Drill Baby Drill

This morning’s surfing, along with some memory tingling, produced some time travel I found interesting.

To start it off, “baconj,” The keeper of the Plane Shavings blog wrote “Purty Tools just Plain Work Better.” He writes about refurbishing a Millers Falls #2 eggbeater drill. Millers Falls started making these drills in 1886 and continued well into the 1940s. So, “baconj”‘s drill was likely operating 100 years ago, was operating last month, and is running even better now that he made it pretty again. He did a very nice job.

Along that same line, my own Goodell-Pratt #259, not yet 100 years old, saw lots of service before it came to me, and gets used a few minutes per week these days.

The very next blog entry I read was by Joel Moskowitz lamenting “When Good Tools Go Bad and Other News.” Joel, who now operates the very fine Tools For Working Wood in Brooklyn recalls his time working for Black and Decker when they were building “consumer” grade power tools. The justification for stepping down from higher grade professional tools to consumer grade was that the average homeowner used their drill less than 2 minutes a year. Joel goes on to describe quite a few common problems these tools have and how to fix them. It is a good read if you have a hand tool with one of those problems. It’ll save you some money. At the same time, Joel does put in a suggestion about buying a truly professional quality Festool instead.

photo of old electric drillThat comment about 2 minutes a year fired off a bunch of neurons in my feeble old mind, and I ran downstairs to take a picture of my old reliable power drill. It has definitely see more than 2 minutes a year, probably a lot closer to 2 hours a year averaged over the time I’ve had it. Some years, like the time we built a deck, it saw many many hours. I bought this 1/4 inch electric drill in 1964 or 1965 when I took up a part time job hanging draperies that Anita made. (a seamstress I worked for, not a relative, last name long forgotten) I bought the drill at a discount store in Indiana named T-Way for the grand sum of $9.95. It is branded Shop-Craft and was manufactured by Portable Electric Tools Inc. in Geneva, Illinois. Those folks went out of business in the late 60s, or actually, were bought by another firm, and then bought again by Shopsmith, and eventually discontinued. I’m guessing the Black and Decker descent to consumer grade killed their market. For me, it was one of the best 10 dollars I ever spent.

As an aside, I’ve never had a problem of any sort with that Shop-Craft drill. I did fall to the siren songs of those cordless things and went through 3 generations of them. I found them mostly wimpy and while none of them actually failed mechanically, all 3 fell victim to design obsolescence of their batteries. By the time the batteries would no longer take a charge, replacements cost 3 times as much as the next great (consumer grade) cordless drill. What a great way to stuff the land fill!

Which is the reason I won’t buy a Festool drill. First, my pockets aren’t deep enough to pay 23 times as much as I did for the old reliable drill which I still use today. Secondly, I’m very skeptical about the rapidly changing battery technology. The drill itself might not fail in a reasonable lifetime, but how long will replacement batteries be available? If you’re a pro and really do use these things an hour or more a day, or if you just want to have the same things that Mark and Tommy have, go ahead.

You can’t have my $9.95 drill. I still use it. Yet, you can find really great Millers Falls and Goodell-Pratts on the used market. Augment those with a Stanley brace for the heavier work, and Drill Baby Drill.



3 Responses to “Drill Baby Drill”

  1. Roger Davis Says:

    Which T-Way? I thought they were only in Elwood and Kokomo. I was a pretty steady customer as they were the closest store to where I lived in the boondocks outside Kokomo. I bought a Winchester 94 from them just as they were closing the doors (1983?).


  2. Bob Says:

    Kokomo. At the time, my prime job was in the Air Force at what was then called Bunker Hill AFB. We left the area in 67.

    Still have that 94? It’s a lot like that 10 dollar drill.

  3. Roger Davis Says:

    Yup. Im not much for selling guns (or antique woodworking tools). Beautiful walnut stock, just over 2 minutes at 100 yards with open sights and light loads, and I think I paid $138 with a box of ammo and tax.