Guide to rotary hand drills

October 16, 2018

Different types of hand drills and how to use them.

selection of different rotary hand drills and a palm drill
Author: Muddy Faces

Age Range: all ages

Duration: less than an hour

Location: anywhere

Time Of Day: any time

Season: any

Tags: drill, guide, hand drill, tools

Category: tool use & traditional crafts


Using a rotary hand drill is a more technical drilling skill than using a palm drill.
There are a variety of different rotary hand drills to choose from. This guide aims to help you make the right choice for the project/group you are working with.
At Muddy Faces we sell a selection of hand drills and drill bits.
We also have a very informative information page on tool use and traditional crafts, with an introduction by Pete Moorhouse who is a specialist in woodwork in Early Years education.


Drilling is a process that uses a drill bit to cut a hole into wood or other solid materials.
The bit is pressed against the item and rotated by the drill. The speed will vary depending on the ability of the users and the type of drill.
This rotary action, and the weight of the drill (with applied pressure if appropriate), forces the cutting edge into the item being drilled, cutting off slices (swarf) from the hole as it is drilled.

If you are using a hand drill to drill into smaller objects you will need to clamp them into place. Visit our clamps and vices page.

Types of drill

Pistol grip hand drill

The pistol grip hand drill is an ideal next step from using a palm drill for younger children, and is one of the woodworking tools that Pete Moorhouse recommends for use in the Early Years.

The pistol grip drill has a casing that encloses the gears (no risk of fingers getting trapped). It is also used with a different grip to most rotary drills (as the name suggests – like holding a gun.)

piston hand drill

Rotary hand drill – single pinion

These simple hand drills have an exposed mechanism. They have a turning handle connected to a drive wheel, this turns a single pinion (round gear) which then rotates the drill bit.

The single pinion (gear) connects to the main drive wheel in one place.

single pinion rotary hand drill on log slice next to a wicker basket

Rotary hand drill – double pinion

Like the single pinion drill, the double pinion has an exposed mechanism. The double pinion allows for a smoother drilling experience and is better suited for more frequent use.

The double pinion (gear) is connected to the main drive wheel in two places.

close up of double pinion rotary hand drill

Rotary hand drill with 2 speeds & chest plate

This is a heavy duty drill with an enclosed mechanism. The chest plate allows for additional pressure to be applied when drilling into hard materials such as metal (usually with the drill held in a horizontal position, used whilst standing).

The two gears (switched with interchangable handle) allow for a fast or slow drilling speed.

changing the handle on a rotary hand drill with a chest plate

Carpenter’s brace

The carpenter’s brace is suitable for drilling holes with a larger diameter in wood, using an auger bit. The sweep handle generates more torque as it is further away from the centre of rotation.

The brace also has a ratchet mechanism so it can be used if working in a restricted space where you are unable to turn the handle all the way around.

woman using a carpenter's brace to drill through a pole attached to a workbench with a vice