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What Is a Yankee Screwdriver?

By Patti Kate
Updated Feb 20, 2024
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A Yankee screwdriver is a tool commonly used several decades ago that requires a unique pushing action to turn. The barrel of the Yankee screwdriver rotates as it is being pushed. This screwdriver was originally manufactured in the late 1800s by a company known as North Brothers, who gave the tool its trademark name. The spiral-ratchet style Yankee screwdriver is still being manufactured today, although it is less commonly used for household repairs and projects than standard screwdrivers.

The well-known tool manufacturing company Stanley bought North Brothers company in the mid 1940s. Stanley stopped production of the patented Yankee screwdriver around the beginning of the new millennium. Soon after, a German manufacturer bought the rights to continue producing the spiral-ratchet screwdriver under the Yankee name.

Hand-held Yankee screwdrivers can accomplish the same types of tasks as electric power drills. The Yankee screwdriver, however, is not powered by electricity, and is relatively inexpensive compared to modern electric tools. Special adapters made for Yankee screwdrivers may be purchased separately, making this a versatile tool. Just as a standard ratchet, the Yankee can tighten or remove screws, with the use of such an adapter. Some handymen use drill bits of varying sizes with the Yankee screwdriver as well.

This tool is convenient for carrying in a tool belt because a Yankee screwdriver is lighter than most power tools. Many repairmen find this screwdriver to be an efficient and quick tool for working on delicate electronic equipment. Over the years, design of the Yankee screwdriver has changed somewhat and significantly improved. It is not uncommon to see the modern German-made versions of these tools with soft-grip ergonomic handles designed for comfort and safety.

Vintage Yankee screwdrivers may be found at auctions and flea markets. Most of these tools are fully functional, even though some are more than 100 years old. For collectors of antique or vintage tools, these twist screwdrivers can be an important addition to a collection. Various sizes of Yankee screwdrivers exist, ranging from mini-size to the full-sized models. The large push-style models can measure up to 18 inches (45.7 centimeters) when fully extended.

Finding replacement bits for Yankee screwdrivers can be difficult, due to limited production. Replacement bits for this tool may be found by searching online, however. Some websites offer packaged sets of various-sized bits made for Yankee screwdrivers.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon934969 — On Feb 23, 2014

Who needs electric drills when you have a yankee screwdriver?

By Markerrag — On Feb 12, 2014

A Yankee screwdriver? So that's what they call them. Here in the beautiful South, prefacing anything with the word "Yankee" can result in hostility, so it's little wonder the term "Yankee screwdriver" may be rare around here.

At any rate, these used to be very common but their popularity seems to be on the wane. Perhaps ratcheting screwdrivers have replaced these for a lot of uses.

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