The Invention Of The Drill

How we got to the electric drill we have now.

By: Will Cicale, Journalist

The drill is possibly one of the most important pieces of technology in engineering and building. So, how did we get to the electric hand drills we have today?


The first drill used was the awl, by far the simplest one.  The awl was a sharpened rock attached to a stick rotated in the hand.  A hand drill could have also been simply a wooden stick on wood, although this is more useful for starting fires rather than drilling.  These simple drills were enhanced by tying a leather cord around the shaft. When pulled, the stick would rotate much faster.


The next drill to come was a bow drill, appearing in Egypt over 6,000 years ago.  It consisted of two leather straps, attached to a bow. Moving the bow back and forth would cause the drill to spin, much faster than the strap drill. Similar to the bow drill was the pump drill, however instead of moving back and forth, the crosspiece would be pumped downwards, and a flywheel would keep the motion going.


Ancient Rome was the next appearance of a new drill. Augers were corkscrew-like drills, with two wooden handles. These could be used to drill holes with larger diameters, and the drill bits are sometimes still used today on modern drills. Since the drill bits were made of metal, these would be less used for starting fires, unlike the previous drills.

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The next big leap in drill technology came from hand braces. It is used by applying pressure to the top and rotating the grip. The hand brace was first invented in England sometime in the 1400s. It wouldn’t be until 1805 when the first geared hand drill would appear. These would continue to be refined, and are still used today.

The first electric drill was invented in 1889 by Arthur Arnot and William Brian in Melbourne, Australia. However, this one was not portable, and was only a prototype.

Five years later, brothers Carl and Wilhelm Fein invented the portable drill.  From then on, the world of electric drills began to blossom, but it wasn’t until 1917, when the Black & Decker Manufacturing Co. made their mark.

Their drill featured a trigger switch and pistol handle, the design quickly became popular. Companies started to making new attachments to make the drill more versatile.  However, these still required chords. The first cordless drill design was technically made by Black & Decker in 1961, however  Makita made the first cordless drill available to the general public in 1978.


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