When I was growing up, my dad’s toolbox was, quite literally, a chest of wonders. The progress of my early education as a maker can be charted through its many compartments and drawers. When Dad first turned me loose with it (to his great credit as a parent and great chagrin as a craftsman), almost every object was a mystery, a lesson waiting to be learned.
Now, I look through that toolbox with much the same emotions as an old school yearbook: Here are many memories—a few bitter, but mostly sweet—and a cast of familiar faces. There have been additions, of course, over the decades, and a few subtractions (too many of them due to my own childish carelessness), but by and large it’s the same old crowd from the neighborhood: the eclectic mix of screwdrivers, the quirky Sears miter box, the hand-me-down tractor tools, the Chevrolet factory upholsterer’s awl we found walled up behind the panelling of our ’78 station wagon.
And, of course, the Easydriver.
The essence of the Easydriver system is the ratcheting handle, a Lexan ball 2 3/8″ in diameter, with ridges around the equator to improve grip. One hemisphere is translucent red, the other opaque black. The shape and colors are appealing on an intuitive, child-like level, and naturally drew my attention from a very young age.
Though it was available with a range of accessories, I remember ours having only one: a 5 1/2″ long round driver shaft, 3/8″ in diameter, with a hex bit socket at one end and an inch-long squared-off section, about 5/16″ on a side, at the other. The shaft mounts securely in the handle without detents or other moving parts, held in place only by friction over this large surface area, kind of like a lathe tailstock.
The ratchet, itself, is sealed inside the ball, and only turns in one direction. Instead of complicating things with a reversible mechanism, the Easydriver opts for the KISS solution: to switch directions, you just reverse the handle on the shaft. The square drive channel passes all the way through the ball, and the same ratchet that tightens screws when the tool is mounted in the red side loosens them when it’s mounted in the black.
The Easydriver is not the first ratcheting tool to use this trick, but it is, to my knowledge, the first to combine it with a spherical handle. This shape is comfortable, intuitive, and delightful to use, whether you’re operating or reversing the ratchet. The large turn radius provides lots of torque, and allows for a very satisfying “high resolution” ratcheting action. Compared to the lower-frequency sound of your average socket wrench, the Easydriver ratchets with a much higher tone that’s almost musical—more a chirp than a croak.
The original Easydriver patent (US3742787) issued July 3, 1973, to Creative Tools, Inc. (of Bennington, VT), assignee of inventor Carlton L. Whiteford (of Westport, CT). Magazine ads for the system began appearing in late 1976 in Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Field & Stream, and even The New Yorker, with a return address in Londonderry, VT under the name “White Products.” Ads continued, at least in some of these publications, as late as November 1983, by which time they carried a Chicago address under the name “Dimensions Unlimited, Inc.”
Unfortunately, new Easydrivers have not been for sale for some time. If you want one today, your best bet is to stalk eBay for awhile, though they tend to get snatched up pretty quickly and the search process is now slightly complicated by Brian Schmalz’s open source EasyDriver stepper motor driver board, which bears the same name. A few years back, an effort to bring the Easydriver back to market surfaced on the web at Easydrivertool.com, but the site isn’t currently working and doesn’t appear to have been maintained for some time. I’d be glad to have more information about this effort from anyone who knows.
Admittedly, there are lots of ratcheting screwdrivers in the world. Especially nowadays. But I love the Easydriver, and I suspect I always will, and not just for the warm glow of nostalgia the one from Dad’s toolbox evokes for me. The Easydriver, IMHO, is a classic of modern industrial design. It belongs in a nice coffee table book, somewhere, alongside the original Macintosh and the Aeron office chair. It has that perfect, minimal balance of form, function, and user-friendliness that makes for a truly great product.