Historically, drilling holes has always required considerable time and effort.The first human tool for drilling was the awl. The awl was simply a sharp stone that was attached to a stick, then pressed against the workpiece and rotated by hand. Sand and other abrasive materials were often used to make the awl more effective at drilling.
The first step forward in drilling was the strap drill, which had a leather cord wrapped around the shaft of a stick.By pulling the cord back and forth, the stone bit at the end of the stick could be rotated at a higher speed, making it more effective.
After the strap drill came the bow drill, which first appeared in Egypt over 6,000 years ago. The bow drill consisted of the two ends of leather from a strap drill attached to a bow. This made it easier to move back and forth, rotating the drill.The bow drill could be rotated faster than the strap drill, speeding up the drilling process.
Bow drills were particularly popular in China, where they continued to be used until the beginning of the 20th century. Very large bow drills, which required several people to operate, were used for drilling larger holes.
During Roman times, the auger drill became popular. The auger was a metal corkscrew-like drill with two wooden handles at the top, giving it a ‘T’ shape.It was better suited to drilling wider holes than other drills that required several people to turn, so was used to drill very large diameter holes. Auger shaped drill bits are still used to this day in modern drills for drilling larger diameter holes into wood.
The hand brace was the next big step forward in drilling. However, it did not appear until the early 1400s. The oldest remaining example of a brace came from an English ship that sunk in 1545. Wood was used to construct the first braces which had the drill bit permanently attached.
Up until the beginning of the 19th century, advances in brace design consisted of adding metal plates to reinforce and strengthen the wooden frame along with simple clamp-like chucks, which allowed different drill bits to be used.
At the end of the 19th century, good quality cheap steel allowed much stronger braces to be made. With the advances in manufacturing accuracy at the time, more complex parts could be made. This led to improved chuck designs and the invention of the ratchet mechanism that would be used on some braces and hand drills.
The advances in materials and accuracy of manufacturing during the 19th century also led to the next invention in drill technology. The hand drill, which was first pictured in 1816, used a handle attached to a drive gear to turn a pinion, which spun the drill bit. Hand drills could achieve much higher turning speeds than other drills. This meant they were far better for drilling metal which required a higher cutting speed.
The days of hand drills and braces were numbered though as the electric motor led to the invention of the electric drill in 1889 by Arthur James Arnot and William Blanch Brain of Melbourne, Australia. In 1917, Black & Decker patented the first pistol grip portable drill with a trigger switch. This marked the beginning of modern drilling.