Picture of Yankee Screwdriver Maintenance
Yankee Screwdriver cleaning and repair


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.
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stevebaz2 years ago
I have had a Yankee since the 50s - a 130a - made by Stanley's. It works fine except for the 'catch' that has broken so that I can only tighten and not loosen screws - However sometimes with a lot of jiggling I can reverse the drive. I would like to repair or get it repaired;. Is either possible?

The sleeve on the barrel can be rotated and I think that this is what sheared off the catch.

I hope you're still around to read this but I just got a model 30 a yesterday with a broken catch and I can change the lock position with a penknife if you look carefully where the catch was you'll see a copper strip with two holes in it .simply slide that up down or middle and that's the latching mechanism hope this helps

Lotus141 year ago
The ratchet shaft can be removed if you first remove the handle.
Proto makes a ring expander model 250 which was designed for removing malleable rings from U.S. drum brake backing plates, or transmission snap rings. It is a robust tool.
The retaining ring is malleable iron. You reach in the slot with the expander and get the jaws in the ring's slot. Expand the ring and it will stay expanded to the inside diameter of the barrel. Once you've done that, rotate the ring so the opening is away from the slot and use needle nose pliers to pull it out through the opening.
When you are done with your maintenance reverse the installation and then squeeze the ring back to its original size. If you look, you can find a new ring which is already expanded, That's it.
null_value1 year ago
Re: RBWadsworth says: Apr 21, 2013. 4:32 PM. "Do you know the size and thread of the sleeve screw? I need to find a replacement.": Most of the commonly found 30A and 130A use a 4-40x1/8" screw to retain the sleeve. The latest ones have a head similar to pan head with an internal hex (similar to an Allen button head). The older ones have a custom head, like a smaller-diameter fillister head, that fits the hole in the sleeve and aligns the sleeve as a dowel or pin would. (sorry about the out of place post but the script on this page was not working for me and this was quick and easy).
Do you know the size and thread of the sleeve screw? I need to find a replacement.
slackerdo5 years ago
Nice job on showing how to keep one of these running but my question is where to find them now? I've been looking for one basically ever since I saw Elwood Blues use one in the Blues Brothers movie. Any help in that respect would be awesome of you.
garooob (author)  slackerdo5 years ago
Check out Step 14 - Resources. There are links to several sites which sell newer versions, usually made by Schroder in Germany. If you want a classic, check out ebay. Or if you prefer to be completely free of modern technology, frequent your local flea markets, antique malls and garage/estate sales. I bought 5 from an antique mall and flea market. (They needed to be cleaned - hence this Instructable!)

