The Yankee screwdriver, as it is most commonly known, is my favorite tool. I wanted to write this because instructions on how to clean or even disassemble one of these are hard to find in anything other than bits and pieces online. In books? Maybe, but... it's more fun to figure it out yourself!
A brief history:
The spiral-rachet screwdriver has been around since at least 1860. The North Bros. Manufacturing company patented their design on December 11, 1923 and marketed it under their "Yankee" line of screwdrivers. Despite the fact that North Bros.' "Yankee" line included racheting and even regular screwdrivers, the name became synonymous with the spiral-rachet design. After WW2, Stanley bought North Bros. Stanley continued to produce "Yankee" spiral-rachet screwdrivers in the USA, then later in the UK until production finally stopped a few years ago. (I don't know the exact date, but I assume it to be >2000.) Later, a German tool company by the name of Schroeder purchased the design from Stanley (I think) and is currently producing "Yankee" spiral-rachet screwdrivers with both standard chucks or built-in hex chucks.
Why a Yankee? This and the hand drill are pretty much the original hand-held power tools. But they don't require electricity, last pretty much forever (as evidenced by these antiques from the 1920s, 30s and 40s) and cost a fraction of what modern power tools do (if bought used). They're also really versitle: Put a standard hex chuck adapter on it and it can fasten/unfasten any screw you can find. Plus, there are hex drill bits, too! Or you can put a 1/4" socket drive adaptor in the hex chuck and now all your sockets will work, too! So head out to your local flea market or antique mall and find one today!
Note: This article is based on a North Bros. model 130A "Yankee" spiral-rachet screwdriver. It should, however, be largely trasferrable to other models from North Bros., Stanley and Schroeder.
Note2: This article is unfortunately, NOT based on a complete tear-down, because I haven't figured out how to remove that one washer. More on that later.