Yankee Style Spiral Ratchet Screwdrivers
Various Manufacturers, and Models

North Brothers and Stanley Tools Screwdrivers

Other Manufacturers' Screwdrivers Compared To Yankee

The trade name "YANKEE" screwdriver was first marketed by North Brothers Manufacturing Company in 1899, with the No. 30 spiral ratchet screwdriver.  YANKEE soon became and still is a well known name in automatic spiral ratchet screwdrivers, with several other models, and model improvements patented by North Bros. over a 40 year period.  The term "YANKEE SCREWDRIVER" is often used to describe push/pull type screwdriver other than one manufactured by North Brothers Mfg. Co. or Stanley Tools, who purchase the rights to the well known YANKEE brand or trade name in the 1940's from North Brothers.  North Brothers always marked the tools they manufactured with the YANKEE name, and in most cases the North Bros. name and location as well.  To our knowledge, all spiral ratchet screwdriver models made by Stanley did have the YANKEE trade name on them, or at least until the 1960's when the HANDYMAN trade name became as well known as the YANKEE trade name, so Stanley Tools marked certain models with both the HANDYMAN and YANKEE brand name on them, and usually the Stanley name was on them as well.  The HANDYMAN trade name was not limited to a line of screwdriver models, as the same name was marked on a complete line of planes, drills and other tools specifically marketed to the home user.

The picture above shows several different YANKEE brand screwdrivers or screwdriver/drills,  All were made by either North Brothers (pre-1947), or Stanley Tools.  Starting from the upper left, the No. 75 was designed for drilling small holes, up to about 1/4", and it will also drive small screws provided it is fitted with a tapered ended type brace bit with a screwdriver tip adapter.  The model No. 75 was call a push brace, since it has a brace like chuck.   Also, you can see it has an a concealed spiral shaft as it is fully extended.  The spiral shaft and spiral mechanism is what makes the spiral system work, so when you push the handle in, the bit that is locked into the chuck turns in either the clockwise or counterclockwise motion depending on the setting of the slide switch on the side of the drill.  Beginning second from the upper left is the No. 31A, No. 30A, No. 20, No. 135A, No. 35, No. 233H, & No. 133H.  It is important to point out that there was more differences in each of the models than can be seen in the picture above.  Of the model number listed above, excluding the No. 75, there was 3 different size spring chucks, and therefore 3 different shank size tips or sometimes called points, to fit various models.  Generally all tips made by North Brothers or Stanley were stamped with the corresponding number of the model screwdriver they would fit, but the stamped numbers are often difficult to see, so it's a good idea to know the size you need before you set out to find tips for your screwdriver.  To try to simplify the smallest size was the number 35, so any of the model numbers with 35 in the number, like No. 135A is the smallest tip shank diameter, measuring 7/32" diameter shank.  (all the handyman models with 33 in their model number also have the No. 35 size chucks, the smallest size tips).  The middle size is the No. 30 size, and all numbers with the 30 in them have a chuck shank size of 9/32" diameter.  The biggest size is the No. 31, and all numbers with 31 in them have a chuck diameter of 5/16" diameter.  We do specify what the YANKEE shank size is on new old stock or used type we have for sale, so you can double check to see what size will fit your screwdriver.

The Rapid Return Feature

We do get questions about the spring loaded rapid return feature that pushes the spiral shaft and chuck back out into the fully extended position once the user stops pushing and releases the PUSH pressure on the handle.  The rapid return feature was never part of the model No. 30 for example, but was introduced on the No. 130 in 1912.  So, if you are looking for the rapid return, here is most of the model numbers that had this feature:  No. 125, 126, 127, 130, 131, 133H, 135, 233H & 433H. Basically the No. 1 designates rapid return, like No. 31 no rapid return, No. 131, or No. 131A with rapid return,  the same size chuck as the No. 31.  These number designations can be a bit confusing at times.  Some users have tried to put a spring into a No. 30 or 31, it doesn't work, as the No. 131 was specifically engineered to look pretty much the same as the No. 31, but there are internal difference in the two by comparison.

Both North Brothers and Stanley Tools manufactured  non-removable tip ratchet screwdrivers also.  There is a group of short screwdrivers shown in the picture above including the tiny No. 2H, the slightly bigger No. 10 & 12.  Also shown in the picture is the rare No. 65 that at one time had 4 removable blade type tips (it has just one now), and the No. 50 reciprocating drill with a 3 jaw type chuck that can be used as a driver for very small screws also.  The No. 50 has a unique spiral mechanism that is much like the Yankee spiral screwdrivers, except torque is applied by sliding the center section instead of pushing on the handle. Also shown is the Stanley offset Phillips type ratchet screwdrivers No. 3812, No. 3822.

We should point out that this is only about half of the total number of models that either North Bros. or Stanley produced over the years, not to mention that both companies manufactured a full line of tools, accessories, hardware, and machines.

 By around 2005 Stanley had sold out all of it's inventory of the screwdrivers in the photo above, at least those made in U.S.A., including the tips and accessories to fit them, as they had discontinued production of all YANKEE tools in previous years.  Production did continue a few years longer in England, but to my knowledge, all production of YANKEE brand tools has ceased they as well.  Basically what this means is that most of the YANKEE brand tools we have for sale today are either used, or new old stock.