null_value3 years ago
When your Yankee (or Millers Falls, Greenlee, etc.) spiral ratchet screwdriver is clean and working correctly, it should move with very little friction like the one in this video. Tilting 45 degrees or less from horizontal is usually enough for the spiral shaft to slide under it's own weight. If your tool has a return spring in it, obviously you can do this quick test with the spring removed. If there is too much friction, the tool likely isn't clean enough. If the tool is clean and the shaft still sticks in places or is rough or wobbly, there is likely more wrong with it than just dirt and gummed oil.
The Yankee I acquired came with a bit. Unfortunatelt, and this is the really annoying part, I can't remove the bit. The sleve slides easily enough but the little bugger just won't come out. I've tried brute force, WD-40 and the rest. No joy. Any ideas, anyone?
If there are any signs of rust on the exterior of the chuck, the problem is likely rust. The external sleeve and the spring seldom rust stuck but the internal sleeve and the crossbar/lock can. The short answer for rusted parts is penetrating oil and maybe heat. I don't know which Yankee model you have but the chuck likely is similar to patent 1138465 (look it up on Most Yankee screwdrivers have this type of chuck. Earlier tools with stamped with patent dates no later than 1908 will have a slightly different chuck (patent 632560). This older chuck is also hard to free up if rusted. Also, there are some Stanley-branded Yankees from maybe the 1980s or 90s that have a slightly different construction. The nose collar is different on those chucks. I have never seen one broken or disassembled so I don't know anything else about them. I recommend penetrating oil instead of WD-40. Soak the whole chuck for a few minutes. Try to wiggle the bit. I say wiggle but unless the bit is one of the more valuable long nickel-plated bits from before about 1910, I mean grab the bit with some vise-grips or a vise and work at it. Then soak again. Repeat at least a few times. The whole chuck is steel, so you might try heating the bit. I wouldn't heat the outer sleeve; you'd likely just ruin the chuck spring. Yes, the screwdriver bits are also heat-treated; heating the shank of the bit can be bad for the bit too. I you are successful in removing the bit, then install a different bit. Or, if the chuck still doesn't let go, you can re-harden the tip of the old bit if necessary. If it's a cheaper Yankee tool anyway, don't work too hard; just buy another. (I have a bunch of good, clean Yankees of every size that no one ever picks up or asks about at swap meets. On the other hand, be careful about buying old tools with moving parts via online auctions - expect to buy someone else's problems at least some of the time). If you are seeking even more adventure and have the right equipment, remove the nose collar and disassemble the chuck. The collar is swaged in place on all but the very late chucks. Not a job for most people. If I remember correctly, the late version has a retaining ring at the front of the collar, so might be easier to disassemble. Sorry about the ramble.
Many, many thanks for your advice. I will try out your suggestions in order of difficulty!! Really appreciate the comprehesiveness and detailed instructions contained in your reply. My enthusiasm for DIY is not always matched by my capability, and step-by-step instructions really helpful.. Thanks again.
null_value3 years ago
Typically, even very dirty Yankee screwdrivers (No.30, No.31, No.35 and their successors), can be cleaned well enough w/o removing the shaft. Just slide back the ratchet sleeve and remove the shifter and pawls to access the nuts (as shown in your Step7 and Step8). Re: your question about removing the spindle washer in Step5 and disassembling the spindle: To remove the spindle washer, first remove the shell screw at the front of the ratchet shell (remove the staked key at the front of the ratchet body unless you have an early model which lacks the key. You may have to make a tool or modify a small drag-link socket if the shell screw is stuck). Then remove the spindle assembly from the shell & handle tube (main body of the tool). This provides easy access to the spindle washer. Removing the spindle washer from the back end of the spindle allows the spiral nuts to slide off the spindle. BTW, I never remove a wood handle from these tools unless it needs repair or replacement.
peterlonz4 years ago
I have Yankee (ex UK) no's 136A & 130A.
The 136A, small size is a bit of a dud - not recommended.
The 130A, about one foot long retracted, is the best screwdriver I have ever owned.
It's unique because I can deliver high torque, properly aligned to the screw, due to the long length. This means I can undo screws other drivers can't shift as well as get screws really tight if necessary.
Unfortunately the action "slips" so I have to use as a ratchet driver permanently retracted.
Mine did not last long after the first repair, so I concluded this was a high maintenance product, or I should use the spring action only with reduced driver force which is a bit limiting.
Regarding safety; the only worry is that it's relatively easy to allow the bit to jump out of the screw-head & when you "push" it can be through a window pane, or valuable component of whatever you are working on.
I know ..... less haste more care ..... but it happens!!!
My question is can this premature slipping be fixed & are new parts needed?
Great instructible, thanks.
garooob (author)  peterlonz4 years ago
Yes, some said the spring mechanism was dangerous, because they thought it would shoot out the end of the handle and take out your eye! I don't know about that, since it's been difficult to take the clutch screw out with a screwdriver. But yes, they can slip off of the screw and damage what's beneath.

