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My grandfather had a hand-cranked drill, a Yankee screwdriver, and a manual bit brace.  I used them all while growing up, but sadly only the Yankee’s whereabouts are presently known.  And while I own a decent cordless electric drill — and use it frequently — I prefer the human-powered version for small jobs.  It’s lighter, quieter, and the “battery” never dies.  And oh yeah, it costs less than a battery alone!

Obviously electric tools are appropriate for larger jobs, but am I a retro-tech masochist using hand-powered drills for the lighter stuff, or do you share my enthusiasm?  Let me know in comments.

Hand-Cranked Drill [Nasco]
Yankee Screwdriver Via Amazon [What’s this?]


20 Responses to Hot or Not? Hand-Powered Drills

  1. Uncle Flea says:

    oh so NOT! I have one of these that I thought would be great for my 3 yr old “toolman” to learn the basics with.
    It was slightly corroded, from a box of old tools I was given. I lubed the gears a bit and I tried it out with a small bit. About 3 cranks into I pinched one of my fingers in the gear mechanism, drawing blood. Looks like Dad needs to relearn the basics of “safety first!”

  2. dansz says:

    I’m going to have to say HOT. I’m a picture framer and I use one of these all of the time. It’s crucial for drilling pilot holes into hard or delicate pieces of wood before hammering.

  3. Waylan says:

    My father had a cheap one when I was young. If I recall, the big gear kind of flopped around and would skip etc. It was a pain to use. However, at some point I seem to remember using one in good condition and loved it. For light or delicate work, a good quality hand-powered drill can be very HOT.

  4. false_cause says:

    Hot. As noted above, you can turn the hand drill at very precise low RPMs with a very accurate amount of pressure. In certain circumstances, that can be really useful.

  5. HogGravy n Chitlins says:

    As the previous commenter mentioned, if you have a well built one, it can be a very useful tool, the junk ones are just awful though. BTW, the one in the photo looks like a real p.o.s.

  6. Nick Carter says:

    A bit brace is more useful (especially for putting in lag bolts), but I have a two speed Millers falls drill that is just beautiful and will drill holes pretty quickly. I mostly keep it in case the power goes out and I have to drill a hole, or the collapse of civilization.

    Another wonderful hand drill is the Cole Drill, which you can use to put a 1″ hole in steel plate…

  7. Steve Thompson says:

    Hot. If it’s a good one. The problem is there are so many cheap ones that I think that is where most people’s experience lies. I imagine if Lie Nielsen made one it would be awesome! But precision gears and good quality would make one a pleasure – cheap ones are just a PITA!

    Oh, in certain situations, I’m a huge fan of the Yankee Screwdriver – again as long as it’s quality and well cared for.

  8. Perry Jones says:

    Hot. It’s quick and quiet, no worrying about batteries or cords. Being able to go really slowly can be useful with delicate or finished material.

    One without a T-handle can also get closer into some corners because of the small chuck with no gear box/clutch/motor behind it

  9. Bill says:

    Hot. I have a beautiful old Millers Falls that I use all the time. For small diameter bits it’s almost as fast as a power drill.

  10. Keith says:

    A good one is definitely hot! I like the control that you can get with a hand powered drill.
    Very recently (because I couldn’t get replacement parts) I had to improvise a repair on a vacuum cleaner hose holder by drilling two small holes through part of it’s plastic housing to accept a pair of machine screws. A power drill might have been quicker, but definitely much risker in this case. I was able to coax my hand powered drill through the plastic without chewing up the plastic or having the bit grab and break the housing before I could stop the drill.

  11. Simon says:

    Lee Valley’s stuff is almost never crap so this may be a good one:

  12. Leslie says:

    Definitely hot. Mine disappeared when I moved in ’99, and I never replaced it but find myself needing it on occasion so I may eventually get a new one, though I question if the quality would be the same as this old one that was left behind in an old farmhouse I rented 25 years ago. There is nothing that beats it for when you need to drill something slow and steady, yet it also works just find for a lot of “regular” drilling projects. I’m not certain that I’d use it now as much as I did in my pre-cordless days, but it’s still a worthwhile item to own.

  13. Patrick says:

    Hot. Kids can’t kill themselves with it – along with the brace, the only thing I’ll (read, my boss) will allow them to use without too much supervision. As a lot of the guys already said – small jobs it’s perfect, and I’ve found that even bigger jobs it’ll get the job done. And with any number of kids in the neighborhood (or class in my case) no battery gets worn out, we can continue work for hours.

  14. Russell says:


    I have both this style of drill and a brace with the nice set of auger bits from my grandfather. Especially with the brace, a good set is something of an heirloom tool. Battery powered things will die, and their batteries will become discontinued. Putting some sweat into a project makes it worth it.

    The bits are really useful too! Each bit has this little screw on it to help draw it into the wood. When the little screw breaks through the other side, you flip the piece over, and drill on that side. This makes a clean hole with NO blowout or splinters. Classic.

  15. Kurt Schwind says:

    Sounds like a lot of ‘hot’, with the caveat that it has to be a ‘nice’ one. And I’m guessing that a nice one is more than the cost of a battery for a recharagable.

    As fun as these look, I’ll stick with my cordless drill and/or my new dremel (thanks again for the advice on that Sean/Chuck, my 400xp just arrived yesterday).

  16. TL says:

    I used them a lot growing up, but with the advent of cordless drills I just don’t see the point. Much like the old Stanley level, a well maintained old one is a beautiful thing for the shop wall. In my shop such things are dust collectors not dust creators.

  17. Jim says:

    Another vote for “hot” here. I often use a smaller one I own for drilling PC boards and in other situations where precision and delicacy is more important than speed or force and a different larger one for drilling into hard woods especially near the edges of my work. That said, I also have a nice cordless Makita that I use for general work and an old corded Craftsman that I use when I want more torque. Really I guess there’s not much I’ve held onto in my toolbox that doesn’t get used, but these have definitely held their value for me.

  18. Teacher says:

    HOT!!! I have several braces from Millers Falls as well as breast drills and three of these “egg beater” type drills. I use them because I get a feeling of satisfaction from using a tool that was made 40-70 years ago.

  19. Coalandice says:

    I built the raft foundation for my 12’x31′ shed
    with nothing but a hand saw
    a hand drill (albeit a better one than the one pictured)
    and a Yankee screwdriver

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