Thursday, February 13, 2020

Hand Drills, part 1

I took a trip up to my "cabin" a while back just to check on things. It's really a 14' x 21' shed that a buddy and I built many years ago on a back corner of my family farm. It sits on top of a hill buried in trees and is a pain to get to, which makes it perfect for providing a peaceful place to go to take a break from society. We don't store much in the cabin since it is not a secure location (hunters and hikers wander by), but it is a form of fall-back Bug Out Location (BOL) since it has a solid roof and a wood stove for heat/cooking. The main thing we have stored there is tools, some left over from when we built it and others added to make staying there a little nicer. The entire shed was built without the use of power tools on-site, so all of the tools are manual.

Among the handful of manual tools on the shelf is a manual drill, sometimes called a hand brace. There's a metal box full of drill bits next to it, sizes from 1/8th inch to 1- 1/4 inch, for wood-working, We used the drill to make holes in the floor and walls for a few wires from the solar panel and short-wave antenna, along with a few other minor uses, but it stays up there for future projects. Mine is an older version of this one that is still in production.
A hand drill may seem like something that your great-grandpa would have used, and he likely did. Before the invention of small electric motors, hand drills were the only practical way we had to make holes in materials. Their history goes back centuries, and I'll get into that in a future post, but the hand brace was the last generation of manual drills before motor drills replaced them.

A hand brace is normally used for working with wood due to the slow speeds it reaches, but I have used mine on soft metals like Aluminum and Copper. Even though they're old tech, they still do their job and don't require batteries or extension cords.

  • No electricity- this is a major point for a back-up tool. It will work just as well in your garage as it will 20 miles from the nearest power line.
  • Quiet- Without the whine of an electric motor, you can work without bothering neighbors or family that is trying to sleep.
  • Simple- Fewer parts means fewer things that can break or get lost. Before cordless drills became common, you needed a chuck key to tighten the part of an electric drill that holds the bit (the chuck). Losing that key made changing bits a challenge.
  • Inexpensive- The cheap imports are half the price of a cheap cordless drill. A quality brace may be found in antique shops or flea markets, but the prices will vary wildly.
  • Durable- I have cordless drills that are less than 15 years old that I can't find batteries for. Any cordless drill over I've ever torn apart or seen destroyed was full of plastic gears and sealed bearings. My hand brace is older than I am, and by keeping it clean and oiling it once in a while I'll be able to pass it down to my grandson.
  • Safe- Since you are providing the power to the tool, you have instant feedback on how well it is working. The slow speed of the drilling action means that you won't have an out-of-control drill torquing out of your grip if it binds on something. These are also a lot safer to hand to a child as they learn how things work.
  • Slow- Slow and steady allows a better chance of precision with a hand-held tool. Getting a hole at the proper angle is easier at low speeds and corrections are simpler. 
  • Versatile- I have bits for my hand brace up to 1-1/4 inch, which is more than most cordless drills can handle. With a modern chuck I can also use the tiny bits that are commonly found in household bit sets. I also have a set of bits with screwdriver heads and they come in very handy when working with long or large wood screws. The swing of the brace lets me get a lot of torque on a stubborn screw

  • Slow- With a rotating speed measured in double-digit RPMs instead of thousands, it's going to take longer to make a hole.  A lot longer. You're not going to be putting a round wire wheel in a hand brace to remove paint or rust unless you're really bored.
  • Tiring- Your arms are the power source, so you're going to get a workout if you have very many holes to drill. People today aren't used to using manual tools, so it may exercise a set of muscles that you didn't know you had.
  • Bits aren't common- You're not going to find a very large selection of bits anywhere, and very few places carry them. Unless you find a brace with a modern 3-jaw chuck, it will require a bit with a tapered, squared tail to function. Your local hardware store is not likely to have those on the shelf.
  • Larger- While the brace itself may not be much larger than a motor drill, the space required to swing the center piece will mean that working in corners or near walls/floors is going to be  harder. 

As some of you know by now, I'm a fan of old-school tech. It worked for our ancestors, and will still work for us if we lose the luxuries of electricity and big-box stores. Knowing how things used to get done makes it easier for me to figure out a way to work around problems.

1 comment:

  1. An old "egg beater" hand drill can be had at Amazon for around $25.00.
    This will drill smaller holes, and doesn't require the amount of space you need to swing the brace and bit.


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