Craft & Design
Unfortunately-named yet awesome retro tool
breast_drill.jpg

I love old-style manually-operated tools. They frequently feature in my survivalist fantasies: the zombies come, the power grid collapses, and I’m the only one left who can still build killdozers because all my tools are manually-operated. Then one day Alyson Hannigan runs screaming into my compound, in terrible distress and in dire need of my assistance. It kinda goes downhill from there.

Anyway, this manually-operated drill is designed so that the operator can apply the weight of his or her body to the drilling action by leaning against the rearward brace. It is, most regrettably, called a “breast drill,” a name that obviously dates to ye gay days of old. They are still being manufactured, and are available through our pals at Garrett-Wade.

20 thoughts on “Unfortunately-named yet awesome retro tool

  1. Oh man, at first I read that as ‘Beast Drill’ and thought…what are you talking about, that’s an awesome name.

    But then I re-read it. Bummer

  2. The human drill press.

    Grab the handle with one hand, the crank with the other, apply plate to sternum and push while turning crank. The drill flops around a lot less while turning the crank on those larger drill bits.

  3. here in ireland it was called a brace drill as you braced your weight against it. my father had one and even after he got an electric drill would prefer to use the brace drill as it had far finer control for the tasks he was doing. of course if he was drilling into granite he would prefer the electric.

    went looking for one 2 years ago and can’t see them around anymore. wanted a human powered drill. got a small gear powered hand drill but it’s not the same as you can’t bring your weight to bear on it half as well.

  4. I’ve always heard it referred to as a “brace and bit” we have a couple in the barn. Useful on remote areas of the farm.

  5. I am far from an expert but can tell you that I own several “Breast Drills” as well as several “Braces” and the associated “Bits” to be used in “Braces”

    The Differences as far as I know are as follows:

    “Breast Drills”- Typically have a Pad on the top to apply pressure to with your sternum. They also typically have a crank on the side that through various gears and gear changing mechanisms allows for different drill speeds.

    “Braces”- Typically have a round pad on the top with an integral bearing allowing the user to hold the pad stationary while turning an offset handle around the axis of the drill bit and the pad on top. Typically used with auger bits in wood and typically in very low speed applications.

    “Egg Beater Drill” – Not a precise name but most similar to the breast drill in that it has a crank handle to turn the drill bit through a series of gears. Typically smaller than a breast drill and as such typically only has a small handle on top because a great deal of pressure on the bit is not required.

    My $.02

  6. The breast drill will use “ordinary” drill bits and should work on metal.

    A “brace and bit” uses a special bit with a wood screw on the tip and cutting wings. Works good if they are sharp but if the screw cant pull the bit into the wood you have a problem. Works good for timbers, but lousy for wood that might split or for metal. We used to use one a couple of times a year to set posts for wood tower windmills.

    FYI, I use a small “eggbeater” drill for ALL my small cordless drilling. Faster to set up and fewer broken bits.

  7. I have an old hand drill.. the ones like that, but smaller and only held in your hand, no bracing to be done.

    I have a dream of a completely human powered workshop, drill presses and saws and all that based on treadles and gears and and and!

    I’ll be in my bunk.

  8. I picked up an old Stanley eggbeater drill at a garage sale. When I took it apart for cleaning, I went too far, and disassembled the chuck.

    Now I can’t get it back together.

    Can anyone suggest a resource for this? I just don’t have enough fingers, or my fingers are too big, or I just don’t know the secret handshake.

  9. I have one of these, too. It’s a good tool – but it’s easier to break bits than with an electric drill, so be careful. Sears and Highland Wood have them, too.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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