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[TIDBITS] The Pump Drill

Sorry this is late folks. Rough week. Also, last edition of
Tidbits for two weeks. Closing for holidays. I wish you all the
happiest of times, and a most wondrous New Year.

The Pump Drill

When I started out in this business I was apprenticed to a very
fine diamond setter by the name of Albert who taught me the
trade. I became, and still am, for those of you interested, an
exceptional pav=E9 setter. I used a Foredom or a Pfingst motor, and
in the beginning I drilled holes in German Silver and in my
fingers. I would be hard put, today, to tell you which I drilled
more of at the onset of things…my fingers or the metal. I like
to believe it was the metal. Albert and I remained good friends
throughout the years, till his death. But some of his stories
linger on…and on…

He would tell me how easy I had it, using electric motors and
handpieces. In the old days, he said, they used a pump drill.
Yeah yeah. I was nineteen, and I’d heard the story a thousand
times. You used to have to pump the drill up and down by hand in
order to make holes in which to set the diamonds. Yeah yeah.
Albert, as it turned out, began to make more and more sense as I
got older. Eventually, I forgot the story of the pump drill.
Fact of the matter was, I didn’t really much care how they
drilled holes in the old days. That was then and now was now, and
never the twain would meet. Hey, we got electricity now Albert.
And running water. And indoor toilets. So you can take your pump

But this week, as I browsed my library for a Tidbits topic–not
always and easy thing my friends–I came upon a picture of (oh
you’re never going to believe this) but I came upon a picture of
and old Pueblo Indian using a pump drill to drill holes in
turquoise beads. And I looked at the mechanism. And I marveled.
It was so simplistic, and so insanely clever. A stick, with
twisted leather thongs attached at the top. When you push down,
the thongs unwind, turning the central pole, and the bit attached
to it.

I did not scan the old Indian…just his hand and the pump
drill. There is a large history surrounding turquoise and the
Indian bead makers who created jewelry from this gem. But that’s
for another time. For today…for this last issue before the New
Year, I present you–in memory of my old friend Albert–the pump

You know how to view it. To my home page, down the table menu, to
the box that says Tidbit Graphics, and click on pump drill. And
again…Happy New Year folks.

And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.
Benjamin Mark

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Dear Benjamin,

Great post!! I’ve used one of those Pump Drills. They are not
only fun but, you’re right, little marvels of engineering. Ya
gotta love the old tools.

You will find me at any major trade show drooling over that 100
year old chain making machine one of the exhibitors brings to
their booth. The thing is gorgeous - very cool eccentric gears
and rods that have been precisely and lovingly turned on a lathe.
It clicks mechanically along turning out link after perfect

Every year I hope that’s what I will get for Christmas and every
year I open yet another bottle of perfume. Ah well… :slight_smile:

Elaine Corwin

Hello Benjamin Mark,

In 1968 , i began learning how to make  and manufacture jewelry

while i was in Thailand…(1965-1980) I had the oportunity to sit
next to 3 goldsmiths who were in their early sixties who had
never seen modern machinery or tools. At that time, we were the
first to bring l ostwax casting to Thailand (thats another story
for another time or possibly a book!).

One of the neat items that i used extensively was the pump
drill… even had to make our own spade drills… harden the tips
etc…Yes…i did drill my fingers quite a few times and even
dropped the whole spinning contraption on my leg… whereupon
the 2 inch long drill found its way all the way into my leg !!!

One of the other neat items we used was a gasoline operated
torch…no oxygen…no propane…no acetylene.GASOLINE… in a
1 liter glass cocacola bottle…it had 2 copper tubes going into
it … one tube was attached to a bellows style foot pump with
a piece of yellow surgical hose, the other tube going out of the
bottle was attached by another piece of surgical hose to a simple
piece of bent (L Shaped) tubing. This was the soldering torch
!The piece of tubing that was attached to the Bellows went into
the bottle …through a cork(as a Seal) and touched the bottom
of the bottle. The gasoline reached the 1/2 way level in the
bottle. The tubing going to the torch was inserted into the same
piece of cork, but stopped about 2 inches above the gasoline.
The torch itself had a removable ,press tip that had about a
3/16" hole in it. The torch tube itself was only about 1/4" in
diameter.You could use this torch with or without the torch tip.
You controlled the type and intensity of the flame by how much
you pumped the Bellows ( which did not require much pumping for
extremely intricate solder jobs)However, if you had to melt or
solder a large section, you had to remove the reducer tip and
pump furiously.

The Bellows pumps the air through the gasoline… which puts a
small amount of pressure inside the bottle… which , in turn the
air picks up gasoline vapor at the exact amount necc. to burn at
the torch tip.

I have always though this to be an ingenious way of
soldering.This method had been in use in Asia for centuries . We
did some extremely complex items with 100’s of little balls
(which we made with the same torch) and flower designs etc…

It was the custom that whoever was teaching you , also had to
teach you to make your own torches and tools, solder, sheet etc.
This was a wonderful experience.