Over the years other manufacturing companies used similar  design chucks, that held YANKEE brand screwdriver and drill point tips with the flat and notch on the shank.  

For more information on North Brothers Mfg. Co. you may want to follow this link to review a product guide book on this subject.  NORTH BROS. MFG. PRODUCT GUIDE

Above is a rare North Brothers No. 65 with the unique clip style tip, removed and shown in the left picture, in place to the right.  This model was made by North Bros. from 1908 to 1946, Stanley did not continue this model.  It originally had a total of 4 blade tips in different sizes.  The missing ones are hard to find.  Please let us know if you have any extras.

Yankee Screwdriver Tips Drills and Cutters

North Brothers offered several different accessories to fit the various type chucks on the YANKEE spiral ratchet screwdrivers.  Normally, 3 different slot type tips were include with each screwdriver when it was new.  Other tips include: Nut drivers in various sizes, both hex and square head, drill points for the smallest size screwdriver (a set of 3 that have a different size shank than the YANKEE push drills), adapters to adapter push drill size drill point sets to the screwdriver chuck size), these came in all three sizes, countersinks, screwdriver tips holding with screw holding feature, Phillips screwdriver tips in various sizes, slot screwdriver tips with the centering sleeve feature, and some extra long screwdriver tips for special applications.  


Published by Great Expectations Antiques May 15, 2008  All Rights Reserved 

Did other companies manufacture Yankee style screwdrivers?

The first patented spiral push drill or similar spiral screwdriver dates back to 1868 known as the Allard's patent, but since we have never been able to find one in existence, we assume that the 1868 patent was never manufactured in quantity.  The earliest we have observed is the F. A. HOWARD patent, known to have sold in the U.S.A. in quantity.  The begining of production of the Howard screwdriver seems to have been in the early 1870's.  Most of the first models patented are rare and hard to find.  Although North Brothers was not the very first to patent the spiral type mechanism, they were not far behind in terms of years.  Most models were designed and patented post 1900, and companies other than North Brothers joined in around 1920.  Below is a picture of several different models manufactured by other companies, yet similar in some designs to the original YANKEE brand by North Brothers Mfg. Co..

As you can see in the picture above, the screwdrivers across the top are all spiral ratchet screwdrivers with removable tips.  Yes, the tips are the YANKEE style tips with the notch and the flat on the shank of the tip, and yes, all the screwdrivers across the top have spring type chucks that automatically close and lock once the tip is inserted and turned until it drops into place.  (The flat on the shank of the tip is the male to the matching flat inside the chuck and must be aligned for the chuck to close and lock).  Perhaps the first, on certainly one of the first companies to market a YANKEE type spiral screwdriver was Millers Falls.  Millers Falls spiral screwdrivers have a rotating sleeve type switch for directional motion of the spiral, and can be lock down, or in other words, the spiral system can be locked in the shortened position for ratchet only use, or locked completely and used as a standard non-spiral/ratcheting screwdriver.  In fact all the spiral ratchet screwdrivers in the picture above have these features except for the GREENLEE  No. 457 (4th from the left) No. 457 (5th from the left) with the stubby wood handle, and the GREENLEE No. 442 (6th from the left).  These two have a slide switch directional selector, and so does the WARDS MASTER and DUNLAP, first and second from the right respectively.  One of the issues that GREENLEE dealt with on many of it's models from the mid-1900's era, was to add flats to the otherwise round handles.  This solved a problem for plenty of users, as most round handle screwdrivers were apt to roll when set down on a workbench or table, and sometime off that surface to the floor, cause damage in some cases.  Greenlee also became one of the first to use a translucent industrial plastic handle that was nice looking, tough, and well integrated or attached to the rest of the screwdriver.  Greenlee also manufactured and marketed the concealed spiral shaft screwdriver seen in the picture above as the first, third, and fifth from the left, (the first item in the picture is a original GREENLEE box, not counted in our reference numbering).  One more improvement, GREENLEE used stainless steel casings, or shaft tubes, which in some ways was stronger and nearly as nice looking as the nickel plated brass on most YANKEE models.  (For a period of time during war periods North Brothers didn't nickel plate screwdrivers because of material shortages, and cost).  Another benefit to stainless steel is the resistance to rust, and since there is no plating, there is no concern over nickel plating loss either.  The bottom line, GREENLEE had indeed solved several issues with the YANKEE style screwdriver, as they worked toward perfecting the concept of the spiral/ratchet screwdriver!  It is not clear why the GREENLEE concealed shaft spiral screwdrivers were not huge sellers.  One of the reasons may have been timing, that is GREELEE began marketing these long after the first YANKEE models were sold.  There is little doubt there was also a pricing issue, since the material used, and the improvement to the overall design were costly to GREENLEE.  At any rate, none of the GREENLEE screwdrivers are anywhere near as common as the YANKEE brand models.  In fact, GREENLEE spiral screwdriver are considered rare in very good to fine condition. Greenlee also offered completely round wood handle models like the No. 457 and the No. 442 (5th from the right).  This No. 442 is marked with the patent number 1971289, and that number reflects a patent date in 1934, being one of the first concealed models, not made of stainless steel, but nickel plated steel and is quite heavy in comparison to the newer model of comparable size, the No. 452 shown as the first on the upper left in the picture.  It should be mentioned the with this early design, the forward sleeve inside diameter is so close in size to the outside diameter of the main body the other outer sleeve must slide over, it has a tendency to rub a bit, causing some increase resistance during use in some areas of it's full travel.  This seems to have been illuminated on the No. 452 and other similar later models.  The spiral ratchet screwdriver 1st from the upper right is marked WARDS MASTER.  The mechanism and style seem to be YANKEE and most likely was made by North Brothers or Stanley for Montgomery Wards department stores who carried a line of tools for several years in the mid-1900 era.  The pistol grip handle is made of plastic, and at one time had a cap to fit the end that is missing, so it actually is one of the few with room to store tips inside the handle.  This is the only one we have seen like it to date.

