Yankee Screwdriver Maintenance





Introduction: Yankee Screwdriver Maintenance

About: @garooob

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.

Step 1: Safety

Safety first! The model 130 and all other models starting with a 1 are spring-loaded. Make sure to follow the directions when removing this to minimize risk of it shooting out of the barral. Also, we'll be using some chemical lubricants, so make sure you have plenty of ventallation and keep them off of your skin, clothes AND THE FLOOR! Read all instructions both here and on any chemicals before using!

Step 2: Materials

Here's what we'll need: Yankee screwdriver, 3mm slotted screwdriver, 8mm slotted screwdriver, disposable gloves, paper towels, cotton swabs, lubrication/grease (I chose lithium grease), degreaser (I chose Simple Green), water, cups/bowls for the water and degreaser, spray paint (I chose Valspar Satin red wine color #465-65012-76. It's very close to the original.).

Step 3: Parts Explosion

Scroll to page 15 for a drawing from the 1967 Stanley Repair Parts Catalog, downloaded from Rose Tools.

Step 4: Step 1 - Remove the Bit and Spring

If you were lucky enough to get a bit with your Yankee, remove it now. If you don't know how, just pull down on the chuck and lift the bit out.

On the opposite end of the screwdriver is, ironically, the clutch screw. Behind this, lies the return spring. Note that model 30 and its variants do not have a spring. Before you take the screw out, rotate the lock collar to release the spindle and extend the spring.

Now, carefully use your 8mm slotted screwdriver to remove the clutch screw.

Step 5: Step 2 - Remove the Handle

With the clutch screw removed, you can remove the handle. Gently pull the wooden handle away from the frame. This is difficult to do, but try to do it gently. This is optional because you don't need to take the handle off just to clean it. Benieth the handle is a slot from which you can access the spindle washer. Unfortunately, this is what's keeping me from a full tear-down. If anyone knows how to remove this without damage, I'd love to know!

Step 6: Step 3 - Remove the Sleeve Screw

Right below the shifter is a small screw. Use your 3mm screwdriver to remove it.

Step 7: Step 4 - Remove the Sleeve

The short version of this step is to rotate the sleve to the right, then pull down to expose the inner workings. Before you can move the sleeve at all, you will need to press the shifter straight down. You almost need three hands for this. The shifter will need to go under the sleeve when you rotate it.

If you look at the back of the Yankee (opposite the shifter), you will see a tab and a slot. When you rotate the sleeve, that tab will fit into that slot, then you can pull it down. Be careful to hold the Yankee with the shifter-side up, because the shifter will want to fall out when the sleeve comes off.

Step 8: Step 5 - Removing (some Of) the Internals

First to come out will be the shifter. Set it aside.

Next, the pawls, which provide the racheting action will be removed. These may adhere to the other parts by the old grease, so you may need to lift them out with a bent paper clip or something. Remember which way they go back in!

Now you can see what's beneith the pawls: the drive and draw nuts. If you move the spindle up and down, you'll see that these rotate opposite of each other.

Step 9: Step 6 - Cleaning!

To clean the internals that we're not going to take out, apply your cleaner of choice and move the spindle in and out to rotate the nuts. Here you see my Yankee soaking in Simple Green foam. To flush the cleaner out, hold the Yankee at an angle, so that the spindle side is pointing down. Pour a little water over the nuts and move the spindle to rotate them. Repeat as necessary.

The more stubborn grease can be wiped away. I used cotton swabs. A cloth would also be acceptable. Place the swab on the nut and rotate them. Be careful not to let it get pulled in or you'll be picking out cotton before you can move on.

Use your cleaner on, then wipe the remaining grease off of the pawls and shifter. Some things to note in this picture. First, make sure the copper strip on the bottom of the shifter has a good curve to it, like in the picture, maybe more even. Second, take not of the condition of the pawls. The underside of the thin part (which contacts the draw/drive nuts and provides the rachet) can wear down and become unusable. Because the pawls are the same shape and size, you can do a Scot's Staircase on them. (That is, you can turn them over and they'll work like new. Big note here: If you need to do that, you have to switch them so they go in the correct way! If you don't, your Yankee won't ratchet right and you'll have to re-disassemble it. Look at the picture in step 5b for the correct way.) These pawls are upside-down, but notice the way the thin part shines as if it has an edge. That's the wear.

Step 10: Step 7 - Grease It Back Up

I don't have any pictures of this step right now, because I got too into cleaning and forgot about taking pictures. Just apply a small amount of lubrication to the draw and drive nuts and move the spindle up and down to get it to coat everything. Be sure to wipe up any extra.

Step 11: Step 8 - Reassembly

Remember to put the pawls in the right way!

Remember that the sleeve has to fit that notch in to go back on correctly.

Put the spring and screws back in and wipe everything off.

Step 12: Optional Step - Painting

Take a look at my impromptu spray booth. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation when you spray. If you're doing it outside, stand upwind.

Step 13: Step Penultimate - Notes on a Full Tear-down

Here are some notes on a full tear-down, if it were to happen.

After you've removed the handle in step 2, there's a hole where you can access the spindle washer. Remove that and the spindle will come out the top.

With the spindle removed, use a quarter or something to remove the shell screw at the top. When removing this, keep in mind that just below is the lock collar, which houses the two ball bearings that lock the spindle. Set them aisde.

After you remove the sleeve, look at the back of the Yankee and you'll see the three stops. Pry them out somehow, maybe by sticking a screwdriver into the top of the Yankee and pressing down. With these out, the drive and draw nuts will come out. Remember which one is which!

Clean everything and put it back together.

Step 14: Step the Last - Resources



    • Water Contest

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    31 Discussions

    I have a Stanley (Yankee) ratchet screwdriver marked Model 68-130 (130A). According to the user manual I am baffled as to the use of part #12, lock collar. Mine will turn (only slightly) clockrwise and counter-clockwise, yet I am lost as to its' purpose. Can you answer this mystery? The screwdriver works very fine, yet this lock collar seems to have no effect on the operation. An email reply would be most welcome if you have the answer.


    Thank you for an excellent Instructable. I got my first Yankee a few months ago when I lost my mum in law :( She had a long Yankee screwdriver in a drawer. This was identified by my wife as being my late father in law's screwdriver. I cleaned it up and it works perfectly. Now to bring it up to date I found a short '133' model Yankee in a junk shop just a day ago. It was priced up at 50p (UK) so it would have been illegal to not buy it. At the moment it is a bit sticky but basically works. Over the next few days it'll get stripped and cleaned. Now, for those in the UK it is very hard to get the bits to fit any size Yankee here. So, try looking on the 'Axminster' tools website. They have three sizes of adaptor that fit the three different Stanley Yankee screwdrivers and they are the cheapest I have found. They are also of very good quality too.

    Hey guys, I don't know if anyone still checks this but I could use some pointers. I recently got to take over some of my great grandpa's tools, and one of them happened to be a Yankee screwdriver. Model no. 133H to be precise, so not quite the same as the one in this guide, and I'm having the same problem with removing the spindle washer.

    I first tried rotating it and it does rotate a little bit, but I just can't figure out how to get it out! Are you supposed to just pull it straight out or is there some kind of trick to it?

    IS there "trick" to changing the bit? i have a Great Neck 97a (GREAT NECK 8-1/2 in. Spiral Ratcheting Yankee Drill-Screwdriver Driver) or do you just pull really hard?

    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.

    1 reply

    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

    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.

    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.

    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.

    2 replies

    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!)



    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?

    2 replies

    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 google.com/patents/). 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.

    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.

    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.

    2 replies

    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: http://www.stanleytoolparts.com/repairkit.html 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.