The most popular post on this blog has been my review of Yankee Screwdrivers. I've recently acquired a Schroeder 11 1/2" spiral ratcheting screwdriver, and a Pittsburgh 17 1/4" Yankee screwdriver, and decided the best use of them was a comparison with their North Brother's counterparts.
First, some background. While driving a screw over the summer, I managed to break one of my old Craftsmen spiral ratcheting screwdrivers. I was pretty excited about it, and had perhaps been treating it a bit more roughly than necessary, as I was interested to see how the Sears return policy would work on a tool they no longer manufactured under the Craftsman line. My local Sears store is not a full line store, and couldn't process any returns unless they had a comparable tool in stock. They tried to create an exception, and assured me that a new screwdriver was in the mail. Three weeks later I followed up with them, found out that no driver was in the mail, and I would have to go to the nearest full line Sears store. At the full line Sears store, they spent a good half hour trying to figure out just what kind of tool it was, then, after looking at the Schroeder spiral ratcheting screwdrivers on their website, gave me a gift card for the full amount of a new screwdriver. I do not understand why the local store could not do the same. Sadly, the Schroeder does not carry a lifetime warranty, so if it ever breaks, it's gone.
I bought the Pittsburgh at our brand new local harbor Freight store for $8, along with a new socket set, some precision screwdrivers, and a few other goodies. I've spent more time (and money) in that store since it opened than I would really like to think about.
This comparison will consist of two parts, the first comparing a North Bros #135 to a Schroeder 11 1/2", and the second comparing a North Bros #30 to a Pittsburgh 17 1/4".
Part the First: Yankee vs. Schroeder
|Rice? There is no rice.|
Right off the bat, I don't like the Schroeder as much because it uses a hex cap instead of a slot (See above). It's not a huge deal, but bespeaks the biggest problem with the Schroeder style driver: unnecessary modifications that fail to increase the tool's usability. These modifications have made it significantly larger and heavier than the 135, but as you will see later, have provided no advantage in terms of driving speed.
The spring on the Schroeder is much larger than that of the Yankee. This is nice, in that it keeps the bit pressed more snugly against the screw. If you like the drive screws one-handed, this is definitely an advantage.
An enormous disadvantage, however, is the secondary spring hidden under a very small black disk used to keep the barrel in place. I discovered this spring when disassembling the screwdriver for the first time, and at the same time lost the black disk and the spring. I have been able to keep the barrel in place with a rubber band, but it is an annoyance that could easily have been avoided if Schroeder had simply used a screw, or also included the locking mechanism found in many Yankee Screwdrivers (I'll point it out to you when I compare the larger screwdrivers next).
The pawls on the Schroeder (right) are much larger and seem much stronger than those on the yankee. This is an advantage, as the pawls are almost always what fail in these screwdrivers. However, as the 135 on the left has managed to survive for the last 90 years with smaller pawls, I doubt the necessity of the change, especially as it creates the need for a much larger screwdriver in general.
Between the North Brothers 135 and the Schroeder 11 1/2" model, I have to give it to the North Brothers. It feels better in the hand, is much lighter, drives screws slightly faster, and looks sexier. The Schroeder is as heavy as a Yankee #30, without having the added spiral length, and suffers from several design innovations that do not increase the usability of the tool, and, in the case of the retaining pin, severely hamper said usability.
Part the Second: Yankee vs. Pittsburgh
Remember how I promised to point out the locking mechanism found in many Yankees? That's it on the right. It requires you to twist the barrel before you can slide it down, thereby retaining the tools usability if the retaining screw is lost. It is such a neat feature that I am amazed to find it lacking in both modern screwdrivers.
At first glance, I was very impressed with the $8 Pittsburgh model. It seems durable, has a 1/4" hex chuck built in (remember that you can also buy them from Lee Valley), and, most importantly, was eight bucks.
The screwdriver came apart without any significant problems, but I was surprised to see the spacer (the small arch above) fall out of the barrel. This has never happened with one of my other screwdrivers, and seems to simply be the result of more "wobble" in the mechanism, which therefore fails to hold the spacer in place.
That was the story of the Pittsburgh. Everything looked alright, but when used, felt very wrong. There was a lot of play while screwing, and the handle was most uncomfortable. I wouldn't buy one unless you can't find a decent alternative. Or need an $8 Yankee with a lifetime warranty to do horrible things to.
Nothing much has changed since the 1920's, when the North Brother's screwdrivers I used in this review were manufactured. The new models are bigger, heavier, and (in my opinion) are not as comfortable to use, but basic technology is exactly the same.
So when you're looking for a good Yankee screwdriver, go for the used ones. If you can't find one at a local yard sale or antique shop for a reasonable price, remember that there's always ebay.
|Notice how much wider the newer shafts are|
Long Boring Video
|Left to Right: Makita 10.8v, North Bros #31, Pittsburgh, North Bros #30, Schroeder, North Bros #135.|
In the following video, I will use each of the above screwdrivers to drive and remove three screws. Each screw has a 1/8" pilot hole the depth of the screw.