In Shop Blog, Techniques

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The other day, Senior Editor Glen D. Huey came over to my desk with a small cordless drill/driver from Milwaukee Tools. Glen asked if I would try it out and write a review of it for an upcoming issue. I’ve been using similar driver/drills from Bosch for several months, and I like the concept of a small driver with good power and the new Lithium-ion battery technology. When I built custom cabinets on a daily basis, drilling holes and driving screws was probably the most repeated task. After lifting a relatively heavy 12v drill and driving tens of thousands of screws, my wrists have sustained some wear and tear, so for me, lighter is better.

Glen mentioned that he had heard one complaint about the new Milwaukee driver , that the forward and reverse switch was easy to bump inadvertently while using the drill. He picked up the drill and with his index finger on the trigger, showed me how the switch was up against his finger. I took the drill back, and held it the way I would in using it, with my middle finger on the trigger and my index finger extended. In the picture to the left, the switch is in between my two fingers.

Glen mentioned that he never held a drill that way, and I told him I always hold one that way. Becoming curious about the difference, we did what we normally do when we have a disagreement about techniques. We got everyone in the office involved, handing people the drill and trying to get them to take sides.


Those of us who held the drill with the index finger extended compared it to the way a handsaw is held. Most saw totes are designed so that three fingers will fit, but four won’t. This method offers several advantages that aren’t immediately obvious until you try it. The wrist is more relaxed and less prone to stain. This more comfortable position leads to better control.
Japanese saws aren’t really designed this way, but I find myself extending my finger anyway. The extended finger is, I think, one of the key elements to good hand/eye coordination. It makes a connection between the brain and the hand that moves the tool where you want it to go, and provides better feedback.

I hold a plane in a similar way, even though I’m not trying to hold it to a specific line. Extending the finger changes the angle between my hand and wrist, allowing for more finesse with a lighter touch. This is really an ingrained habit in me, so much so that I tend to grab everything this way. In the picture above I also have the index finger of my left hand extended. My only complaint about some of the planes we have in our shop is that there isn’t an obvious place to rest the extended finger.

A drill isn’t the only power tool I hold this way. I knew I extended my finger when using a jigsaw, as does contributing editor Troy Sexton, who recommended this technique in an article on using jigsaws in the October 2006 issue. If you click on the link, you’ll see Troy holding the saw in a similar fashion. I decided to check through our photo archives to see other situations where I stick my finger out.

Here I am with a biscuit joiner, and I would be hard pressed to come up with an argument justifying the index finger position, other than it might be more comfortable to my wrist. Generally it is thought that the extended finger helps in aiming, and with certain tools that is obvious. In this case I think it may be just my habit.

Here is another example that surprised me, but this one I can rationalize. I’m cutting curves in the photo, carefully following a pencil line. I’m steering the work with my right hand, and the way I’m holding the wood gives a great deal of control without forcing the work through the blade. It’s also easier to change my hand position as I near the end of the cut to keep my fingers out of the blade. If I had a death grip on the wood, and were pushing harder, the chances of damaging my digits at the end of the cut would be greater.

So I’ve discovered I have a habit of holding things a certain way. It surprised me some that this is so pervasive, and it also surprised me that I may have a habit that isn’t bad (as most of my habits are). This is a basic thing, something that most of us never think about. But if you struggle with controlling tools, or you tense up and your wrists get sore when you work, give it a try. Let me know how it works for you by leaving a comment.

I also hardly ever miss my mouth and pour coffee down the front of my shirt. At least when I’m holding the mug this way.

Bob Lang


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Showing 15 comments
  • mariage

    When don`t work just get marry:)

  • cazare

    i feel you dave. i’m missing my index too. this didn’t happen during the use of a drill, but i was trying a more advanced woodcutting technique. i had an axe…

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  • Bill

    Guess I am just too old.
    When I try to do that I tend to squeese my index finger along with my middle finger and that tends to throw everything out of kilter.

  • mike linn

    as I am sitting here reading this artical,I suddenly caught myself reaching for my cup of coffee in about the same manner.
    I think that useing you index finger as a guide is almost like breathing,Ain’t it?

  • James Heaston

    My Dad taught me many years ago to extend my index finger & place it on the body of spokeshaves & the #80 Scaper. It took the learning curve way down.
    I remember reading about this one other time & they called it trianglition(sp?) of the hand.
    Some think this is akin to sticking out your tongue when trying hard. LOL
    Like Mr. Baltz I prefer the "L" shaped drills & have XL hands as Mr. Horton. I also hold my mug as Mr. Hill. :{D}

  • Terry Hill

    Stopping to consider this technique it dawned on me just how many tools I actually hold like this. I extend my index finger when using my circular saw which gives me more control and a lot less wandering from the cut line. I also do this with my jig saw, dozuki, chisels and my plate joiner.

    I, by the way, hold my coffee mug like a glass, index over the handle the other three through the handle.

    Thanks for a thought provoking topic.

  • Jon Horton

    I hold most of the tools I use with my index finger extended. I can’t say that I hold tools in this manner due to habit or better technique. I have big hands and on most tools, I can only fit 3 fingers on the grip. Some of my friends and I have had this discussion before, but they all have smaller hands.

  • Ray Merrell

    Wow that will help solve my problem!

    I am left handed and I am always disengaging the reversing switch since it sticks out on the left side of the drill.

    I will certainly use this method! THANKS!!

  • Herb Lapp

    WoW I can’t compete with all the tongue in cheek humor here as I’m wearing my nubby glove to keep my tongue warm. But on a more cereal note, the finger extension makes some additional sense beyond what’s already been mentioned. It serves as an extension of the arm. It helps the muculeture (spelling?) line-up so the tool become part of the body in doing its task. That allows the eye to better control and steer the tool since it has has a pointer unless the finger is used to cummunicate with other disorderly driveby woodworkers or needs to be used to get the coffee closer to ones mouth!
    Herb

  • KC Baltz

    I’ve been triggering my drill with my middle finger for a while because I read that it allows you to put the heel of your hand more in line with the drill bit and better apply force. Mind you, this works for me with an "L" shaped Makita. I haven’t tried it with the newer "T" handled drills.

  • dave brown

    I used to hold my drill with my index finger extended until one day, when I was wearing my nubby gloves, my finger got caught in the drill’s chuck and got torn clean off. My dog ate my finger before I could take it to the doc and get it sewn back on.

    Now I can’t extend an index finger when I hold my drill. I can still drill ok but my dovetail sawing has gone all to hell. I need to pick up one of those Wild West saws from Glen Drake. Maybe that’ll help me steer my saw.

    PS I still wear the nubby gloves when I’m drinking my coffee.

    😉

    Dave

  • Noel Christmas

    I’ve found this extended-finger technique especially helpfull when the coffe is very hot, and I’m driving. I sometimes mistakenly extend the middle finger, which elicits strong reactions from my fellow commuters.

    Speaking of strong reactions, I was wondering–does Mr. Huey use those grippy gloves when drinking his coffee (or using a drill)? I find using push-sticks and pads gets in the way–especially if I add cream and sugar…

  • Al Navas

    Sorry about my error – I meant Bob. This is NOT a good way to start Monday…

  • Al Navas

    Chris,

    You may just started an index finger revolution! ‘Taint no wonder you seldom miss your mouth 🙂

    I will have to try this technique as I learn to cut dovetails by hand.

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