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What is a Hand Drill?

Mary McMahon
Updated: Feb 29, 2024

A hand drill is a relatively small drill that is held in the hand when used. Some people reserve the term specifically for drills that are operated by hand, distinguishing between hand-held power drills and drills that are powered by their users. Many hardware stores sell hand drills, along with bits that can be used for various drilling projects, and a drill can be a very useful tool to keep around the house, shop, or car.

In the case of a drill that is operated by hand, the tool has a circular crank that the user turns to operate it. The circular motion of the crank drives the bit, causing it to drill a hole. This device can be used in a range of applications, some of which are more esoteric than others. For example, a hand drill can be used to start a fire when other tools are not available, with the tool being used to create friction that causes heat and the eventual outbreak of flames.

Traditional hand-powered drills require little in the way of maintenance. The user should periodically wipe down and oil the tool so that all of the parts move smoothly, and occasional oiling may be needed to prevent rust. Various components, such as wooden handles or the screws that hold the bit in place, may also need to be replaced now and then as a result of wear.

In terms of hand-held power drills, there are a range of options that can be divided between corded and cordless drills. These devices can be fitted with a range of bits that can drill holes, drive screws, mix paint, and stand in for a variety of other tools. The performance of such drills varies, depending on the amount of power they have and how well maintained and constructed they are.

An electric hand drill generally requires more careful maintenance, because it has more parts. If the tool is corded, the cord must be kept in good working order to prevent fraying and the risk of shock. The drill must be periodically broken down for cleaning and oiling to keep it running smoothly, and it may be necessary to inspect the wiring and circuits to confirm that they are in good working order. Drills that are powered by batteries also the owner to care for the batteries properly to ensure that they have a long and productive life.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By kentuckycat — On Oct 12, 2011

@JimmyT - I was wondering the same thing about the fire starting. When I've used power drills before, the bit and wood has gotten very hot and even charred in some cases, but it seems like it would be hard to start a fire. With a hand drill, the bit wouldn't even turn as fast, so it seems like it would be even more difficult. Maybe I'm wrong though.

As for buying a hand drill, there are two different types you can choose from. One of them resembles the old fashioned egg beaters with a vertical body and a crank on the side. I think these are the most common.

The other kind you can get seem even more old fashioned, at least to me. They are the kind with the rounded handle at the top, and a wide crank that spins around parallel to the work surface.

Personally, I don't know which works better. I have only used the first kind. It seems like the second kind would be hard to use if you needed it in a tight space, though.

By JimmyT — On Oct 11, 2011

I am looking at buying a hand drill. Is there anything special to pay attention to when you are buying one?

I'll try to check the grip and everything before I buy, but I can't imagine there is a lot of difference between brands, is there?

I am curious, though, how would you use a hand drill to start a fire? Is there a special attachment you put on, or is it just something about the heat from the drill bit that makes the fire start?

By TreeMan — On Oct 11, 2011

@jcraig - I'm pretty sure if you have a modern hand drill you can use normal bits. The drills just have a chuck with the three grips that come out.

I have seen antique hand drills where the bits attached with a special screwing mechanism. I've never played around with one to know exactly how it works, but I know it's different.

My grandmother had a hand drill that she used for planting bulbs in the spring. She had a special attachment for it, but I'm not sure what it was called. It drilled into the soil and made a hole that was the perfect size. I have seen them in stores now where you can connect the bit to a power drill.

By jcraig — On Oct 10, 2011

Can you use normal drill bits for a hand drill, or are there special ones you have to buy?

There have been a couple times when I was working on something very delicate, and I didn't want to use a power drill, because I was afraid it might ruin the project. I think putting a piece of wood in a vise and using a hand drill might be a better solution.

How much does a hand drill itself cost? If you need special bits for it, how much for those?

If you have the crank part of the drill, what other attachments can you get for it that might be useful around the house?

By NathanG — On Oct 10, 2011

@Mammmood - I have a cordless hand drill as well as the regular, corded drill. The cordless drill is great for convenience but sometimes the batteries will run out real fast.

Like you, however, I think that nothing beats the drill for versatility, especially when you consider the different types of attachments that you can get for it.

I needed to drill a small circular hole through a piece of plexiglass once. The hole was much bigger than any standard drill bit, so using a drill bit was out of the question.

But at our home improve store I was able to find a circular attachment with a small blade on it. I attached it to the drill, and the drill basically cut a hole into the plexiglass. It was easy, and the attachment was fairly inexpensive.

I suppose you could have done the same thing with a circular saw, but I didn’t have a circular saw.

By Mammmood — On Oct 09, 2011

Few tools in my tool chest are more handy than my power hand drill. I have used it in just about every home improvement project that I’ve completed.

I have a complete range of drill bits available as well, which not only enable me to drill through wood but metal as well. You have to get special drill bits for the metal, but it can be done.

The article is correct when it points out that the drill can start a fire, although I wouldn’t exactly recommend it for that purpose.

I was working on building a catapult for my son’s science project, and I drilled really hard through a strong beam of wood. I didn’t let up on the drill, and it created intense heat and a few sparks began to fly.

That friction does create a lot of heat, so you have to be careful when using a drill.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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