Yankee dandy

Date:1 June 2012 Tags:

Q A friend gave me a box of old tools, including a pair of Yankee screwdrivers (also known as a spiral ratchet driver) that are in pretty good shape. Are the Yankees worth bothering with? I see there are adapters that enable them to take hex-shank bits, but I already own a good cordless drill with two batteries.

A Developed around the turn of the last century, the Yankee was the original powered screwdriver ““ powered, that is, by you. Push down on its handle and the tool converts your downward force to torque by means of a spring-loaded spiral driveshaft that telescopes into the screwdriver’s long, hollow barrel. You can also lock the drive mechanism and use the Yankee as a large ratcheting screwdriver.

That’s how I use mine. The design is ingenious, and the tool enjoyed decades of success until it was supplanted by the cordless drill driver. The problem with a Yankee is that its range is limited. It works best with small screws driven into a precisely bored hole. For example, I just used mine to partially back out and re-drive the mounting screws for six hard-wired smoke detectors that I replaced. I find the tool works well for some oddball jobs where space is limited and you need precision.

Still, is it worth carrying in your tool kit? Maybe. If you have a sentimental streak like me, you might want to keep one. I recently restored a Yankee with my teenage son, Joe. It was owned by his great-grandfather, a Popular Mechanics reader and a highly competent self-trained craftsman who did everything from repair his boat to fix his car. Restoring that tool made me appreciate the one I own, so I bought an adaptor for it. Now I use the Yankee a couple of times a year.

In most cases, though, there’s no contest between that tool and a cordless drill driver when it comes to versatility, speed, power and precision. The chief benefit of a drill driver is that it is just as effective at boring holes as it is at driving screws. And, of course, just the opposite is true of the Yankee: it’s far better at driving than drilling.

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