Brace & Bit

Brace & Bit Keyframe

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Paul has enjoyed using the traditional brace with a variety of different interchangeable bits for over 50 years and they work exceptionally well in a wide range of situations. Many times we reach for electric drills and battery-driven drill drivers that can seem easy, but at the same time might well endanger the workpiece. Other times we have larger holes to drill that can cause strain to the drill and to the workpiece, whereas the brace and bit might well be the perfect solution. In Paul’s world it’s not an either-or, but a place for both.

47 Comments

  1. Richard C on 1 August 2019 at 10:45 am

    I’ve just made myself a workbench (along the lines of the ‘Moravian’ one) with a 2″/50mm beech top. the only tool that would make the dog holes properly was my trusty brace and bit: it makes a cleaner cut and it isn’t hard to cut the hole plumb and square, because, as Paul points out, it runs at a human pace

    my brace is identical to Paul’s, but doesn’t have a maker’s mark that I can see. is yours a Stanley?

  2. Stellmacher on 1 August 2019 at 11:12 am

    Are there any company in the world wich produce the drill bits, nowadays?
    I earn some old ones from my gerat grand father, but some of them are in bad conditions and they are not sharpeable.

  3. Ken Dalgleish on 1 August 2019 at 11:29 am

    Braces are fabulous much under appreciated hand tools. Powerful, versatile, easy, silent and fun to use.

    I do like a non ratchet brace. Lighter and (when you buy on ebay) a little less likely to be broken.

    Because it was the most useful size a 10″ (5″ swing in the US) is the most common. Rather like the No4 plane.

    For bigger deeper holes in harder woods a 12″ (6″ swing) is significantly easier to turn. Even larger sizes were made but are quite rare and, unless you have very long arms, perhaps a little awkward to handle. Braces, though, are so cheap on ebay you can buy as many different sizes and styles as you want.

    Besides screw drivers braces can be used to turn sockets or big allen heads and I’ve found them the easiest way to set threaded inserts nice and square – an awkward job with most other tools.

    I also find a brace better than any other hand tool when you really need to drill a perpendicular hole. Probably because they are long and you can sight down it like a rifle. You can place a square next to the bit for guidance. For me that works best when the workpiece is at knee level and I drill down from above holding the pad under my chin. It’s the closest you’ll get to pillar drill accuracy without having a pillar drill.

  4. Manú manú on 1 August 2019 at 11:32 am

    Hi mister Paul!
    Just wanted to let you know that with your sharing sir, you have been helping me a lot! In the last few years I have turning my self in to a maker, “wood worker”… And learning immensely with you! For me, what you say is low and I try to figure it out and obey! 😀
    dear sir. I’m not a religious person! But Amen to you sir!
    Thank you very very much!
    Manú

  5. George Newlands on 1 August 2019 at 11:53 am

    I still have my dad’s old ratchet brace. It must be at least 80 years old. One adaptation I have made is that I use a keyless chuck made as an adapter for an SDS power drill. It is held snugly in the brace chuck and runs true on the axis of the brace. It adds about 3” to the length but it allows me to use anything from a 2 mm twist drill to a hex shank spade or augur bit as well as screwdriver bits etc.

  6. Ecky H on 1 August 2019 at 11:57 am

    Very nice video and a plea for the trusty brace. Thank you for that.

    There are some points I’d like to amend:
    The thread at the tip of the bit in most cases is too small to pull the bit through the wood. Usually the thread will rip off the matching threads within the wood. So we have to support that thread by give gently some pushing force at the knob.

    By pressing the knob eg. against the belly gives not only the supportive force, but also allows to keep the direction of the bore.

    If it’s necessary to bore vertically eg. when sitting on a saw bench, then it’s worth a try to lay the forehead on the hand which pushes down the knob – regarding to the previous point.

    As far as I know, there’s only one manufacturer for drill bits with square taper shank: https://www.fisch-tools.com/en/produkte/0033-jennings-pattern-auger-bit
    The bits are available in imperial measurements (roughly 35€ per bit at Fine Tools).

    E.

