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A Favorite Piece of Equipment

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Judy Lee says her favorite piece of equipment is the drill because you can use it for everything. I remember seeing my grandfather’s old hand drill, a crank and turn device similar to an eggbeater, and I’ve used a cordless electric drill on occasion. So I looked up drills to find out more about them.

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The earliest drill was a bow drill, sort of like the fire-starting style equipment that used friction to create heat. Cords wrapped around the drilling stick were pulled and the cord wound and unwound back and forth in reciprocal actions to create the friction and rubbing motion. Early Egyptians and other civilizations used this kind of drill.

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The first bow drill. Now that’s not a drill…. (Yannick Trottier)

Hand drills relied on gears to rotate the cutting part of the instrument, and hand power turned it in a continuous motion, which is why it is also known as the eggbeater drill. Drills improved with the introduction of steel construction and tempered gears, reducing failure of parts. More improvements came with the ability to change out the drill bits, and larger gears added more power. Two-speed drills came about in 1913, enabling the user to change speeds without stopping. And various other improvements for bits and parts made the tool sturdier.

The addition of electricity to power the turning bit changed the drill to the recognizable one used today—the cordless pistol grip drill is now the most common.

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THAT'S a drill!

Drills are used to drive screws, drill into the earth, hammer into masonry or rock, and bore holes for oil or water. They can run by hand, with electricity or batteries, or compressed air, like in pneumatic drills. Augers use an internal combustion engine.

Enjoy that drill, Judy. It’s come a long way since the early Egyptians first began its use.