphor. If the book was on quantum mechanics, for example. "We're not telling you how to perform quantum mechanics, we're just telling you about its nature and concepts surrounding it" is the meaning I would get from that statement
    – Aiaimai
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 21:08
  • From the quote, "perhaps your knowing more about what's going on inside all those stoic components" implies to me it's talking about something mechanical and/or electronic.
    – MichaelS
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 21:50

Given that the book is How Computers Work, and being a fellow computer nerd, I took the phrase:

taking a screwdriver to this part or the other

to be a reference to Dr. Who and his Sonic Screwdriver, meaning that the book will not teach you how to repair your pc should it experience problems.

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