Grandpa's Little Farm in Tacoma, Washington

Grandpa's Little Farm

Reconditioned and Custom Hand Made
Woodworking Tools
in Tacoma, Washington


HOME



About Us
      Privacy Policy
      Return & Refund Policy
      Shipping & Delivery Policy

** ONLINE STORE **

Informational Pages
      Apparel
      Braces
      Drill Bits & Files
      Drill Boxes
      Introduction to Chisels
            Metric Conversion Chart
      Plane Offering
      Reconditioned Hand Tools
      Saws
      Stanley No. 59 Doweling Jig

Tutorials
      Drill Rolls
      Intro Woodworking Course

Online Publications
      Carving a Plane Tote

What's New

Gallery

Links & Resources

Nubian Dairy Goats


BUYING YOUR FIRST
HAND (OR AUGER) BRACE

For the most part at Grandpas Little Farm, we sell what is often called the, "American Style" hand braces. The big exception to this is Spofford braces. We also hope to be offering German Gents braces sometime down the road.....So what does all this mean?! To clarify, it might be better to start off by covering a bit of the technology and history of hand braces. This way you will have a better idea of what to look for when selecting either your first brace, or what to add when upgrading your collection.

IN THE BEGINNING: It's really hard to say when cranked hand braces first came on the scene. Shop-made versions appeared as early as the 18th Century. In fact, there are pictures of braces dating as early as the 15th Century. Generally, however, simpler "T" handles were used with bits very much like the auger bits we use today. Two things were notable about cranked braces. First there was the advantage of leverage and speed gained by the use of the revolving crank. Also notable were the various methods these braces used to secure different size bits securely to the same brace.

Somewhere during the mid-19th Century, cranked brace development began on several fronts. The "Scottish pattern" used a spring-loaded lever to secure bits into the chuck. English "Sheffield" or "Ultimatum" style braces were known for their sheer beauty, using hardwood and brass in their construction. German "Gents" braces were much lighter duty, but also notable for their elegantly turned heads.

The American brace probably got its start with the Millers Falls Company. Initially, they adapted a non-ratchetting Barbar Bell chuck, then they went on to incorporate a ratcheting mechanism. The Barbar chuck secures the bit by squeezing two jaws around the elongated trapezoidal tang of the bit, while the ratcheting system allows change of direction as well as short crank throws. This latter feature allows the user to work in tight places or gain leverage when boring difficult holes.

A Millers Falls 10-inch No. 732.  Notice the double ring on the Barbar bell?  At first glance you might mistake this for a Stanley No. 923!
A Millers Falls 10-inch No. 732. Notice the double ring on the Barbar bell? At first glance you might mistake this for a Stanley No. 923!

THE AMERICAN BRACE-ENGINEERING: It might be a good idea to first cover the anatomy of a crank brace.

It doesn't take much to realize an American brace is more complex than it first appears! Not only were these used for boring wood, even machinists and fabricators used them.
It doesn't take much to realize an American brace is more complex than it first appears! Not only were these used for boring wood, even machinists and fabricators used them.

There are some features that should be mentioned here:

The "Throw"; The throw of a brace is the diameter the handle turns around the axis of the chuck-head. The braces pictured above happen to be 10-inch throw braces, the most commonly used. If you measure between the midpoint of the crank handle to the midpoint of the chuck-head axis on either of these braces, it would be 5 inches, or the radius of a circle the handle would make. The diameter would be the throw. The smaller the throw, the faster a brace can turn, while larger throw braces offer better leverage for prolonged deep holes. When getting started, it's best to go with a 10-inch brace as your first one. An 8-inch or even 6-inch, if you can find it, can come later for quick jobs, such as running screws. If you happen to be a small person or plan to drive multiple deep holes (For example, drilling bench dog holes) then you might consider a larger brace, such as a 12-inch.

Open vs. Closed Boxes: Inexpensive braces generally have open boxes. This has led to the assumption that all open boxed braces are cheaply made. This is not true. Some people argue that a closed box stands up to the elements better, but here again, the enclosed space often holds moisture. A closed box brace does tend to operate a bit more quietly. Other than this, there really seems to be no difference between open vs. closed braces if you are working with a professional model in an indoor shop setting.

This is an open box Stanley No. 945.  They do not sell as well as closed box models such as the 923 or 813, but they are every bit as good a tool for the shop.  Apparently, this style was popular with electricians....
This is an open box Stanley No. 945. They do not sell as well as closed box models such as the 923 or 813, but they are every bit as good a tool for the shop. Apparently, this style was popular with electricians....

Plastic vs Wood: Keep in mind that auger braces were the "cordless drill" of the day right into the mid 1980's. This meant professional quality braces evolved throughout this time. It was natural that resins and quality impact plastics would replace more expensive and time-consuming wood on heads and crank handles. This causes a bit of a problem nowadays. Crafts-persons want the look and feel of wood on their tools, but high-end plastic is fine for such tools. This means the newer tools in better overall shape just aren't in the same demand as the older versions.