  7. Ed Minch on 1 August 2019 at 12:14 pm

    Old brace bits are probably the most common vintage tool you run across at flea markets and garage sales. Learn to identify one that is in good shape or can be made so. I sell them 3/$1 at tool swaps (unless of a rare type or maker). Good sets are all over, but go for big $$ and you don’t need some of the sizes anyway – just collect single ones as you find them. Always buy a phillips bit with the square tang when you find one – they are quite scarce

  8. Tim Walsh on 1 August 2019 at 12:20 pm

    As usual excellent Paul.
    I have a collection of bits that do not have the side cutting blades in the region of the snail.
    I have never seen you use one of these, do you use these.
    My basic research suggests there are 2 types, one for softwood and the other for hardwood, is this basically correct?
    Thanks again
    Tim from Australia.

  9. Simon Richardson on 1 August 2019 at 12:33 pm

    Paul,
    Very pleased to see an article on the brace & bit. I was introduced to these by my father in the late ‘50s and have always had them (including dad’s now).
    Two things; The screwdriver bit you called unusual, was very common once and is without doubt the most powerful screwdriver there is, useful for pulling timber down hard or removing those rusted in 12s in your Victorian door hinges.This is the tool of last resort when nothing else will do it, the only down side is these rely on properly made screws !
    You missed out the most useful bit; The adjustable bit, I have a couple of these that are always around and others in a drawer somewhere, if sharp they cut a magnificently clean hole. I use both sizes and can cut a hole from 1/2” to 3” beautifully, I also have one which will fit in an extension bar so your depth is up to you ( I’ve never gone further than 20” like this !!)
    And never forget the side brace and the three jaw chuck.
    Next week “The Yankee Screwdriver” ??

  10. Nicholas Russon on 1 August 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Lee Valley sells a couple of useful accessories for the square-jaw brace: a 1/4″ hex driver (which you can use for many of the modern screw types beyond slotted and Phillips) and a 3/8″ socket driver (so you can use 3/8″ sockets, which can be very useful for larger bolts). I don’t have a full set of auger bits, but these two accessories mean I still get regular use from my antique brace.

  11. Bob Blarney on 1 August 2019 at 2:23 pm

    Most points have been covered, but here’s an old tip: When boring horizontally, it’s not difficult to maintain perpendicularity side-to-side, but starting & keeping the bit level may be more difficult. So place a large washer on the shank of the drill – it will provide a visual indicator that the bit is level when it does not slide up or down the shank.

    • Eric Lundholm on 1 August 2019 at 11:29 pm

      a ring works also and may keep you from taking the time to dig for a washer. good point.

  12. Zimmermann Franz on 1 August 2019 at 3:18 pm

    Hallo Paul, fully understand and agree with your comments, unfortunately i didn t find bits and brace for metric drills fitting to the brace, when i tried with ebay. do you have a helpful advice? thanks Franz

  13. Kermit Chamberlin on 1 August 2019 at 3:26 pm

    I have two Yankee/Stanley braces (8” and 10”) that I’ll never part with. They get used a lot. When I was working building and repairing traditional wooden boats, they were essential for removing and driving the large screws used. I have drivers that use the disposable/changeable hex bits so that I can do virtually any screw. I particulartly like using square drive marine bronze screws and driving them with a brace. I have so many other brace accessories including two complete sets of auger bits that are about 100 years old; my grandfathers used them. I even have an adjustable round tenon cutter that one grandfather used to make tenons on wagon spokes! I cannot imagine not having at least one brace.

  14. Thomas Kent on 1 August 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Paul, thank you for yet another wonderful video. Is your 1/4″ Hex Bit adapter from Lee Valley? This is the only commercially available adapter for this use I have managed to find. I am wondering if there are alternatives out there. (LV currently don’t sell it online)

  15. wadepatton on 1 August 2019 at 9:09 pm

    Braces are dime a dozen, vintage around here. BUT good bits you have to hunt around for. I’ve been collecting for some time. I’ve blew some minds with my bit sharpening not too long ago-made the work they’d been doing 10x faster and easier.

    Shopping for an adapter to the modern stuff-brilliant. Shipwrights use the flat bit in a brace for great control over large screws. Spoon bits I don’t have yet, but will get.

  16. Eric Lundholm on 1 August 2019 at 11:34 pm

    I purchased mine at a pawn shop 25 years ago, I had to put in a gate that was 50 yards from my house. it was either buy a half inch drill driver and a large bit and carry the 6x6s to the house and back or use the brace and bit from the pawn shop. Being broke, I purchased the brace and bit and was amazed at the speed of use. would have take me longer to find the extension cord, than it did to bore those holes. thanks for the great vlog.

  17. Ross Hollinger on 2 August 2019 at 2:59 am

    Succinctly, I love mine.