As for your question about slippage: See my step 5 (instructables step 8), parts b and c. My guess is that those L- or chair-shaped pawls are worn. If you open it up and take the pawls out, take a look at the skinny part. New ones will be squared: All edges will be at 90-degree angles. The bottom inside edge will smooth out with use until it doesn't hold the ratchet in place anymore. Luckily, this doesn't necessarily mean you have to buy new ones: The quick fix is to switch them around! Since they're identical parts, flip them over and reverse them. The smooth sides will now be facing up and the bottoms will have new 90-degree sides to work with. Unless of course, this has already been done. Then you will have to buy new ones. I think this kit will have what you need: Good luck!
The pawls engage the sides of the radial teeth on the outside of spiral nuts. The edge of the pawls that meshes w/ the nuts is ground at an angle to fully engage the teeth. The pawls can be swapped between the front and back nuts but the pawls have definite top and bottom faces. Flipping the pawls over may remove a very worn part of the pawl from the system, but will result in the pawl edges not mating correctly w/ the spiral nut teeth. If the pawls are so worn that you are considering new pawls, the nut teeth or nut spirals are typically even more worn out.
kingspidey5 years ago
Great instructable. Does anyone know how to disassemble the larger Yankee screwdrivers? I have a Stanley 68-130a that I'd like to replace the handle on, but I can't seem to remove it. Any insights?
garooob (author)  kingspidey5 years ago
It's going to be very similar over all.  I have to ask:  Does it have a wooden handle or a plastic handle which covers the sleeve screw mentioned in step 3?  (Looks kind of like this:  I have a small one like that (I think it's a 131) and I, too, would like to replace the plastic handle with a more traditional wooden one.  For that type of plastic handle, there are two metal rods which go through the handle near the top.  Those will need to come out.  I used a similarly-sized rod and a hammer.  Once they're out, you should be able to pull that handle off, but I haven't been able to do that yet since mine is the small model and I simply cannot get a grip on it.  Let me know if you're successful!  
i own 2 of these which i inherited from my dad they are over 40 years old and all i can say is that it is the most usefull absolute best tool i have ever owned.
frammis5 years ago
I was just cleaning my Yankee drills yesterday and was thinking of creating an instructable. You beat me to the punch by some months. Thanks for some really good info for an indispensable tool.

Depending on how badly you want yours apart, you can strip it down to almost all it's component parts.

Once you get the sleeve off, remove the "staked" in pieces on the barrel. They are keepers to keep the parts in place and to keep them from rotating. They are easy to pry out and once out, you should be able to remove the handle barrel and the spindle keeper nut - and then all the other parts.

In the second picture, I've rotated the parts 90 degrees and you can see where one half of the handle barrel has apparently been cut away or had broken off. That cutout area is where the staked-in "stop" (opposite the screw hole) keeps the handle barrel from turning.

Once you get it all back together, use a cold chisel to stake the keepers back in place. (You might be able to skip this since the outer sleeve should hold them in place - although it might be a bit tricky to put back together.)

Also, while searching for more info, I found some chucks for the Yankee on Bob Vila's site.
garooob (author)  frammis5 years ago
Wow, that's great! I still have one that's halfway apart, since I couldn't get the handle back on, so I'll take a closer look at it. If I could manage to get them apart, I'd be really excited!
crazy_luck5 years ago
I found one of these a few years back at a garage sale. The bit chuck was ruined, but I bought it anyways (only a few dollars). I took a keyless chuck from a cordless drill, threaded it onto a bolt and welded the bolt into the bit holding slot, managed to weld it in place perfectly on center. Now I can use it with screw driver bits and drill bits - comes in real handy with small drill bits when drilling plastic or light wood. Now that I've seen this I'ble, I can keep it clean and functioning! Thanks!
garooob (author)  crazy_luck5 years ago
Thanks for the comment! It was my hope that others would find this useful. I bet the drill chuck you modded for the Yankee works better than some of the hex bit adapters I've seen. I haven't used mine to drill yet. Does it work well?
It works good on light materials that are relatively thin, say no more than quater of an inch thick. If you need a super precise hole, it is definately not going to give you what you are looking for. I've mainly used it for some of the plastic car models I've customized. The drill chuck works brilliantly - it meant welding to the old tool to make it work, but a worthwhile modification by all means.
garooob (author)  crazy_luck5 years ago
Nice, I'll have to test it out.
Great instructable. I recently cleaned up a couple of different model Yankees. You can check it out on my blog here
Ironically there was one screw that kept me from taking apart mine all the way as well.
garooob (author)  Cosmostrator5 years ago
Thanks! You must have felt the same way I did; looked all over the Internet, but nothing on Yankee screwdrivers. I actually saw the same kind of clear-handled one that you have, but I didn't buy it.