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I have a breast drill and it is brilliant! My drill has a two speed settings, fast and slow. It was made by "Venusburg" in Germany, and bought in Denmark second hand for 30kr. I've used it in a pinch to drill hardened steel where I couldn't disassemble a part to get it back on a drill press. the control of hand turning and the sensitive feedback allows me to use it on hard substances without the threat of cracking the drill bit, something that often happens with power drills.

Doug Berch


A wonderful post! Thanks!

David Anderson


Millers Falls is in Massachusetts.

Tony Wilhoit


Can I receive more information like this? All I can get would be much loved and enjoyed to be sure!!



Breast drill for sale here!


Julian Colander


I've just started using a small, old hand drill again after many years, partly because my 5 year old daughter hates the sound of a power drill. It's liberating; small, light, quiet, no need to worry about charging or mains supply. It looks very similar to the Millers Falls examples pictured above. I think it belonged to my grandfather and could date back to the 20s, but as you say it's hard to tell.

Thanks for a nice article.

Kris De Decker


"In his study of ancient stone-working technology (see sources), Denys Stocks came to the conclusion that even with a bronze drill bit it took up to 5 hours to drill a hole 1 centimetre deep in a hard stone like quartz."

Someone sent me an email saying that this statement has zero meaning because there is no mention of the diameter of the hole. That's true. I have inserted the word "tiny" between "a" and "hole". Stocks was talking about the technique used to make beads.



Re my comment (5) - I haven't tried this drill but will be ordering one for myself. It is German made so Europeans should be able to find it near home.

Thanks for the great article! I was stuck by the drill press designs using hand drills. I'd appreciate any more information on those.

Kris De Decker


@ gbbalto: you can find more information on the drill press designs when you follow the links just below the article ("19th century drilling tools"). You can make them yourself too: http://www.fullchisel.com/blog/?p=312

Thanks for the link. Here is a European supplier (thanks to Piet de Vries):

Thomas van Putten


Nice article. I have both the hand brace and the hand drill. Really handy. No batteries or power cable needed. The hand brace is more suited for big holes in wood or stone as you can use more momentum. But it will break small drills very easily because it is difficult to keep the brace in line. For that I use the small hand drill.

You need special drills/bits for these tools, though. Not all drills made for electric drills are suitable for a high-torc/low-rpm ratio.

We also have a auger for making holes in the ground that serves equally well.

Andi C


This blog is a fantastic resource. Thanks very much for your hard work and clear writing! Best wishes, Andi

Steve T.


Breast drills are also available online from Sears.



I'm retired now but for over 30 years I have had a hand brace hooked on the side of my rollaway with a counter sink in the chuck. It's so quick and easy for deburring holes. Every time I go to a swap meet I look for them, I've probally given more than 20 to employes and almost everyone in our shop had one. Old is new again.

Clyde Davenport


Hey, if you drop an electric drill from a high place you also break it! That's happened to me once (or twice or more but the first time the drill didn't break). An old fashioned drill wouldn't break under the same sort of stress. I like rechargable drills but the batteries are heavy so they are hard on the wrists. The more powerful electric drills seem easier to use but convenience comes at a price. They set the screws more deeply in the wood and so if you ever want to take the screw out it is rather difficult. They go beyond the capacity of the metal to take the mechanical stress. You'll end up ripping out the head of the screw. To drill a hole or put in a screw takes some patience. You don't want to set the screw so deeply that you can't get it out later.



Saw a hand powered drill being used for orthopedic surgery in a magazine I was reading. A google images search for 'hand drill surgery' shows a couple of hand-powered surgical drills.

Here's a couple other links I found.


Maybe that could be a future topic for you: Low tech surgical techniques.

Jeffrey Soreff


I second Clyde Davenport's point about the weight of batteries in the rechargeable electric drills. I find that, for small jobs, the hand drill is more easily controlled simply because of the absence of the weight of the batteries.

Rob R.


Excellent article! Thanks.

I use a Fiskar hand drill for projects around the house. It frees me from managing a cord or batteries. The Fiskar fits easily in a small tool box.

Adam Southwell


Great article. You said all I was going to post here and more. Power drills have their uses, but I much prefer my hand drills (2 of which are now on their third generation of use).

Ros Reilly


Love your site! In the Odyssey, Odysseus describes how several men collectively drilled a sharp stake into the Cyclops' eye by use of a strap with handles on each end. This would tend to add validation to the theory that Egyptians operated large drills with multiple people. Homer wrote the Odyssey in the 8th century BC, but it was in oral circulation long before. Possibly this technique was used in both ancient cultures. Here's Robert Fitzgerald's translation of the passage: "I leaned on it turning it as a shipwright turns a drill in planking, having men below to swing the two-handled strap that spins it in the groove. So with our brand we bored that great eye socket . . ." (Book IX)



This is nice article. I especially like the points about use of drills in the past. I love the pictures of those old drill presses.
Few things about the use of hand powered drills today.
For large holes or long holes or lots of holes, hand powered drills aren't ideal, the modern man tires fast.
One of the many reasons that lot of the old hand powered drills look like new is that they're often almost unused.
On the other hand I've had couple of cheap hand powered drills that broke without seeing much use. The old adage "Buy quality or you'll buy twice." holds true for hand powered drills.
I knew an old carpenter, now passed away, who complained that the old way of drilling holes, with hand powered drills and screwing screws using screwdrivers were the main reason his arthitis were so painful in his old age.
Hand powered drills have their uses and are really just another tool that good craftsman can use.