  18. Eric Coyle on 2 August 2019 at 3:59 am

    Oh Paul…great introduction to brace and bits,, but you’ve barely touched the diversity of bit stock tools., of which you are well aware….?future program? Brace and bits are stock in my truck, wouldn’t be without em.

    Eric

  19. James Carter on 2 August 2019 at 6:42 am

    The snell on my Russel Jennings set has fine thread, however they still function well.

  20. Derek Cohen on 2 August 2019 at 8:29 am

    Paul, braces are wonderful tools. Their torque for large holes is greater than most cordless drills.

    A tip for all: I work predominantly with very hard Australian woods. These can prove a challenge for the bits. Generally, the amount of downforce on the thread needed increases and cutting becomes too difficult. There is a way around this: drill a pilot hole (say 1/8″) first – you can do this with a brace or cordless drill. This tiny hole reduces most of the work that the thread needs to do, and cutting wide holes is now a relatively easy process. This applies to both coarse and fine threads.

    Regards from Perth, Australia

    Derek Cohen

    • Tracy Mitchell on 10 August 2019 at 5:31 am

      Derek, that’s a great tip I would also like to give a shout out to you. Over many years I have read helpful post from the gentleman in Perth.

  21. Lex Boegen on 2 August 2019 at 10:01 pm

    I have my father’s old brace, and also a couple of his Yankee push-drills. Hand tools like that can be used for decades, generations, and centuries. No battery-powered tool will match that. They are obsolete in a decade or two at most. If you can’t get replacement batteries, then they are paper weights. I really enjoy the “connection” I feel when I use an antique tool. It’s a pleasure that no electrical powered tool can generate.

  22. Bob Blarney on 3 August 2019 at 1:30 pm

    Oddly enough, yesterday my neighbor discarded both a Stanley and a Millers Falls brace in perfect condition, along with a reamer bit and several countersink bits. The braces are somewhat better quality than the two no-name braces that I already have, so I’ll pass the no-names along to a newcomer. But there is one countersink that I’ll not part with – it’s a single flute bit that cuts very smoothly, unlike the multi-flute countersinks.

    Also, I see that Dieter Schmidt sells several bit adapters at very reasonable prices.

  23. Robert Hall on 3 August 2019 at 7:50 pm

    As always, a brilliant demonstration of tried and tested technology. Just last week I was using an impact driver to drive four long screws into oak, with suitably prepared pilot holes. The fourth screw jammed and the Pozidrive screw head ‘cammed’ out. The drill-driver couldn’t engage with the screw, in or out. But placing a driver-bit into my old brace enabled me to get a grip on the screw and carefully, slowly, withdraw it. The screw shank had been bent by the impact driver. A new screw went in beautifully with the brace! So often the old ways are the best.

  24. Florian on 4 August 2019 at 8:30 pm

    I have two identical old drills with the ratchet function and use them a lot but always thought it would be nice to have one without ratchet as well. Thanks to this video, Paul, I will jump in the workshop now and see if the “in-between-position” also exists on my old german ones! Thank you 🙂

    Regarding the bits: you don’t need the vintage bits, the contemporary snail bits with the hexagonal shaft also work very nicely (at least with my braces). I bought an inexpensive metric set at fine-tools about five years ago and am very happy with the result.

    • Florian on 4 August 2019 at 9:02 pm

      No-ratchet-position found! That made my day. Thanks again.

      One addition. You said that putting the workpiece flat in the vice would not be very common for boring.
      With my bits let’s say from 3/4″ up I have to bore a workpiece this narrow flat in the vise because the lead screw would otherwise split the piece. Is it possible that the old bits have finer screws?

  25. Albert van Hulzen on 7 August 2019 at 9:29 pm

    Has anyone experienced a noticable difference between different pattern bits? Paul uses a solid core bit in the video and shows a big Jennings pattern bit in the tool roll on the right.

  26. Richard 1941 on 8 August 2019 at 5:30 am

    I have my father’s brace and some bits, including a flat screwdriver. Anybody know where I can get Philipps screwdriver bits? That is what you need when you want a LOT of torque on a difficult screw.

  27. John Carruthers on 17 August 2019 at 12:59 pm

    I can find plenty of modern auger bits with round shanks but few with tapered square shanks.
    I pick them up at boot fairs for pennies whenever I see them.
    My old wooden brace has only a tapered socket with a spring clip, no shell or chuck arrangement so I need square shanked bits.

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