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Boring Tools and their Makers

  Single-Crank Gimlets 1 of 3  

Single crank gimlets and auger bits are quite rare in past woodworking technology and I wish to introduce to you single-cranked American augers.



In a post on a Facebook our friend, Anton Vierthaler, in Austria, posted some photos of three single-crank gimlets that he recently acquired.

We had a good discussion of how unusual they are and I think most people following the thread reached an agreement that they were used to drill holes for nails and pegs as well as to start screws. Here is a photo from this discussion and our exchange:

'Anton Vierthaler: When I saw this set of three, I had to get them, because I never before saw this making – need to try these out after the holidays. But I just can’t imagine this design being all too practical. 99% sure they are Austrian.

James E. Price: These are craftsman made so they probably fulfilled a need as the maker perceived it. I call these tools “speed gimlets” because they would bore holes much faster than T-handled counterparts.

These are operated by unidirectional continuous uninterrupted rotary motion which is more expedient than discontinuous interrupted rotary motion like that exhibited by T-handled gimlets. These fall into a category which I call “piercers” and are akin to the little braces called “spikeboors” with fixed gimlets in Dutch woodworking technology. I include a photo of these little boring tools from my collection.

The smallest one in the photo is only 5 3/4 inches long, not including the fixed gimlet. Most of the small ones have horn ferrules on the chuck.

In Continental woodworking technology gimlets were used to bore holes for little wooden pegs more than for starting screws and come from a long tradition of that practice starting far back into the distant past. I would not call Anton’s tools braces since they do not exhibit a double crank that is characteristic for braces. Instead, I include all boring tools that hold a bit for boring under a type of tool I call “bitstocks”. I view Anton’s tools as, “single-cranked bitstocks”.'

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Single crank gimlets and auger bits are quite rare in past woodworking technology and I wish to introduce to you single-cranked American augers on a much larger scale than those shared with us by Anton. These are quite large and the cranks are fitted with augers 2 inches in diameter.

I have seen only a few of these in over 50 years and every one exhibited a manufactured auger bit but a hand-forged crank. I think they date between circa 1820 and 1860. They would be harder to start boring into wood than a T-auger, but once started they would bore much faster than T-handled counterparts.

This photo shows two American single-cranked augers. Both have bits in them 2 inches in diameter. Handles on both are approximately 14 inches in length. The uppermost one in this photo has an “S” handle and the handle on the bottom one is straight.

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