Chris Schwarz's Blog

Bad Luck with Hand Drills

Hand Drills

While many people get warm and wet feelings about their smoothing planes, I have those emotions about my hand drill.

Maybe it’s because I use a hand drill almost daily for nails and screws, especially after building a ton of campaign furniture with all the inset brasses.

So this summer I gave away my hand drill to a friend who didn’t have one and thought: “I’ll just buy another on eBay. They are so common.”

They are common, but I got snookered four times. On all four of the drills the chuck was messed up in one of the following three ways:

Hand Drills

This chuck had wonky springs. Even with new springs, the jaws wouldn’t hold tight.

  1. The jaws had been abused so they would not close tightly on a small bit.
  2. The jaws were missing springs. And replacing the springs turned out to be an adventure in spring purchasing. And even with working springs, I encountered problem No. 1 above.
  3. The jaws closed tightly and had their springs, but there was so much runout that the drill was unusable.
Hand Drills

This chuck had jaws that had been damaged and refused to hold a 1/16″ bit, even after judicious filing.

Yes, I asked all the sellers about the chucks. They simply didn’t have the knowledge to give me a good answer.

This reinforced my assertion that the best place to buy used tools is at a swap meet, such as those held by the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association. If you go to one of the organization’s regional or national meetings you can try about 20 or 30 hand drills and find one that is perfect. And it will likely cost you less than on eBay.

I didn’t have time to wait for a tool meet, however. I use my hand drill every day.

So I reached out to two respected sellers who are also woodworkers: Pat Leach at Supertool and Ted Hoeft at Lone Pine Toolworks. Pat finds some of the best tools, describes them very well and takes tools back with no questions if you have a problem. Ted restores hand drills and has the same reputation.

Both guys had drills available that met my requirements. So I bought one from each. Pat’s was about $85 and Ted’s was $200. It might seem pricey, but I’m set for another 15 years – or until I do something silly again and give away a tool I use every dang day.

Both sellers are highly recommended. If you are tired of gambling on eBay with tools, check them out.

— Christopher Schwarz

14 thoughts on “Bad Luck with Hand Drills

  1. morristh

    Patrick has great tools!! So dose Josh Clark at Hyperkitten, and Jim Bode at Bode tools. All three have done me well.

  2. lathemommy46701

    I’m glad you found Ted Hoeft. He’s done fabulous restoration work for 4 MF drills, several of my planes, and some plane blades that are well over 100 years old. His work is truly remarkable and dead-on perfect every time. Besides that, he’s just a great guy. I’ve been trying to spread the word about his services in New England for a couple of years now. With this spot in your blog, he’s gonna be busier than a one-armed paper hanger! Thanks a lot, Chris. I’m about to send out a full set of moulding plane blades to him. Now it may take a long time! Keep your blog rolling. Great stuff for working wood with hand tools.
    Rev. Mary Bettencourt, Westford, MA.

  3. luxlarry

    OK, you inspired me to pull out my father’s hand drill, clean it up. Now, I seem to remember a bit with a flute down it’s length, is that right? I have none of them. Where to find? What do you drill with?

    1. watkinsxx

      My countersink bit does not have flutes and it works okay in the MF No. 2. I have a set of Irwin bits; those 3-16ths and above have flutes and those below are just round. Seems that it takes a couple times to get these seated properly so they don’t spin in the chuck, for both fluted and non-fluted bits.

  4. thekiltedwoodworker

    I had Ted restore my 1907 MF No. 2 and it’s awesome. He’s also restored a No. 7 jointer plane for me and it rocks, too.

    Go to Patrick if you want a good tool that just needs a bit of finessing you can do yourself. Go to Ted if you want to buy a tool that needed some finessing and already has it done.

    Both people have made a dent in my pocket book over the years. I’ve never regretted giving either of them my hard-earned cash.

  5. watkinsxx

    This prompted me to look at an old hand drill purchased at auction years ago (in a box of misc tools) , that I thought had a bad chuck. After checking the internet, I found that this Millers Falls No. 2 has a “springless three-jaw chuck”. After using WD40 on the chuck and silicone plumbing tape to tighten up the handle threads, the drill works great. Think I’ll just keep a countersink in it and hang it close to the workbench.

  6. Leo J

    I am wondering why you can’t swap the one good chuck with one of the other drills. Perhaps one of the other drills should work.

  7. geovincent

    I have a brace that used to belong to my father. It was missing the jaws inside the chuck and I contacted George Langford at George’s Basement and he had one that fits perfectly. I also had a hand drill chuck that was missing a spring.

    George not only had a jaw for the one that was missing, but was able to fashion a spring for the chuck. The price was more than reasonable.

    http://www.georgesbasement.com/

  8. geovincent

    I have the a brace that used to belong to my father. It was missing the jaws inside the chuck and I contacted George Langford at George’s Basement and he had one that fits perfectly. I also had a hand drill chuck that was missing a spring.

    George not only had a jaw for the one that was missing, but was able to fashion a spring for the chuck. The price was more than reasonable.

    http://www.georgesbasement.com/

  9. hmerkle

    Chris,
    Thank you for the links to two grat sellers of old tools. I knew about Patrick Leach, but not about Ted Hoeft! I and a few hundred of my friends are fortunate to be close enough to Roy’s Shop in Pittsboro and Ed Lebetkin, where you can touch and fell and play with a LOT of tools! Plus, he runs the gambit from nice “ready to use” all the way down to “Well, with a little work…”

  10. Barquester

    I’d like to know that too cahudson42. Is no one making good hand drills? Or are they just $300?

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