Better than New: Restored Eggbeater Drills
The best hand drills ever made came out of the Millers Falls factory in the first half of the 20th century. While many people used these drills for boring holes in metal, the tools proved remarkably adept at becoming the first generation of cordless drills for woodworking.
These drills are today called eggbeater drills because of the way the drive mechanism works. The main gear turns either one or two pinions on the tool’s shaft to turn the chuck backward or forward , just like an old kitchen eggbeater.
My favorite eggbeater drills are the Nos. 2, 2A and 5 made by Millers Falls. These drills were made to an astonishingly high degree of precision, and are easily comparable to tools manufactured today by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Veritas, Wenzloff & Sons, Adria or Gramercy.
The eggbeater drills are fairly common at flea markets, but they are also usually in dogmeat shape. The gears are rusted. The bearings are gummed up. The wood knobs are dried out and cracked. The frames have lost all their paint.
But now Wiktor Kuc, the owner of WKTools.com and WKFineTools.com, is restoring and selling these drills on his website and on eBay. He recently sent me a Millers Falls No. 5 that he has restored, and I am just stunned by the quality of the restoration.
This tool looks better than any example of a Millers Falls I’ve ever seen. It looks good no matter how close you examine it. Inside the chuck. At the seam between the ferrule and the handle. Where the pinions mesh with the main gear.
Kuc says he’s been restoring these kinds of drills for a year. He’s been learning the best way to disassemble and clean the tools, how to apply principles from jewelers to polish the metalwork, and how to deal with the dried-out wood.
“I started doing this for myself,” Kuc says. “I love to restore old tools. I read Herb Keane’s book (…?Restoring Antique Tools’) and it blew my roof off. I had to learn to do that.”
Since he started restoring drills (and some braces), Kuc’s resurrected more than 130 Millers Falls drills, 30 Goodell-Pratt drills and a number of braces.
He takes all the drills apart as much as possible, strips them clean and then rebuilds them so they look and work perfectly. The ones he can restore to their full glory Kuc sells on his web site after four to five coats of paint and refinishing everything. The drills that he cannot get perfect he sells on eBay at a reduced price, though they are functionally perfect.
The perfect drills cost between $60 and $110, depending on their rarity. On eBay, the current crop of drills cost between $50 and $90. Are they worth it? Absolutely. If you want a cordless drill that will never run out of juice (until you run out of juice) an eggbeater like this is ideal for any toolbox.
These tools have small chucks that are great for furniture-scale twists and brad-point bits. I use hand drills all the time when making pilot holes, especially for screws or nails.
And one more thing: If you already have a Millers Falls drill, Kuc also sells reproduction parts for these drills that are usually missing, such as the side knobs and the bits that are stored in the handles.
Millers Falls drills are very common, so if you don’t want a restored one you’ll be able to find them at garage sales, flea markets and eBay (they are not scarce by any measure). But if you want the best , a tool that looks as good as it works, check out Kuc’s selection. Highly recommended by me (and banned by wivesagainstschwarz.com).