Macho Drill Doctor is a bit of a winner

As Seen On TV

Your Money

May 02, 2004|By Matthew Kauffman

Women make up the great majority of television shoppers, and that is reflected in the steady rotation of clothing, jewelry and beauty products sold through infomercials and on home-shopping channels.

But that doesn't mean there isn't room for a little testosterone. Several years ago, toolmakers began taking to the airwaves, pitching specialty hand and power tools in what became powerful evidence that men, too, could be reached through direct-response television.

In that brigade of macho tools, one of the best selling has been the Drill Doctor, an unlikely mass-market hit designed to solve a problem you might not know you had: those dull and broken drill bits scattered about the workshop?

I don't know how many of us have heavy-use workshops, and I confess that I usually lose drill bits long before I wear them out. So what explains the Drill Doctor's big sales numbers? Is it just slick marketing?

The original Drill Doctor infomercial did win industry awards. But there's something else at work here. I have good news for those who have been waiting for a favorable review: This product delivers.

The Drill Doctor works exactly as advertised, sharpening dull or broken drill bits quickly, precisely and effortlessly. The instructions are clear, and a videotape does a good job explaining each step in the simple process.

I'm impressed, even as I find myself wondering why there's such a big market for a product like this. The basic Drill Doctor I tested, the Handyman 250, retails for $100 and is widely available for about $80 online and at hardware stores. With drill bits costing just a buck or two, that's a lot of sharpening for a weekend warrior hoping to recoup the cost.

The Drill Doctor, therefore, makes the most sense for professional craftsmen and serious amateurs, whose expensive drill bits are likely to face a punishing workout. But even occasional woodworkers are likely to enjoy the convenience of the Drill Doctor. And for many, saving even one wasteful trip to the hardware store when a bit breaks right in the middle of a project would probably justify the cost.

And it makes a really cool grinding sound.

Traditionally, drill bits have been sharpened on a bench grinder. But unlike chisels, which require a simple flat edge, drill bits require a sloping face to cut properly. Getting just the right twisting and rocking motion to sharpen a bit on a grinder is an acquired skill that I surely don't have.

The Drill Doctor uses a cam that perfectly matches the correct rotate-and-swivel movement needed to sharpen a bit properly. And that, by the way, is where the cool grinding sound comes in, as the diamond wheel removes a tiny layer of metal with each twist.

The Drill Doctor is smartly designed and easy to use. The drill bit is held in an oversized chuck; an alignment procedure makes sure it's positioned properly and then placed in the sharpening hole, which houses the diamond grinding wheel. The chuck is then turned by hand in a series of half-turns, during which a cam on the chuck ensures that the drill bit is in the right position as it makes each pass over the wheel.

After three or four turns - more for larger sizes - the bits look brand new.

I messed up the alignment on one early attempt, leaving a clearly mis-sharpened bit. But even there, I was able to rescue it by putting it back into the Drill Doctor for a new round of sharpening.

The Drill Doctor works with traditional standard-point drill bits, masonry bits and split-point bits, but it can't handle brad-point, auger or spade bits. The Drill Doctor can sharpen bits as small as 3/32 of an inch. But it is more difficult to use with smaller bits, which is a shame, as those are the most likely to break and the cheapest to replace.

I've tested my share of clunkers in this space, but with the Drill Doctor, I found myself rummaging around the basement looking for more drill bits to revive. It might not be a tool for everyone, but if you take your woodworking and metalworking seriously, the Drill Doctor is one sharp operator.

Matthew Kauffman is a columnist for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail him at yourmoney@tribune.com. For a detailed review of the Drill Doctor and other products, log onto www. ctnow.com/ontv.

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