Thursday, April 19, 2018

Cool Tools #2: Eggbeater hand crank drill

     And sometimes all a tool has to do is hang there, looking beautiful. 
      Like this eggbeater drill.
      I wish I could tell you more about it. It looks very much like a Miller Falls hand drill, of the sort manufactured by the well-known Massachusetts company during the first few decades of the 20th century. 
      But I spent more time than I should have Wednesday looking through on-line sources about hand drills—I am not alone in my appreciation—and going over this drill with a magnifying glass. 
     Drills from Miller Falls and other noteworthy manufacturers all seem to have identifying hallmarks on them. This piece has nothing, which makes me think it is a lesser knock-off. 
     Though a well-made knock-off. Turn the crank and it purrs with a light zipping sound, the well-tools gears meshing perfectly after what has to be the better part of a century's use.
    Not so much use in recent decades, I imagine, as cordless electric drills have mooted this kind of thing, though I still use it occasionally for delicate tasks—countersinking a screw, for instance, where you want to make the smallest indentation and no more. Guides I've consulted recommend the drills for teaching young children carpentry, as they require two hands to operate, and a reckless child would really have to show determination to contrive to injury himself with it.
     Whatever the provenance, the drill  looks very much like the drawing that Herbert D. Lanfair submitted with his patent application On Aug. 13, 1895 he was granted Patent No. 544,411. This was an improvement over the C-shaped crank brace drill, that had been patented 40 years earlier.     If you notice in the first drawing, bits are held in the handle, and until I began my research, I didn't realize that the handle of my drill was hollow. Unscrewing it, I found eight blue steel bits, not spirally, like drill bits today, but simply cutting tips, like the ones shown here. 
     A reminder of how ancient drilling is, back some 10,000 years, when prehistoric man drilled holes by rubbing a stick with an obsidian point between his palms. 
       The bow drill was an improvement on that—the same dowel, with an iron bit instead of stone, twirled by a stringed bow, with the string looped around the stick so that it turned when the bow was drawn back and forth. 
       A variant of this was to wrap leather straps around the drill bit, which one man would hold upright in place, while another man pulled the thong, a process that I just read described in Emily Wilson's fine translation of "The Odyssey," where a sharpened, red hot olive spear is rammed into the eye of the sleeping Cyclops:
                                       ...I leaned on top
and twisted it, as when a man drills wood
for shipbuilding. Below, the workers spin
the drill with straps, stretched out from either end.
So round and round it goes, and whirled
the fire-sharp weapon in his eye.
     At which point we've probably said enough. Old tools are beautiful, not just for their aesthetic form—this this case the red wheel with its gently arching spokes—but because they remind us we are the latest stage of a very old tradition, that use of tools is truly what sets humanity apart from the animal kingdom.
     Yes, a few animals use rudimentary tools—digging for ants with sticks and such. But they do not recraft their world, for good and ill, the way we do. We've earned our nickname homo faber, "man the (tool) maker," 
    The phrase was first used by Roman politican Appius Claudius Caecus. He gave his name to a road, the Appian Way, and wrote in his book of proverbs, Homo faber suae quisque fortunae—"Every man is the maker of his own destiny." Which is largely true, again for good and ill. 


  1. I have a similar drill my late husband kept. It's labeled STANLEY, MADE IN US, NO.61. It has a Red wooden handle and knobs, but the handle is solid, not storage. The cog wheel is a solid disk of iron. I don't know how old it is.

  2. I'm occasionally dragged, kicking and screaming, into an antique store. If the store is worth it's salt, it'll have a section with vintage tools. I'm okay, then.

  3. The latest iteration of garage clean up on my part provided me a space to display old tools. Just being around them makes me feel better.

  4. You should watch that Woodwright shop on PBS-works only with hand tools.

  5. I have a couple of those hand drills, hanging on the pegboard above my basement workbench, where I keep all my antique tools. Not only does the display look as cool as hell, but everything WORKS, and works well, often better than the new stuff.

    Best of all, most of them have a history as well. The oldest ones came to me from my father, who got them from HIS father. Many date to at least World War I, if not before. My grandfather emigrated to Chicago from Poland in the early years of the last century, and was a jack of all-trades...woodworker, garment factory worker, dry cleaner, tailor, shoe repairman, and probably more.

    He ran a shoe repair shop next to the Biograph Theater. Both he and my father, who was fourteen,, were working there during the weekend that John Dillinger was killed. Probably eking out a meager living using the some of the same tools that I now own. I wish I were even a fraction as skillful with them as they were. But at least I can take a bit of pleasure from holding history in my hands.

  6. "injury himself with it"... sorry, my High Functioning Autism (I won't be using the 'A' word any more now that it has come out that Dr. A was a Nazi eugenicist) won't let me not point that out to you.


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