Ode to a Drill

My dad was no different than most fathers in that he wanted a better life for his son than he had. Yet I was so influenced by my father that, in spite of my occasional anger toward him, I wanted to be like him. Therein lies the conundrum; my father, a man who didn’t finish high school, was a brilliant mechanic/machinist, mostly self-taught, who had a knack with tools that allowed him to fix almost anything mechanical. I, his college-educated son, was completely bored with my post-graduation desk job and wanted to work with my hands, essentially as way to get paid while learning how automobiles work.

These worlds collided in August of 1978 when I quit my job as an Economist with the U.S. Department of Labor to become an apprentice mechanic at a car dealership. (The specifics of this career move are covered in the blog post “Working in the Retail Automotive Business, Part 1: Autosport”.) My father was more upset with me over this decision than anything else I had done up until this point. Through tears, he expressed his concerns about quitting a “guaranteed government job” for what he saw as the difficult life of a blue-collar worker. But my mind was made up, and he was eventually resigned to it.

He didn’t agree with my decision, but that didn’t stop him from providing me with some of my first tools. The one tool that stuck out above the others was his Black & Decker corded electric drill. Its all-metal case and hefty weight made it obvious to anyone who lifted it that it could take some abuse and still function. I soon replaced its ¼” chuck with a 3/8” version. That drill got me through two years of professional wrenching, most notably as the tool used to drill all those holes in the roofs of new Volvos for roof rack installations (a very popular dealer-installed option on 245 wagons). My Service Manager borrowed it once and commented, “this is a serious drill”.

By 1980, I had moved to Service Advisor and my full-time technician days were finished. I kept all my tools, although they didn’t see much use through the remainder of the decade. By 1990, I owned my first house and began restoration on the BMW Isetta (the drill is visible in the 4th photo of the linked post) and the B&D drill was the only one I owned. It never failed to get the job done, whether I was drilling in wood or metal, or using it to spin a wire wheel brush of some kind.

Fast forward to 2001 and, now in a different home, this drill continued to see extensive duty. At some point, the power cord’s attachment to the drill began to fail, and required partial disassembly to repair. The trigger and its lock button began to stick, and another partial disassembly was needed to lube and service. I wasn’t even considering replacing the drill, though; I had owned it so long, and it had done so much work for me, that I thought of it as an old friend.

About 20 years ago, I supplemented the B&D with a Ryobi cordless drill. It had features which were completely missing on the ol’ metal job: keyless chuck, two speeds, and reversible direction. Still, the Ryobi just didn’t have the oomph of the Black & Decker. I kept both, using the Ryobi primarily for driving screws, and using it for drilling only when a 120V outlet was not nearby.

Last year, the trigger on the B&D began to act up again. There were times when the drill wouldn’t operate. I looked at the beaten metal housing and asked myself if it was time. During some routine visits to Home Depot and Lowe’s, I began to check out replacements. I’ve owned a few DeWalt tools, and their lineup of drills impressed me. I was determined to stay with a corded model for power, and a keyed chuck for its ability to better tighten around bits. I found one on sale for around $100 and went for it.

Here is where I realized that sometimes, sentimentality can get in the way of rationality. I was holding onto the Black & Decker drill longer than I should have, convinced that it was a great drill (emphasis on the past tense). Once I brought the DeWalt home, I learned what I had been missing. Yes, its case is plastic; yet it has a nice heft to it. The chuck spins like a precision mechanism. It has a variable-speed trigger and is reversible. It’s a wonderful drill.

A quick Google search for my Black & Decker turns up some references to this model drill dating back to the 1950s/1960s. My recollection may be cloudy, but I remember the drill being “old” when I got it in 1978. Let’s be charitable and presume that it was 10 years old when it was gifted to me. It died in 2021. That means it lived as a functioning tool for 53 years (and I didn’t pay for it!). Thanks dad; it was a great gift, and it’s fair to say that we both got our money’s worth from it.

All photographs copyright © 2022 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.