Of all old tools I find hole making and screw driving tools are are my most favorite. Braces, geared drills, bow , pump, Archimedean and strap drills give the collector a rich variety of items to seek, possess or sometimes just admire from afar. There are hundreds of different drill and brace attachments from simple bits and countersinks to washer cutters and hollow augers.  Screwdrivers afford the same variety with a multitude of styles and manufacturing patterns. These tools and attachments were valuable to a developing country allowing their users to perform tasks from hogging waste for the large mortises used in timber framing buildings to drilling small holes to produce the timepieces that ran the railroads.  Some are mysteries of origin, simple relics of necessity created by machinists and blacksmiths for their personal use. Others are the patented inventions of the practical, creative mechanics that spurred the development of industry and manufacturing in the United States and around the world. Some of these knights of innovation held scores of patents developed through decades of inspiration. William Ives held 12 patents issued from 1869 to 1884. Harry S. Bartholomew had six patents issued from 1861 to 1889. He sold his brace and drill manufacturing firm to Stanley Rule and Level Company in 1903.


This type of tools abounds everywhere. Garage sales, flea markets,  and antique stores are just a few places to find them. But you have to do your homework to be able to recognize the rare and unusual in the wild. Mail order tool sellers usually have a good selection of common and uncommon boring tools. Their lists will give you additional information and insights into these tools and their makers. I have purchased nice and fairly priced drills from Roger Smith, Bud Steere, Bob Finch (one of Two Chiselers) and Ray Iles of the Old Tool Store in jolly old England. Don't forget the mail and phone auctions of Clarence Blanchard's Fine Tool Journal. Some internet dealers who try to keep some great old boring tools are Sandy Moss, Patrick Leach, Jon Zimmers, Bob Kaune and Steve Johnson.  EBAY presents the opportunity to find tools that formerly seemed impossible to find. And if you get lucky you might buy it for much less than market prices. An example is the smaller of the two Reid patent "Lightning braces" which I had never seen offered by any dealers. I have purchased three of these for less than $20.00 and seen at least another dozen offered. Suddenly, the scarce becomes the common. Of course, if you are blessed with active auction houses in your areas you may want to try your luck with the excitement of auction mania.  The one venue for tool acquisition that I have not yet explored is to attend tool meets sponsored by the tool collecting clubs. There are a number of these held regionally and nationally each year. Membership in these organizations brings many benefits for the old tool collector.

Types of Boring Tools

Braces including user made, patents, manufacturers

Bevel Geared Drills including breast drills, eggbeater and corner drills of different sorts.

Archimedean Drills and Drivers-Archimedes never had one of these drills that are also called push drills.

Bow Drills an early form of drill

Pump Drills

Strap Drills


Reference Sources

Legend for website to buy reference material. = Martin J Donnelly  Roger K. Smith Click on box to be taken to proper website for purchase.

When I first began to collect old tools I  spent more money on reference material than on tools. I have always enjoyed reading and this was a natural extension of that. Following is a list of references that have given me the most information about drilling devices of all types. They are listed in the order in which I was exposed to them.

The Antique Tool Collector's Guide to Value. Author Ron Barlow ISBN 0-933846-01-0 Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 84-50055 Windmill Publishing Company  This book is actually a listing of tool values based upon a database of auctions, dealer sales and dealer listings. Barlow breaks the tools into sections and has brief asides about the many tools listed. Although this is kind of looked down upon by the old tool academics there is considerable information in this book to help identify various drills and screwdrivers. Lots of catalog cuts and photos of tools. Take the prices with a block of salt.

The American Patented Brace 1829-1924. Author Ronald W. Pearson, D.O. ISBN 1-879335-48-4 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 94-70621 The Astragal Press Originally Ron Pearson had a typed listing of brace patents which developed into this book that begins with some of the history of and categories of braces. Ron even has a rarity chart based upon his own experience. Lists are presented by patent date and number, patentee, and category. The last part of the book contains actual front pages of these patents with the original patent drawings. I bet I use this reference 3 or 4 times a week. Mr. Pearson has been strongly involved with old tools organizations and obviously is driven to share his research with all. He has provided a listing of brace patents on the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association webpage at  http://www.mwtca.org/OTC/ar000005.htm

A Sourcebook of United States Patents for Bitstock Tools and the Machines That Made Them. Author James E. Price ISBN 0-9634477-0-X Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 92-096844 Published by the author. Jim Price has given us a great book on the tools that were mounted in braces and drills. Patents are presented by date and patent number, patentees and finally by categories. Many early catalog cuts and patent drawings illustrate the pages. A wonderful reference.

Collecting Antique Tools Authors Herbert P. Kean & Emil S. Pollak. ISBN 0-9618088-5-3 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 90-70725 published by the Astragal Press There is a nice section on boring tools. They discuss the history and nomenclature of the tools and show photos of examples.

Millers Falls Catalog reprint 1878

Millers Falls Catalog reprint 1886-1887 by Ken Roberts

Millers Falls catalog reprint 1915. 

Goodell-Pratt 1905 catalog reprint

Since Millers Falls and Goodell Pratt were the supreme manufacturers of braces and drills from the 19th and into the 20th century these reprints help put the production of these tools in perspective.

Peck Stow and Wilcox Catalog 26T Many styles of bit braces and bits from this long term manufacturer of braces and assorted tools

Yankee tools catalog reprint

John Fray catalog reprint

Bartholomew catalog reprint from Gary Roberts Toolerama Press

EC Stearns Catalog. Syracuse NY 1924 Stearns manufactured hollow augers and bit stops among many other tools.


Although many websites provide information on a variety of tools I have found the following to have information mostly directed at boring tools:

http://www.amenex.com/georgesbasement/  George's Basement. George Langford has much information about drilling devices here. He presents user made geared drills, corner drills and Yankee/ North Brothers patents. His Millers Falls #2 drill type study is a great history of the evolution of this drill. More info is impending as George has recently retired but not slowed down. He will be able to devote even more time to his passion for those "twisty drilley things"

http://www.public.coe.edu/~rroeder/mf.htm Randy Roeder's excellent website gives great information on Millers-Falls Company, a premiere manufacturer of tools. They dominated the drill and brace market from the mid 1800's and right up until today. The only real competitors they had were Goodell-Pratt and North Brothers (Yankee). Millers Falls like Goodell-Pratt so much they bought them in the 1930's. Stanley bought North Brothers in the 1940's.  Randy shows all of the series of drills available with model numbers and dates of manufacturer.

http://members.aol.com/tomprice/galootp/eggbeater.html Tom Price offers information on eggbeater drills. A must see site.

http://www.geocities.com/~mvr1/  Mark Van Roojen displays a number of pages from a 1924 Goodell-Pratt catalog featuring their neat breast drills.