Menushopping cart
Tools for Working Wood
Learn to Sharpen! 11/21 or 11/23

BEN The Build-It Blog

Brace Maintenance and Restoration, Part 1

10/17/2019 by Yoav Liberman

My Stanley No. 66-10 (02-660) is a modern (but out of production) brace of decent quality. Many of these braces are still available on ebay and in second hand stores
My Stanley No. 66-10 (02-660) is a modern (but out of production) brace of decent quality. Many of these braces are still available on ebay and in second hand stores

I own and routinely make use of a few bit braces (AKA cranked hand braces, hand brace, brace & bit). They vary in “Sweep” or crank span, brand name, and transmission/movement mechanisms.

In addition to this, in my school’s shop we have four bit braces which my students use occasionally. In the world of corded and cordless drills, owning and operating a manual brace may seem like a reactionary regression, a fad or just an uninformed and inefficient practice, especially when we have an army of energized electrons at our disposal that are happy to liberate us from manual labor. But the truth is that a brace has a legitimate place in the modern woodworking shop too. From enabling us to work quietly yet forcefully, to providing us with an unprecedented degree of precision. And here I literally mean a way to control the propulsion of the auger, and other drilling instruments, in fractional degrees of revolutions (half a turn, a quarter of a turn, etc) to allow us ultimate control on the borrowing progression and hole depth.

Teaching the use of a brace is also a great method for demonstrating to children the principle of a crank movement, moments and such. And for those of us who are fortunate enough to have a nostalgic strand coiled around our crafty sole, a brace is as paramount as a hand plane or a chisel.

Hand Braces are categorized mainly by their sweep. The wider the sweep, the longer the circumference that the crank’s handle has to travel in order to  produce one drilling revolution, which means slower drilling. A wide sweep has the advantage of providing a stronger moment (torque) which makes it possible to drill wide holes in hardwoods. In this case, as the Stanley No. 66-10’s crank orbits around the axis of the brace, it makes a circle measuring 10
Hand Braces are categorized mainly by their sweep. The wider the sweep, the longer the circumference that the crank’s handle has to travel in order to produce one drilling revolution, which means slower drilling. A wide sweep has the advantage of providing a stronger moment (torque) which makes it possible to drill wide holes in hardwoods. In this case, as the Stanley No. 66-10’s crank orbits around the axis of the brace, it makes a circle measuring 10" in diameter. Half the sweep, or the radius between the axis and the middle of the crank’s handle is in this case 5".


Millers Falls No. 33
Millers Falls No. 33

My small Millers Falls No. 33, with its rosewood (or cocobolo) handle & knob has a crank radius of 4
My small Millers Falls No. 33, with its rosewood (or cocobolo) handle & knob has a crank radius of 4". This kind of brace is also known as "Quick brace" since it is better suited for holding small diameter bits. Due to its smaller radius (a 4” radius produces an 8” sweep) it allows me to revolve the handle faster, and although it can’t develop high torque, it does excel in drilling narrow holes quicker. The handle orbit of this brace forms a circle of 8” in diameter.


As far as I know none of the braces in production today are equipped with a closed box ratchet - which is superior than the open box ratchet. The Stanley No. 66-10 (in the foreground) has an open box ratchet while the older Millers Falls No. 33 has a closed box ratchet. The old Millers Falls No. 33 has a metal cam ring to control the ratchet mechanism. The Newer Stanley No. 66-10 has a plastic ring. Obviously the steel ring is superior.
As far as I know none of the braces in production today are equipped with a closed box ratchet - which is superior than the open box ratchet. The Stanley No. 66-10 (in the foreground) has an open box ratchet while the older Millers Falls No. 33 has a closed box ratchet. The old Millers Falls No. 33 has a metal cam ring to control the ratchet mechanism. The Newer Stanley No. 66-10 has a plastic ring. Obviously the steel ring is superior.



The three braces on the right belong to my school, and are used by our students. The one on the left is a Stanley No. 2101A that I recently bought on ebay and intend to restore.
The three braces on the right belong to my school, and are used by our students. The one on the left is a Stanley No. 2101A that I recently bought on ebay and intend to restore.


Although cordless drills dominate the market, it is worth noting that new braces are still manufactured and are available for sale via many stores. But in my opinion, the best way to obtain a brace is via reputable online second hand stores, ebay and garage sales.

