Drills, Electric

The first electric hand drill is a good example of an appliance becoming truly popular almost sixty years after its invention. At the beginning of the century household tool kits could include either a hand drill or an Archimedean drill for making small holes. The first electric model was invented by the German Wilhelm Fein of Stuttgart in 1895. The American Black & Decker Company introduced its first model in 1915 followed by the first on/off trigger switch for a drill in 1917.

Housed in metal cases, these drills were used by workpeople in factories and workshops. They were not seen as a domestic product until the rise of the do-it-yourself (DIY) phenomenon of the postwar period. Black & Decker produced affordable electric drills for the DIY enthusiast, retailing at around seventeen dollars in the 1940s. This and other models had metal casings, and their styling appeared to be influenced by “ray-guns” seen in magazines like Amazing Stories and science fiction film serials such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Some companies were developing ergonomic designs. Atlas Copco commissioned the Swedish designer Rune Zernell for its LBB 33 model of 1955; he used ergonomic models and noise reduction chambers to make it slimmer and easier to use.

Bosch, the giant German engineering company, also began to make drills for the domestic market. Founded in Stuttgart in 1886, Bosch began producing industrial equipment and has diversified into appliances, power tools, and communications technology.

The rise of DIY and the confidence of homeowners to tackle bigger jobs as well as a more competitive market led to increasing product specifications and refinements. Variable speeds and hammer adjustments were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, along with sanding attachments. The hammer action makes the drill bit vibrate backward and forward, pounding the material at the tip of the drill. This is especially useful for masonry, especially combined with two speed gearboxes that increased the torque (twisting force) of the drill at the lower speed. Increasingly models also featured a reverse action for use with a screwdriver attachment. Plastic replaced metal casings. Battery-operated cordless drills appeared on the DIY market in the 1980s. Convenient for light tasks they are not as powerful as drills that plug in to power outlets. That decade also saw the introduction of electro-pneumatic drills with a powerful hammer action and torque control to limit the twisting force at the chuck, ensuring that screws are not driven in too tight.

Today the electric drill is an essential part of the home tool kit and continues to be improved. The main manufacturers are Black & Decker, Bosch, Hitachi, and Makita.