The wood used in the older tools happened to most often be rosewood, or sometimes cocobolo. One of the many projects we are working on is to convert the newer tools to wood grips. It is completely do-able, but time consuming and will unfortunately increase the price of these "upgraded" models. Hopefully once our backlogs have been filled, we can turn out a few prototypes and see if this is a feasible thing to do.

This is a good example of either a late 923 or Bell Systems-B (They were identical at one point) Many people simply cannot deal with the black resin, even though the metal work can be brought back to like new..... Would you believe this particular brace was in rough condition when this picture was taken!
This is a good example of either a late 923 or Bell Systems-B (They were identical at one point) Many people simply cannot deal with the black resin, even though the metal work can be brought back to like new..... Would you believe this particular brace was in rough condition when this picture was taken!

Brand Names: There are a lot of very good braces on the market today. At the Farm we offer primarily later Stanley, Millers Falls and Craftsman (which were usually made by Millers Falls) We do this for practical reasons and does not mean other braces are not as good as these. Why do we stay with these major brands and models? Read on....

When batteries and slip clutches on chucks became more dependable, the auger brace went the way of the eight-track tape! They suddenly disappeared from shelves to be replaced by battery operated cordless drills......But they were still around, and still are. The problem is that parts are no longer available. We decided to stay with the braces that were popular and plentiful at the very end. Good examples can be found that take little effort to recondition. Examples that have been damaged or were worn out even have value as donors for replacement parts. Some of these parts can actually be used in other brands, but for the most part, we are able to offer dependable tools that can be repaired.

This formula works pretty well for us since most of our customers looking for braces are searching for a tool that works well right out of the box. We aim to assure it works at least as well as the day it was made and will make you as proud as that new Veritas plane next to it in your tool box!

So, what if you inherited an old campaigner from your Grandpa that has seen better days? Check in with us. We spend a lot of time helping DIY'ers fix tools for themselves or doing it for them.

So, What Do We Look For? When we get a new brace in, the first question we ask is can it be repaired? A brace with pitting rust or missing essential parts can be stripped down for the parts bin. Nothing is wasted! Once past this step, we give the brace a once-over from end to end. Here's what we look for:

~What shape is the head in? Is the wooden knob missing or too far gone? Does the quill have an oil port? Is there a bearing race at the junction of the frame? If so, are bearings missing? Has the retainer collar slipped too far forward? Some of these issues can be fixed easily, but sometimes it just isn't worth the trouble. Each tool is looked at individually.

~What shape is the frame in? Can it be cleaned up and polished? Is there pitting rust? Is there deformation? If the nickel or chrome plating is buffed on a rouge wheel, otherwise it is removed, and the bare steel is polished.

~How about the crank handle? Is it missing? Is there too much damage? These handles are put on before the frame is bent into shape. They can be replaced, but it's a pretty complicated process to do so. Here again, each brace is looked at on an individual basis.

~Now we look at the cam ring. This is probably the Achilles heel of a brace. I've never seen one worn or damaged too badly, but if such a problem came along, the brace would not be worth fixing.

~What shape are the box, pawls and chuck shaft in? The shaft is often frozen in old braces that have sat around, but this is most often just old grease and can be loosened up with some solvent.

NOTE: To pull apart an open box brace, a shear pin needs to be driven out of the pawl sprocket. If everything is working properly here, it's really a good idea just to leave this alone. Replacing the pin can be tricky and take some grinding to get everything working properly again.

Pulling the pawls can be done, but it takes practice. There's a compression spring between the two pawls. It has to be replaced pretty much blind and the pawls will not work if this is not done right. Here again, if it works, best to leave it alone.
Open boxes respond well to a bit of 30W oil. A closed box can be greased which offers a smoother and quieter action. In either case, cleaning and lubricating is all you really need to do.

~Now look at the Barbar bell chuck, jaws and springs. Pay attention to the condition of the jaws. A lot of stress goes through these. If the jaws are damaged, it's best to just replace them.

NOTE: Several complicated chuck designs were offered. Some of these include the Lion and the Sampson chuck. These have more moving parts with bearings, so be careful about choosing one of these if you are not mechanically minded.

This is a 2101 chuck.  It is not as simple as it looks!
This is a 2101 chuck. It is not as simple as it looks!

The Venerable 2101: In 1939 a small company, North Brothers, produced a brace for Pacific Northwest Bell. North Brothers went on to become Yankee Tools, which was later bought out by Stanley. The brace, the No. 2101, was manufactured throughout this entire time. In was a phenomenal tool. It was so well made that it was copied by both the Japanese and Russians after WWII. It has been called "The Mercedes of braces", but I'd argue that it is more like the "Citroen of braces". It is certainly a well-made tool, but it is also engineered in such a weird manner, that it can be more problematic than it is worth. Here's a bit of a history lesson about the 2101 (AKA: "North Brothers" or "Ma Bell"}

The Bell Company at this time pretty much provided everything to the customer. Telephones were essentially leased. They would be taken back and rebuilt. This was the philosophy of the time. The same went for the tools, and one of the most commonly used was a brace. The 2101 could be completely stripped down and rebuilt with new parts, but to do this, it took a factory trained technician with access to all the needed replacement parts. A few of us have taken the time to tear a few of these old braces apart and stashed away parts, but the old infrastructure that made these braces legendary just does not exist anymore.