A CIA breast drill:



I use a small archimedes drill for model making. They work best with spade drill bits that cut both ways but are OK with twist drills into soft materials.

I also remember the hand turned bench griding wheels. Have not seen one for years but remember turning them as a kid, fascinated by the gearing up as the grinding whel turned much faster than the hand wheel.

Steve Wan


Hi, I have a breast drill similar to the guy above me with 2 speed. It was made in West-Germany. Then I saw it in my early 20s and got hold of it. It serves me well through many years. I made a guide stand to hold the drill level to the job for drilling wood or metal. Just yesterday it was put into action and did a tight tolerance well of 0.5mm between drilled holes pitching.
Though slower than power drill, one can still do a fine job with patience and smart workstages like making pilot holes before the actual hole size-Steve from Singapore.



Nice article and nice website, Thank you!
As a metalworker I would like to add a reference to the "Cole Drill" and the "Blacksmiths Post Drill" for readers to also consider.



I've developed a certain nostalgia for hand drills recently, remembering fondly the one which came in my junior toolset.

I'd find good use for it now too, for DIY work in my small house whilst my children are asleep.



why doesn't anybody here says something about the "stanley yankee" human powered, high efficient and easy to use for all kinds of screws !!!! http://toolmonger.com/2006/12/23/finds-stanley-yankee-screwdrivers/
Check it out .

Baksa Péter


I wonder if this kind of hand drill can be used to drill brick?
The main non-industrial use nowadays is to drill holes to fix things in a wall. And us europeans have brick walls.

Phil Reed


I've become fond of traditional hand tools. A hand drill for small holes, a 3 jaw breast drill, and a hand brace and sharp auger bits or expansive bits will take care of nearly every drilling task a homeowner or ever hobby woodworker might have. My kids call them sandwich powered tools and I can nearly match the speed of a battery drill and spade bit. Learn the fine art of sharpening and hand tools will be your friends for generations.

Andy McIntyre


You have not made any reference to the "Cole Drill". A hand cranked drill which has no trouble drilling a one inch hole in mild steel!It works by using a clamping mechanism to apply extremely high pressure to the drill tip. A search on Google will reveal a lot of information and photos.

Chris Peters


I recently acquired a Millers Falls Co. drill press with a pivoting vice and it also has a pivoting clamp to mount it to a bench. It has a patent date in the drill of Feb. 6 1900. The main shaft is roughly 2 feet long and the hand drill mechanism can be lifted or lowered by another hand crank this part also pivots. I cant find pictures of it online anywhere. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!



I've come to love hand tools for woodworking over the last year or so.

If I want to chop off a piece of lumber, I can either fire up the chop saw (or circular saw, or table saw), which takes a couple of minutes to set up, or I can just grab a hand saw and take a couple minutes to do it. For cutting a rabbet in plywood or solid lumber, I can use a router (5-10 min setup, including a fence, plus a lot of noise and dust), a table saw (10-15 minutes setup, including installation of the blade, setting the fence, and making a test cut), or a Millers Falls #85 (30 seconds setup, 1-5 minutes for cutting the rabbet).

Don't get me wrong -- if I need to cut a dozen identical pieces, I'll happily take my chopsaw and a stop block or table saw and fence. But for most of what I do, hand tools are just plain FASTER.

Karen Anne


I've had a hand drill (egg beater drill) for many years and it suddenly is very hard to turn. Independent of what I'm trying to drill into, it is even hard to turn when I'm not drilling into anything. It does not look corroded. Any ideas for how to fix this? Thanks.

Alan Pigg


Our church builds the city of Bethlehem at Christmas with live working shops and the Nativity. I am doing the carpenter shop and looking for tools used at the time of Christ's birth. I have made a shave horse, wooden bow saws, and mall. The "pump drill" looks like something I will try to make. Any other ideas would be appreciated.



I remember playing with these drills as a young child. They are much safer for kids than the electric ones.
If you live in an apartment and have a wood working hobby, these would also be a great addition other hand powered tools so you can be at peace with your neighbours.



I have a Keen hand powered pillar drill (manufactured by M C Gooding of Croydon) which I inherited from my father who used it for many years.

I never understood how the feed worked. Can anyone tell me?

Andrew MacDonald


Great article and discussion! Maybe an expose of the saw next, including Japanese style pull saws, bow saws, and the development of circular and bandsaw machinery.

