In Shop Blog, Techniques

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Vintage hand drills – sometimes called “eggbeater drills” – are common, useful and easy to fix up using stuff you already own. You can buy hand drills all day long on eBay and never deplete the world’s supply because they were in every homeowner’s toolbox.

When I buy a hand drill, I don’t pay much attention to brand names or model numbers. As long as it’s not some modern plastic piece of junk you’ll be OK. Instead, the following are the hallmarks of the drills I avoid.

1. If the drill has missing teeth on its wheel or drive gear, pass. Immediately.

2. If the chuck is missing a jaw or the jaws don’t retract when you open the chuck, pass. While there are some chucks that were made without spring-loaded jaws, they are fairly annoying in use.

3. If the main handle wobbles, one of two things has happened: Either the iron frame inside the handle has cracked (rendering the drill junk) or the handle is wallered out and you need to turn a new handle (merely annoying).

4. If the iron frame of the drill is cracked or missing pieces, flee away mindlessly. In fact, if the drill is missing any significant bits, such as the crank, you have to buy a second drill to scavenge parts. Keep looking.

I usually end up paying $20 to $30 for a decent drill on eBay – usually a little less. I fix them up and end up selling them to my students who fall in love with them. So I buy another and fix it up. This morning I fixed up a Goodell-Pratt drill that I bought off eBay for $20.

It looks rough, but all the parts are there.

First order of business: soak the chuck in penetrating oil to loosen it up. Let it drip dry while you turn to the rest of the drill.

Disassemble the frame. Clean out the frame’s oil ports using a pointy nail or the tip of a compass. These get gunked up and actually slow the quill. Then lubricate the quill through the ports with a light machine oil. Remove the gunk between the teeth of the gear of the quill using a toothbrush and some lubricant.

Remove the gunk from the post that the main wheel spins on. I use an abrasive handblock or steel wool. Lubricate the post with oil or a little grease. Re-assemble the frame.

Return your attention to the chuck. Work the spring-loaded jaws of the chuck by pressing the chuck against a nailset or dowel. Add some lubricant and keep working the mechanism until the jaws snap open and shut with ease. Clean off the threads on the quill with your toothbrush. Screw the chuck back on and get to work.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 8 comments
  • affyx

    gave $6 for a Millers Falls breast drill like this at the flea market today, could hardly get 360 degrees around but she had all her teeth; watched Chris’s vid, borrowed my kid’s toothbrush, grabbed the wd40, and voila! she’s a beauty!

  • mitchellm

    I notice that this drill like many others I have seen has a three jaw chuck. I picked up a breast drill that has a two jaw system similar to a brace. I can’t imagine that an auger bit could be turned this way so were spoon bits used back in the day? or something else?

  • Edward_Clarke

    Are the chucks on these drills some standard size? I just finished cleaning up a double spur eggbeater and it works very well – except for the chuck. This one seems to have one of the chucks without the springs – and it is indeed a pain in the butt.

    But it works… and it was given to me by my wife’s uncle shortly before he passed on. Replacing the chuck would improve things immensely. For large work I’ll stick with my 10 and 12 inch braces.

  • adrian

    I have yet to encounter a drill whose chuck worked properly as found. It seems like the chuck jaws are always too gunked up to retract properly. But assuming it’s got the protected springs, the chucks always seem to be OK and after being disassembled and cleaned they work fine. (When I got a Goodell-Pratt with exposed springs that was a mistake, though. I had to wind new springs for it.)

  • esincox

    I use Preserve toothbrushes (they’re made from 100% recycled materials and you can send them back to the company for free to be recycled when you’re done with them; Oh, and they work really well, too – look them up if you give an iota about the planet), on my own teeth, so my tool-cleaning toothbrushes are all the nice Reach Advantage brushes my dentist gives me and my wife every six months. Haven’t paid for a tool-cleaning toothbrush in at least six years.

    And lately I’ve been working on doing a “pay it forward” kind of thing like you do, Chris. If I go to an estate sale or a garage sale and see a quality hand plane (last one was a Millers Falls #4 with a frog of the same quality as a Stanley Type 11 for $5) that I don’t need, for a cheap price, I’ll still pick it up. Then I take it home, clean it up a bit, sharpen the blade, and then find someone who is just getting started/interested in hand tools and give it to them. Bah, I just passed up an eggbeater drill this last weekend (because I already have three) and probably shouldn’t have.

    Another thing I might start doing with some of these tools is to bring it in to the guild meeting and offer it up as one of the raffle door prizes for that month.

    The only danger is that you have to be comfortable enough with your own set of tools that you don’t start hoarding the tools you pick up to give away. Apparently I’m at a stage where I’m comfortable with my own tools, because, so far, I’ve managed to give away every tool I’ve bought with this intention.

  • Brentpmed

    Truly a good southern boy, excellent use of the word “wallered”. These drills are very handy and incredibly useful.

  • Joe "the Pro" Sainz

    Looks good. I’d add one thing:
    *Rinse toothbrush off before using to brush teeth.

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