I was only 14 when i began my Jewelry carreer in 1968. You might
find that the indians in this country used a similar torch for

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Dan Grandi

Odd that the Pump Drill should appear as a TIDBIT. I’ve been
trying to find a North American supplier of same for over a year.
Anyone have suggestions?

I have contacted Karl Fischer in Germany, but $150 (Canadian)
after shipping etc is a bit steep.

In the early 70’s while learning diamond setting in Germany, I
was introduced to the pump drill, also called an Archimedes
drill. As a matter of fact, it was more than an introduction, it
was a neccessity, being the only tool we had to seat stones. In
that environement, the flex shaft was frowned upon. Although
faster, the flex shaft cannot match the precision and accuracy
of seating with a pump drill. Anytime you break a task down into
finer levels of steps, the quality improves. This is the case
with the pump drill. Each pump drives the bit to remove a tiny
sliver of metal. And each pump can be infinitely and minutely
adjusted for fine tuning the angle, depth, size and location of
the setting.

If you never have tried it, you are missing out.

Dear Benjamin, thank you for a lovely little bit of nostalgia.
In Sydney, Australia, back in the early fifities, would you
believe that some masters made their apprentices use one of those
things? Believe me, believe it.

I still have my Archimedes’ twist drill and it hangs in pride of
place in my personal gallery above my bench to this day. Every
now and then I take it down and give my students a demo’ on the
way things were. They love it and a few always want to have a go.
The more historically and mechanically minded are particularly
fascinated when I show them how the special drill bit had to be
hand made and uniquely sharpened so that it would cut on the up
stroke as well as the down.

Forty three years later, I still carry some little tattooed dots
on the first finger of my left hand where the dashed thing left
the metal on the up stroke and plunged into my finger. It took
some practice to keep it weighted into the drilled object, but
once learnt never forgotten.

Give me my beautiful little Volvere motor-in-the-handpiece drill

Kindest regards and best wishes for the season, Rex from Oz.

Forty three years later, I still carry some little tattooed dots
on the first finger of my left hand where the dashed thing left
the metal on the up stroke and plunged into my finger.

It took me ages to realise what those little black dots were.
Almost badges of recognition amongst metalsmiths! Does the more
dots you have mean you work harder or are more clumsy!! All the
best for the coming year

Felicity in sunny Perth West Oz

The pump drill seems to work like a tool I saw a woodworker use
once. He called it a Yankee screwdriver and used both regular
and screwdriver bits with it. Why a Yankee screwdriver I don’t
know; I think it had to do with efficiency.

Janet Kofoed

 The pump drill seems to work like a tool I saw a woodworker
use once. He called it a Yankee screwdriver and used both
regular and screwdriver bits with it. 

The 2 things are different animals.

The pump drill was developed many years (thousands ?) ago. It
consists of a shaft about 12" long (could be longer or shorter
depending on size). There may be s small flywheel attached to the
shaft either at the top end or near the bottom. A chuck or some
other scheme is provided on the bottom end to attach drill bits
or other tools. The top end has a handle that rotates freely on
the shaft & fits in the palm of the hand. A cord, a little more
than twice the length of the shaft, is attached at it’s center to
the top of the shaft, just below the handle or flywheel if it’s
at the top. The ends of the cord are attached to a thin piece of
wood (bow) about the length of the shaft. The bow may have a hole
in the center of its’ length, through which the shaft passes.
The bow, cord & shaft now resemble a bow & arrow at full draw.

To use the drill, a bit is installed in the chuck or the end of
shaft. The bow is held & the shaft is turned, winding the cord
until the ‘bow string’ is tight. At that point, the drill bit is
placed where the hole is to be made, one hand grasps the handle
to steady the drill while the other hand forces the bow down,
causing the cord to unwind turning the shaft & drill bit. Inertia
stored in the flywheel keeps the tool turning when there’s no
more downward force on the bow. The still turning shaft winds the
now loose cord around the shaft until its at the top again.
Another downward push on the bow imparts more energy to the
system & the whole process is repeated. The bow is usually held
near the center, with the fingers of one hand on both there right
& left side of the shaft.

The direction the tool bit first turns is determined by the
direction the cord is initially wound on the shaft. The tool bit
will turn in a direction opposite to that used to wind the cord
.The direction the tool bit turns changes with every downward
stroke of the bow.

The ‘Yankee Drill’ works more or less on the same principle.
However, the string has been replaced by a metal shaft cut with
both a right and left hand thread. A nut, fitted solidly in the
handle causes the business end of the tool to turn when the
handle is pushed toward the opposite end. When the handle
reaches the opposite end, the turning stops and the handle must
be retracted to get a new bite on the threaded portion of the
tool. The tool does not turn while the handle is being
retracted. A selector system in the bottom portion of the tool
allows the tool to work in both a clockwise & counter-clockwise
direction or to remain in a stationary position similar a regular


Hi Felicity, thank you for your best wishes. They are of course,
reciprocated. About the little black dots on my left index
finger… I think they just indicate I was a slow learner. Best
wishes for the New Year, Rex from Oz