Jack Cooper


I still see new hand drills for sale sometimes, i even bought one a few years ago to work on my car. Only problem is that they are made in China and the quality isn't very good. Then i moved to Kiev and there are lots of old soviet breast drills with enclosed gear boxes for sale at the markets for less than 10 bucks. They've got a detachable crank that you put on different axle nuts, depending on if you need reduction or direct drive. Quality's not so fantastic, but they work.



Question for anyone who may know. I live in western nc on the banks of the pigeon river. Yesterday while swimming in the river, I found what seems to be a drill bit made from granite. It's about 7-8 inches tall and 4 in. wide. It was obviously hand made by the chiseled pyramid point and right triangle blades.
Does anyone know how about how old and/or what this could have been used for?

Wyatt Desormeaux


Hi Z. Scott

It is probably a stone rifling guide. Usually they were made out of wood, but the better ones were chiseled from stone. To see a wooden one at work and an explanation of them, see this link. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CCAQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fkorns.org%2Fmisc%2Frifling-jig.html&ei=dFSWU9iNBeqrsASC_oHICA&usg=AFQjCNHvHcDiyJmCmZ9pMJkR-gSff0qvpQ&sig2=QrWbZJpEZ91-78Luxd60cQ



Here is a Japanese hand powered drill press! To see skip the video to 2:41.




No doubt the Amish communities have kept alive many of these hand-powered tools. You should do an article on Amish technology.

Jack Dykstra


I am looking for a Brace & Bit Drill Press for broken bolt extraction. An elderly man sold me one about 10 years ago and it was stolen in a break-in. I am sure the man that sold it to me has passed?
This device had a mechanical feed that could be adjusted as desired for pressure. This was the greatest tool for broken stud extraction, on our heavy equipment. If anyone knows where I could find anotherone, I would be very appreciative for the info! Thanks

Hans Marzinzik


19th century drilling tools:
•1930s Metabo tool catalogue.
This catalogue was printed in May 1929. Please see at page 2 "Katalog 529" which means May 1929.

Max Boronovskis


Well, you have inspired me to keep an eye out for hand powered drill/s at swapmeets and garage sales now. I have a cordless drill with dead battery and haven't got around to "fixing" the battery via the great tutorials on instructables. i remember my friends grandfather using a hand drill and he was able to use it with so much care and precision. I have started buying fine drill bits in bulk because I'm forever snapping them. Hmm maybe my dad still has one.

Actually I am inspired lately to look out for quality old 'heirloom' style tools in general as I organise my workshop and do more and more wood work around the house.



I have a couple of hand drills, both inherited. One is a Millers Falls No.77, the other I keep on the allotment as there is no electricity there. I do have a cordless drill but you have to remember to charge the batts so its easier to keep a hand drill on the allotment for little jobs.

I couldn't have thrown such beautiful objects away in any case!



Also- one can make their own bits for any drill using pipe with some hacksaw cuts, a nail with a chisel point and flat router bits from broken drill bits. In Indonesia a lot of the 1945-1970's generation made their own shop tools. In fact there is one of the few English tracts (there a lot in Indonesia which remain to be digitized) called "Teknologi Kampungan" (Craig Thorburn) full of such low-tech and mid-tech equipment made in when the country was very broke. interested parties can search through the "Journey to Forever" website has extensive library of "old tech"in their "small farm library".

Jack McKee


I taught woodworking to kids ages 5-12 for many years and the most popular tool, by far, was my hand operated drill press. Here is a link to an article I wrote about using the drill press with kids: https://woodshop4kids.com/kids-and-the-hand-operated-drill-press/

And here is a short video of a kid using it: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=tRAOO72GHfg

Colonel Panik


Go down to Mexico, the hardware stores sell lots of NEW old tools.

Hand drills and planes are the most common. Pretty cheap.



I started using egg beaters drills and braces again myself, there are many times they are more convenient than the battery powered drill/driver. That being said after spending countless hours refurbishing older hand tools, many of the modern manufactured units seem more like toys than tools - there are times when I need to be able to have one hand free to run a drill and that cordless driver comes back into use again. As with all hand tools, they need to be sharp to work, but our wonderfully smart and inventive ancestors made many wonderful and ingenious things using the most basic of tools. Those tools worked then and will work now, the tools can still do the job and I find in my case it is the operator that needs some adjusting (mostly in attitude and ability to re-see the problem or task at hand).



Witold Rybczynski in his book (One Good Turn: A Screwdriver and the Screw) has nice articles and comments about the drill and the lathe. I'm recommending them to technical friends and enthusiasts.

Kirk Eppler


Just a heads up, WKFineTools has shut down, so lots of dead links on this page.

Larry Bentley


Take a look at weblinks of "Cole Drill" I have one and can email photos and a modern reproduction. It will drill thru a metal file by hand.

Azriel Collier


I found a new use for the brace drill (auger as some call them) in that once you have drilled a pilot hole, you can put a screwdriver bit in and drill the screws into place, just like you would with cordless electric drills.

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