Over the years Millers Falls not only manufactured their own models, but also manufactured spiral screwdrivers for other companies like "CRAFTSMAN" and these models usually only slightly different, were marked with the CRAFTSMAN brand name.    A sample of one of the CRAFTSMAN screwdrivers is in the upper, 2nd from the right with the formed wood handle.  Although we do not have documentation to prove that the Craftsman model (the Millers Falls screwdriver next to it on the left) was made by Millers Falls, there is enough evidence in the design of the two to presume that it was made by Millers Falls, particularly in the rotating directional switch that is by comparison the same.

Rapid Return Feature

Greenlee did offer the spring loaded rapid return feature on it's improved models (with the green molded handles).  The No. 457 with the stubby wood handle also has the rapid return feature.  We have not observed any Millers Falls spiral ratchet screwdriver with the rapid return feature to date.  There is a possibility they did manufacture some with this feature, but we have not seen them to date, with the possible exception of the CRAFTSMAN model shown above 3rd from the upper right, which is believe to have been manufactured by Millers Falls.  The Dunlap mentioned above also has the rapid return feature. We have written about what we have observed to date, and by actual hands on testing of the various products pictured and mentioned in this publication.  One note on rapid return.  Since the collar near the center of the shaft can lock the spring inside the screwdriver in the compressed position, it stands to reason that one should not point the chuck end at one person or that of another since once released, and particularly with a tip in place, the spring loaded action could do bodily harm, and even potential dent or scratch a work project that the chuck end happened to be pointed at.  Our recommendations are, if you have children, or even several novas users in your home or work shop, store the rapid return spiral screwdrivers in their fully extended position.  This will prevent that surprise release of the spiral shaft if someone is learning to use it without the help of an experienced user.  Like most tools, they are designed to work, and work can be dangerous if you are not careful.

  Smaller Ratchet Screwdrivers

The smaller ratchet screwdrivers in the picture are strictly ratchet (non-spiral drive) screwdrivers, none of the four shown in the lower section of the picture have removable tips like the spiral screwdriver have.  In other words, they have no chuck or means to quick change the tip part that drives the screw.  Most of these screwdrivers were manufactured before the PHILLIPS type screwdrivers became as common as they are today.  They are all slot head type tips.  By 1960 Phillips head screw not only became common, but became perhaps predominant in terms of wood screw, and was at least equal to the ALLEN head screws in the machine or metal screw application.  Stanley and a few other companies did make PHILLIPS drive tips (for spiral screwdrivers) and ratchet screwdrivers for a comparatively short period of time.

The longer narrow screwdriver 1st from the lower the right is marked A. G. & J. PRODUCTS GERMANY so we do know that several models of both spiral ratchet, and ratchet screwdriver were made in Germany.  Most of the screwdriver we see that were made in Germany were made in the 1920-30's era, but some are still being manufactured in Germany today.  The ratchet screwdriver 2nd from the right is a Millers Falls No. 59 and is 6" long overall with the rotating style directional selector.  This model has the groove cut wooden handle for better grip, but still is round and rolls easily on the work bench.  The longer screwdriver to the left of the No. 59 is a Millers Falls No. 63 with the same feature as the No. 59, but is 8" long overall, and is small in outside diameter, a lighter duty screwdriver than the other M.F. models.  We should mention that both the No. 59 and 63 was manufactured in a nice selection of length to suit various applications.  The screwdriver 4th to the lower left is also a Millers Falls No. 59 with the same features as the others except for the older turned handle with no notches, and a different shape and finish.

Overall we find the quality of the GREENLEE screwdrivers with the green handles superior tools by comparison.  The quality of the workmanship, appearance and ease of use is outstanding among the others shown in the pictures.  We will mention that the GREENLEE spring chuck is rather strong in terms of the spring, but once one gets used to this fact, there is no problem using it.  A buyer looking for a good used screwdriver would find any of the screwdrivers in the photo above useful.  None of them are poor quality, all are functional and durable.  With moderate care, like cleaning and light oiling from time to time, all are made to last a long time, and indeed have.



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