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Friday, 1 July 2016

The Humble Gimlet

Gimlet is a lovely word, it comes from the French 'guinbelet' and refers to a small, very simple type of hand drill that was ubiquitous up until the invention of the lip and spur

The French got the word from the Dutch 'Wimmel' meaning auger, which despite the best civilising efforts of 'le bourgoise' also survived intact in colloquial French and was brought over by the invading Normans to become 'Wimble' - a common generic term in old English for any type of drill.

It is appropriate then, that our new 7 piece sets of crisp, sharp classically formed gimlets are made by a small company in France. I had used old ones before and they still did a reasonable job, but the difference when you try one that is new and sharp is nothing short of remarkable.

The gimlet has survived, virtually unaltered for a thousand years, thanks to its usefulness for preparing fixing holes at the ends of boards. Having planed your boards true, the last thing you want to do is split them near the ends when you drive a nail or screw. In good air dried timber a gimlet will cut a beautifully formed hole anything up to one and a half times its own diameter from the end of a board. The conical shape of the hole allows screws to engage fully, or if you prefer you can clamp on a sacrificial backing board and carry on drilling for a clean, parallel sided, through hole.

I don't expect these to catch on with the power tool crowd, but if your heart is set on working unplugged they are something of a necessity. 


  1. The cool thing about the open wire handles is that once the threads have a bite, you can use a dowel or screwdriver into it to spin them.

  2. Hi Matthew,
    Looks good. Here's a modification to gimlets that I've been using for a few years that has helped their performance a lot:


    1. Thanks Rob, tried it, loved it! I will pass on your suggestion to the manufacturers - who knows, perhaps the double self tapping gimlet will become one of our generation's legacies to the woodworkers of the future.

      All the best,


  3. I have never seen the word "guinbelet". Anyway, nowadays, this tool is called "vrille" in French. I think they are particularly adapted for screw holes if you use tapered screws.