Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Buck Rogers Push Drills

In the days dominated by North Bros/Stanley and Goodell Pratt/Millers-Falls Push-Drills, this new release: No 100 introduced an element of sleekness and fluid motion in an inanimate object.

The work of design engineer, Garth Huxtable, the No 100 features a totally enclosed mechanism, a on-board magazines for holding the complete indexed set of 8 drill bits, and of course, it is clad in the new Red Tenite material.
Although similar mechanically to a Yankee No 41 push drill, its design lines makes it really standout from the crowd.
Huxtable also produced a similar version for the Sears Roebuck under the name Craftsman
It share some of the DNA but it still a different animal than the Buck Rogers. The chucks on these two pushdrills also varies.

Craftsman, grey on top, Buck Rogers, red at the bottom

While the Craftsman version sport the usual Yankee style notch bit's chuck, the MF Buck Rogers on the other hand has the special cruciform shank bits. These two are not interchangeable. There are some version of that Craftsman push drill which have been found with the cruciform chuck.

Craftsman Yankee chuck on L, MF Buck Rogers Cruciform chuck on R

Buck Rogers Set of 8 bits:No 1 (1/16) to No 8 (11/64)

The equivalent Yankee shank bits, available in the same 8 sizes

The inside mechanism

Buck Rogers No 100 at parade dress

How the bit magazine is indexed inside, the latch pin is also showing. 

The similar looking Craftsman drill, notice the wooden plunger inside the spring.

The typical green dried up grease found inside the mechanism of most drilling tools of the era.

 The push drill, without a bit installed, should operate smoothly without any jerky motions. If it is stiff or jerky, it is time to take it apart and clean up the dried up grease which was used. These push drills suffered the same problems shared by other makers in their brace chuck mechanism, hand drills and Push drills etc. Dried grease which gums the mechanism. Gently scrape it , clean it all from the spiral mechanism, careful not to scratch anything, wipe some oil and put in a dab of white lithium grease or whatever is your favorite non hardening grease. Should be good for another lifetime.

The Drill bits
This push drill was manufactured from 1948 until 1968. 
The MF catalog of 1960 stated that it came with 8 drill points, in increments of 1/64 in
No 1 (1/16), No 2 (5/64), No 3 (3/32), No 4 (7/64)
No 5 (1/8), No 6 (9/64), No 7 (5/32) and No 8 (11/64)

Not included, but available, were:
3/8 in countersink,
3 or 4 different Phillips screwdriver bits.
6 different flat screwdriver bits.

Honestly, I cannot see how you could use screwdriver bits in a push drill. They would be screwing in on the push, and unscrewing on the return. Unlike a twist or Archimedes screwdriver were there is only one way rotation.

Now, about the drill bits. There are a lots of similar looking drill bits available. You may have noticed that the drilling end has two cutting edges on opposite sides, that's the "Z- bits". It is designed to cut on both directions, since the bit rotate CW when push down and rotate CCW when the handle goes back up.  The Yankee bits also have this Z configuration, but in later years Stanley and others introduced regular twist bits for their push drills. These twist bits do NOT cut efficiently, since they only cut half the time compared to the Z bit configuration. 

End view of Z-bits, diagonal line is the starting tip

Stanley bits shown but typical of the early years for these style of bits, prior to the on board magazine, the bits were supplied first in a wooden tube, later plastic as shown and finally in a cardboard blister pack 

Millers Falls also made a series of similar 8 bits, but with a smooth shank for uses in regular hand drills. These would not work in the Buck Rogers. But since the cruciform shank is formed from a stamping on the round shanks, they probably started with these bits to produced them.

Replacement bits have always, and are still available, but the MF cruciform bits, as used on this Buck Rogers push drill, are harder to find than the more prolific Yankee shank bits. And as is always the case with antique tools, it is always cheaper to buy a complete example with all its bits than to buy just the drill and hunt for the bits later. A full set of replacement bits may very well cost you more than the tool itself. Something to keep in mind as you look for one. When you pick up one, a quick shake should reveal if there are any bits in the magazine. Look to see if all 8 are present. If not the price should go down quickly.

