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Digital Machinist


New Life for an Old Tool

By Sheldon Jaffe

If you read The Home Shop Machinist or Machinist’s Workshop, you likely have a mill, or are familiar with one at least. And, if you do anything more than drilling holes, you probably own a vise. The vise likely came with a crank handle and no matter where you put it, the handle always seems to be in the way.

I find the handle is awkward to use for rapid positioning of the vise. Great for tightening or loosening, but the angles of the handle and its amount of floppiness makes it hurt my wrist when I need to move the vise jaws for any appreciable distance. It puts my wrist at a weird angle that just doesn’t feel right, so I was looking for a substitute handle.


My father gave me the screwdriver shown, and he got it from his father. Since I get the seniors’ discount when I go to the grocery store, this “Yankee screwdriver” might be anywhere from 60 to 100 years old.

As a screwdriver, it’s pretty useless. I only have one bit, it’s a flat blade and I live in Canada where every screw I use has either a Philips or a Robertson (square) head. So the Yankee screwdriver has lain unused at the bottom of my drawer for about 40 years.

PhotoBut an idea formed in my brain – wouldn’t the Yankee screwdriver be just the thing to replace the crank handle and spin the shaft of the milling vise?

I started with a 1/4″ ratchet extension. After ten minutes of lathe work, I had cut off the 1/4″ socket and turned down the diameter to match the Yankee screwdriver chuck. Ten more minutes in the mill to cut the D-shaped drive end, and a few minutes with a triangular file to cut the locking “V,” and I had an adapter to mount a socket onto the Yankee screwdriver.

In use on the milling vise, the screwdriver is preferable to the original crank handle and it stores in easy reach.

Photo Photo

Before you say “you could use a cordless screwdriver for the same thing,” I’ll say that the Yankee screwdriver never needs recharging, never has the wrong bit, is always right where I need it, and every time I pick it up it reminds me of my father.

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