Depending on condition ranging from vintage and new in the box, to just used, to in need of restoration (the subject of this article) you can pay collector price, or pennies. Any vintage brace in good, or restored condition will work better than any currently in manufacture. Shopping on ebay can be a bit more risky than a tool dealer, but if you see a tool in good physical condition, or if you are willing to spend a bit more on a brace from a reputable dealer, you will very likely get a fine tool. Vintage braces were made in the millions for professionals and since there are so many of them still around, it will not be before long that you’ll find a good one.

The Stanley No.66 has a two-jaw chuck to accommodate the elongated trapezoid tang of generic auger bits
The Stanley No.66 has a two-jaw chuck to accommodate the elongated trapezoid tang of generic auger bits


With the recent debut of Gramercy Tool Spoon bits (I tested and wrote about them in my Popular woodworking blog last spring) and with the growing popularity of hand tool woodworking practices in general, I decided to carve out some blogging space and share with you a few tips that will assist you in maintaining and refurbishing the heritage braces that you may already own, and give you some indications on what to look for when buying a second (or even new) hand braces that you may see in flea markets and garage sales.

These recently released high quality spoon bit from Gramercy Tools are some formidable boring tools that can excel in both green and kiln dried wood.
These recently released high quality spoon bit from Gramercy Tools are some formidable boring tools that can excel in both green and kiln dried wood.


Through a series of test cases I will teach you how to identify braces that are worthy of your restoration attention, versus the one that will require much more work or even the attention of a specialized machinists, which you may decide to just pass on.

Next time we will begin our journey and dive into more details, so stay tuned.
Join the conversation
10/17/2019 Bill Beardsley
Love your articles! Much information explained in an easy to understand format but what really sells it is you are obviously doing more with less - you are refurbishing or repairing or building without expensive nor modern equipment! Thanks for educating and sharing and entertaining!
10/17/2019 Michael H
Thanks for this post. I look forward to learning more. I was recently given my first brace, which I like, but whenever I back it out the chuck loosens up. I haven't been able to figure out why.
10/17/2019 Jeff Jump
I have a brace, I look forward to learning how to maintain this tool.
10/18/2019 Yoav Liberman
Hi Bill Beardsley, Thanks for your kind words.
Yoav
10/18/2019 Yoav Liberman
Michael H,
What you describe can be a result of a worn out jaws, some issues with the chuck shell (the knurled cylinder that tightens the jaws) or perhaps gunk in the chuck that prevents it from reaching its full tightening potential. I would start with cleaning the jaws, and the threads of the shell and those on the chuck. Then put some light grease on the threads and tighten the bit again. See if it helps, and do let us know..
Yoav
Name:
Email (will not be published):
Website (optional):
Please enter your comment (HTML is not allowed):
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
Subscribe
JOEL Joel's Blog
BREN Video Roundup
EVT Classes & Events
BEN Built-It Blog
WORK Work Magazine
Recent Blogs:
BENBrace Maintenance and Restoration, Part 3 - 11/14/2019
BENBrace Maintenance and Restoration, Part 2 - 10/31/2019
BENBrace Maintenance and Restoration, Part 1 - 10/17/2019
BENRust Removal - The War That Never Ends - Part 2 - 09/19/2019
BENRust Removal - The War That Never Ends - 09/05/2019
BENMarching On - 11/30/2011
BENBrooklyn Guild - 11/07/2011
BENWorking Hard? or Hardly Woodworking in America - 10/06/2011
BENPatterns - 10/02/2011
BENIt is Humid? Or is this book in French - 09/20/2011
BENIs it Humid? or is it just me... - 09/06/2011
BENKing Kong and the Gramercy Custom Shop - 08/04/2011
BENReal (small) Shop, Real (small) Antlers - 06/30/2011
BENPuerto Rico Day Planing - 06/15/2011
BENGandalf Part 2: Trickery - 06/01/2011
BENGandalf Part 1: Joinery - 05/25/2011
BENKaraoke Dovetails - 05/13/2011
BENRedemption and Vice - 04/25/2011
BENWax On Wax Off - 04/11/2011
BENSpring is Always a Little Chile - 03/21/2011
Older Entries...