Using a Push Drill
The smallest bits are by their nature fragile and are often found broken. To avoid that, you have to be careful to balance the tool straight up/down when using. Easier said than done since it is easy to get carried away pushing a push drill, they are so much fun :-)
Strongly recommend that you practice using the larger size's bits.
Make sure you have ungummed the mechanism first and that it operate smoothly without a bit.
Go slow and steady, this is not a race. Although slow compared to an electric drill, its faster than most electric screwdrivers.  
Where they really shine is in drilling pilot holes for installing hardware etc.
Quick and nimble, easier to balance than bigger electric tools. This is one place where the design of the MF No 100 really shine, it is easier to balance than a Yankee type push drill, being more compact and having its C of G lowered. 
Due to the shape of the tip, a small dimple mark is a sure way to prevent it from walking around when you start.
My only quip with it, is the not so friendly bit magazine operation. The ring that enumerate the various sizes, rotate independently from either the top dispensing part or the red Tenite magazine part, making it useless to know which bits goes where. It is also a bit awkward to release the catch button and twist the magazine. But did I mentioned how cool it looks? :-)

Strangely, the similar looking Craftsman does not suffer from this idiosyncrasy with its bits magazine, it is built somewhat differently. And its clear magazine let you quickly find the one you need. Same designer, Huxtable, but different mechanism.

One last bit of advice, make sure that the magazine is rotate to the "blank" or"storage" position before putting it away, or you run the risk of loosing your precious bits :-(
To insert/remove the bit, you must unscrew (loosen) the chuck and insert/remove the bit

Holding the drill like a dagger and pushing down. A sure way to break your smallest bits

My preferred method of holding from the top. I find I have better control that way.

You will find that they drills amazingly fast, and makes clean holes. So you may want to put some backing board under your piece unless you don't mind some holes in your bench top :-)  

So there you have it, artful design meets work-ability, a winning combination in my book.

Bob, the push drills pusher


  1. Great history post. Who is the next batter?

  2. Not sure yet, but I think the no 300 hacksaw

  3. I found your interesting web site while trying to research a push drill that I inherited from my dad. It's a "Buck Rogers" model, like new in the box, with all the bits. It looks like it was never used. However, it's got a BLUE torpedo-shaped handle and is labeled Craftsman. I think it's pretty rare. The sticker on the box says $4.95!

    Mark Mackowski

  4. Hi Mark
    Yes, Millers Falls made tools for Crafstman, and their famed designer Garth Huxtable made some design specifically for Sears. That grey one of mine featured on this post was a slight modification of his Buck Rogers tool push drill. The biggest difference being the chuck.
    I don't think that Craftsman tools in general are rare nor collectable per se, BUT the old ones made by Sargent, MF etc are every bit as good as the original brand named and a bargain on the used tool market. Having the original box makes it even more valuable, more so with its full complements of bits (8) and paper instructions if there were any. Only the Red tools of MF are considered "Buck Rogers", but what you got is definitively related to them, from the same "blood line" you may say :-) Love to see a picture of yours

  5. Can you offer any advice about how to get one of these apart? Specifically, in your 6th photograph, with the caption "Buck Rogers No 100 at parade dress", how did you get the top two pieces (the cap and the barrel) apart? My drill seems to have two bits jammed together into one of the storage slots. I need to get the top off to get at the bit storage, but I can't figure it our. And, of course, thanks for posting this in the first place!

  6. Hi Curly. Ill get back to you shortly, i have no access to it right now.

  7. I've picked mine up several times since and puzzled over why it won't come apart. I'm wondering if the two jammed bits are somehow also jamming the parts of the handle together so it won't come apart.

  8. Huh, I think you may be right about the bits jamming.

  9. Any chance you can tell me what you did to separate the top two pieces (the metal cap and plastic barrel)? Are they just a press fit, or threaded, or something else?

  10. OK I just put my hands on one of my Model 100.
    I will answer you shortly in a blog post.
    I'll take it apart and documented it
    Stay tuned


  11. I can see you have been very busy with interesting projects -- I especially like the new one on Stanley chisels. Any chance you can take a look at your Millers Falls Model 100 to see how you got it apart? Thanks.

  12. I Curly
    Have not forgot about you in between all these projects, but i have yet to be able to crack it open. I dont want to break it. If you look at the picture of it apart (must had been my other one) it should unscrew.