Breast Drills and Eggbeaters

Heavy drilling, not to mention constant screwing, obviously benefits from rechargeable hand tools, but I’ve been rediscovering some of the lost pleasures of the human touch.

Millers Falls 77a

As a youngster, I was not allowed to use Dad’s electric drill, an intimidating monster, its die cast interior sparkly with alternating current.  With its chuck key and missing ground pin, and long before double insulation, maybe safety concerns were justified.  If I wanted a hole, I had to gnaw it out myself using a Stanley eggbeater hand-cranked drill.


In a sort of return to the safer and quieter days of my youth, I’ve been experimenting with a Millers Falls 77a. As long as you chuck up a sharp bit, its surprisingly effective, and there is something satisfying about using a tool without a plug. I’m not sold on the way the left handle is concentric to the drive wheel—it reduces your leverage, encouraging the entire drill to rotate around the handle when you crank it.  The Stanley I grew up with had the left handle offset from the axle, and people tend to be most comfortable with the drill of their childhood.  The arrangement of the 77a means you have to put your left hand on the rear handle, which probably helps add some thrust, but if I need that much pressure on the bit, there’s a better option.

Val D'or Breast Drill

For heavy-duty, human-powered, hole-hogging, I’ve got a brute of a breast drill that I picked up at the Windsor, Berks car boot sale. Its got a 2-speed gear box (change speeds by moving the crank to the other axle), a sturdy ball bearing thrust bearing behind the 3-jaw chuck, and a breast plate so you can hold it against your chest and really lean on it. It’s labeled ‘Val D’Or’, apparently a French company from Tours.

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