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You know the drill

October 13, 2010

My son picked up this little beauty at a yard sale, for a buck:

Muscle-powered hand-operated drill

Muscle-powered hand-operated drill

He already has one – a beautiful antique Craftsman about this size, but he wanted to give this one to a friend as a gift.  It was dirty and rusty and would barely turn, but he knew with a little cleaning and oil it would work like new.  And it does now. For a buck, he’s giving his friend a gift that will last a lifetime and could be passed on to his kids.

If you don’t have one of these in your toolbox, I encourage you to find one.  There are several advantages: no cords or batteries to mess with, no maintenance (other than 2 drops of light machine oil once a year) and it gives you very precise control of the drill.   This can be important if you don’t want to drill all the way through something, like a desktop starting from underneath.

They’re surprisingly easy to use.  Unscrew the chuck a little until it opens up to the drill bit diameter and put in the drill bit.  Holding the knob and handle together to keep the spindle from turning, tighten the chuck onto the drill bit.  Then drill.  Practice makes perfect, and you’ll start to look at that imprecise, overly complex battery-operated one as more trouble than it’s worth.

It’s also nice knowing that it can be repaired, and it could still be in use decades after you’re gone.  It makes you think about what “value” means.

I have a cheap one of these made of plastic, that I keep in my tool bag at work – it weighs almost nothing and is fine for mounting outlet strips and other sundries under desks.  But at home I have two of them:

A top-quality, dual-gear model, my favorite; it has room for drill bits in the handle. I carry this with me on projects. Click picture to embiggen.
Check this heavy-duty model out; it has two torque settings, by moving the gear up or down on the pinion, a chest-brace (to apply more pressure, and a built-in spirit level to ensure level drilling. Click picture to embiggen.

UPDATE: This picture was sent in by reader Chas, of a drill at least five decades older than the one I have, yet identical. A perfect example of; “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Still perfectly functional.

Chas' drill

Picture submitted by reader Chas, of identical drill at least five decades older than the one I have. Click to embiggen.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 13, 2010 at 18:54 | #1

    The second one is a “breast drill” made so you can lean into it with your chest to get a better cut while drilling.


  2. dof
    October 13, 2010 at 23:37 | #2

    Correction made! (allowing for modern nomenclature). I’ve only used the big one a couple times, when I was drilling a lot of 1/4″ holes in steel. The medium-sized drill, my favorite, shows almost no wear after years of use – it will surely outlast me. Both are easy to use.

    I bought the mid-sized one new maybe twenty years ago, for thirty bucks if I remember right, but someone gave me the big one as a gift.

  3. October 15, 2010 at 22:26 | #3

    My dad had (has) a mid-size, single gear model, which I always thought was cool. But to my knowledge, I don’t have one of my own. I will keep my eyes open at garage/yard sales. Thanks for the reminder.

    Those two of yours (which strangely I don’t recall seeing,) are real beauties.

  4. Chas, PE SE
    October 16, 2010 at 22:50 | #4

    Another thing we have in common — I have the identical dual-gear drill. My Dad let me use it before I was old enough for power tools. I don’t know how long he had it before he had me. I took a picture, but I don’t see a link for sending it on to you.


  5. dof
    October 16, 2010 at 23:03 | #5

    @Chas: I’m still futzing with the page design and links and whatnot, so I don’t have contact information up yet. Send the picture to george dot wiman at gmail dot com – I’d love to see it!

  6. dof
    October 19, 2010 at 12:12 | #6

    UPDATE: Chas sent in a picture of the one he owns. With at least five decades between them (possibly much more) the tools are identical. When you have a good design, why change it? (I can’t really think of any improvements, which is rare) Will computer hardware design ever reach this level of stability? Interesting to speculate what it would be like if it did.

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