The Parser Drill

May 18 2018 0 Comments

  Posted by Gaston Monge-Grassi 18th of May 2018

Have you ever wondered where are those brass inlays you find in old wooden squares or knife handles coming from or how they were made in the old days when craftsmen didn't have access to a Dremel tool or a CNC machine?

Before these tools there was the "Parser Drill"

It consists of four main pieces:

  • The breastplate
  • The parsers
  • The Fiddlestick or bow
  • The steel templates

          Image via WKFineTools

This tool is able to drill a hole in just about any shape, the parser drill is a perfect example of the peculiar ingenuity of craftspeople from the past. This tool allowed a variety of shapes to be routed out of wood, bone, or ivory with precise repeatability.

To use the parser, the leather strap of the bow is twisted around the wooden bobbin and the point on the back of the parser is inserted into the breastplate. Then the template is clamped to the material, and the cutting bits of the parser’s legs are inserted into the template. By leaning against the parser and moving the bow back and forth, the bits would spin around inside the template and cut into the material. Since the tip of the parser is split, the cutting bits spring against the inside edges of the template, carving the exact shape into the material.

               Image via WKFineTools

Unfortunately, it seems that this tool is now more likely to be found in a museum than in a workshop. Even if you did want one, will be nearly impossible to find one for sale, but they are simple and you could make your own!

Peter McBride, made his own parser drill on his website, from an old industrial hacksaw blade. He also goes a step further and shares a method for punching the shapes to be inlayed out of metal, rather than cutting each one individually. With these methods for rapidly making both the metal inlay and the routed hole, you can imagine how the craftspeople of the past turned out consistent and beautiful work without a CNC machine or even a single powered tool.

Check out the video below with Roy Underhill to see how it works.


Parser drills, are also called passer drill, two-legged parser, shielding parser, or a bifurcated bit drill.

Here is another link to an episode of the Woodright's shop with Roy using the drill to fit brass diamond shape inlays. He starts using the tool on minute 19:00 of the video in case you don't want to watch the whole episode.



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