Millers Falls were an American company based in Millers Falls in Massachusetts. Their products are mentioned in the 1935 Buck & Hickman catalogue
, but I had never heard of them until I saw the boring machines pictured below.
As far as I know Millers Falls products are quite scarce in the UK. I guess that larger drilling tools weren't as popular in the UK as in the US due to the fact that British houses are generally built from brick or stone, and not timber.
This website has a lot of information about Millers Falls: www.oldtoolheaven.com/index.html
Link to machines in better condition: www.myoldtools.com/boring.htm
This is the catalogue entry in the 1935 Buck & Hickman catalogue:
This is the first of the boring machines. In this picture it has been oiled, but not yet cleaned.
The boring machine is not as straightforward to use as it looks. (This has been partly rewritten as I used the wrong terminology before).
There is a small sprung catch at the top that holds the mechanism containing the gear wheels and drill bit (from now on referred to as "the mechanism") in place at the top of the supports. Without this in place the mechanism would drop until the drill bit hit the floor.
Turning the handles rotates the vertical bevelled gear wheel, which pushes round the horizontal bevelled gear wheel that is inline with (and connected to) the drill bit.
At the same time the gear wheel with straight teeth acts as a pinion against the rack at the back (i.e. the straight bar with teeth in it), and pulls the mechanism up or down the vertical supports. One revolution of the handles drops the mechanism about a foot. Obviously this is no good for drilling as the bit should be allowed to drop at its own rate - just a few millimetres each revolution. In this, the machine's default state, rotating the handles can only be used for lowering or raising the drill bit to or from the object being drilled.
For the machine to be useful, the catch is rotated ninety degrees anticlockwise. This causes a peg to emerge from the base of the catch [1 in the picture], which pushes the vertical gear wheel with straight teeth (the pinion) so that it disengages from the drive of the handles and the drill bit. [2 shows the separation of the two parts]. Once free from the control of the rack and pinion, the mechanism can slide up and down the supports independently of the number of revolutions of the handles. In this way the drill bit can be rotated at the speed that suits it.
When drilling is finished the catch can be rotated back thus withdrawing the peg. One half turn of the handles will allow the pinion gear wheel to spring back into place (spraying oil in the face of the user). After which rotating the handles in the same direction as for drilling will cause the mechanism to rise up to the top of the supports, where the catch will then hold it.
At first I didn't understand why Millers Falls should go to such effort in having a system of gear wheels, racks and springs that allow the handles to withdraw the bit after drilling, when it seemed easier just to lift it by hand. Simon Wilson contacted me to explain:
"The reason that MF and several other manufacturers
went to all the trouble to make a boring machine
and the complex mechanism, was for the "automated"
cutting of morticing in timber framing. So the
auger is let down to the beam and the drive
engaged, the drill then bores to the depth stop
and then withdraws ready for the next hole. You
drill a series of these holes down the centre of
a 2" mortice and then all you have to do is clean
up the edges and corners to complete the mortice."
The boring machine enables the user to sit down on the beam having holes drilled in it. The weight of the mechanism would mean it would be difficult to lift it up the frame by hand from a sitting position. Even if the user were not sitting down they would have to change position to raise it. The rack and pinion system allows the mechanism to be raised easily without having to move position, stand up or risk back injury, and so increases the speed of morticing.
Closeup of the "disengagement":
A second Millers Falls boring machine but with an older style of catch. In this one how it works is more obvious as there is a separate device for disengaging the pinion gear wheel:
This is a handle used for holding large drill bits for turning by hand. It's not particularly interesting but it's made by Millers Falls too:
The inscription says:
Millers Fall Co.
Millers Falls. Mass. USA.
Simon Wilson for information about boring machines,
Richard Melville for information about Millers Falls].