This is a Sampson chuck.  Lion and Sampson chucks are similar and designed to revolve in the user's hand.  They tend to also add heft to the end of the frame.  Both of these styles tend to have loyal followings.  Generally, the Sampson chuck is found on Millers Falls braces.
This is a Sampson chuck. Lion and Sampson chucks are similar and designed to revolve in the user's hand. They tend to also add heft to the end of the frame. Both of these styles tend to have loyal followings. Generally, the Sampson chuck is found on Millers Falls braces!

Some say the 2101 chuck is bomb proof. In some respects, they are right. The darn thing is almost impossible to take apart and need special replacement parts! If you are looking for something like this, consider that the Sampson and Lion chucks both use standard off the shelf bearings and the other parts do not tend to break or wear. Also, neither chuck requires special tools when breaking them down.

Reconditioning the Braces: I've talked about what we look for when we take in a brace. Reconditioning them pretty much follows along the same lines. Here is what a brace goes through before it goes up for sale:

~Breakdown: This varies just a little bit between closed and open box braces. We don't pull the chuck-pawl shaft with an open box, but the pawls are pulled in both cases. The bell, jaws and springs are also pulled, and all of this goes into the parts washer. The knob is then unscrewed from the quill and the retainer screws are set aside.

~While everything is soaking, the frame undergoes a special stripping and brushing process we have developed. Most braces were only nickel plated and not chromed. Either way, unless this is in pristine shape, we remove it and the surface rust with special sanding mops. We have developed special machines that allow the mops to get to all the corners of the brace and let us change grits on any machine when necessary. This process leaves a very clean tool, but it also has a rather dull brushed appearance.

The Lion chuck is newer than the Sampson. Loyal Sampson follower will sometimes say say the Lion only came about when the patent on the Sampson expired!  The Stanley No. 813 uses a Lion Chuck, as do some newer Millers Falls models.
The Lion chuck is newer than the Sampson. Loyal Sampson follower will sometimes say say the Lion only came about when the patent on the Sampson expired! The Stanley No. 813 uses a Lion Chuck, as do some newer Millers Falls models.

~Wooden parts are actually stripped on the same machine simply by switching to a different mop. This allows us to take off not only the old finish, but a lot of the sweat and grime that has ground into the wood over the years.

As an interesting side note: The rosewood still smells like roses when being stripped even after all the years of use...

~Knurling poses a special problem. Often it has "dulled" or flattened out over the years. If a mop is used on it, it can make this problem even worse, so we use wire wheels on the Barbar chuck, cam ring and a small ring on the shaft at the base of the box. This not only gets into all the grooves but even seems to slightly "sharpen" the diamond pattern.

~The frame now goes on to the rouge wheel. It isn't feasible to re-plate old braces, but we do try to make them as shiny as possible. With a bit of care and protection, they should maintain this look for decades under normal shop conditions.

~The non-knurled parts of the Barbar bell get special attention at the rouge wheel. We can often make significant improvements and bring out a wonderful polish. This is often an interesting aspect when working with old campaigners. They end up definitely looking worn, but well cared for. Barber bells are often painted red between the knurling. We strip this off and use special striping tools to apply fresh paint. This takes a steady hand but is well worth the trouble.

~Around this time, we re-attach the wooden bright work and start finishing it. For this we use Tru Oil gun stock finish. We like to use a special shellac finish for new wood, but the Tru Oil seems to do much better on this old weathered wood. We try to get four coats on while we go on with the rest of the brace.

~The "guts" of the chuck now get a good going over. This includes the jaws, pawls and retainer screw on closed box braces. We already tore down the chucks on Sampson and Lion chucks. Their cleaning and reassembly is pretty much the same as the others, but there is just a lot more of it. Both of these types of chucks have bearings which are not saved but are replaced with new ones. Sometimes jaws and pawls have been chromed. If so, they are just cleaned up and buffed. If not, they, along with the retainer screws are blued. Now the assembly starts.

~During re-assembly, quills and pawls on open boxes are oiled with synthetic 30W oil. Closed-box braces are greased with synthetic packing grease. This latter step tends to make the pawls ratchet much quieter and smoother than when they were first made.

NOTE: Why use synthetic oil and grease? It's something I learned when I rode bicycles up here in the Pacific Northwest. Synthetic lubricants do not break down nor get purged as quickly as other greases and oils.

Here is a finished Stanley No. 923.  The object is not to make the tool look new.  This would be impossible, but we want the client to be able to take pride in the brace and not have to explain away grime and rust.  Most important, the brace has to work as well as it did the day it was made, if not better.
Here is a finished Stanley No. 923. The object is not to make the tool look new. This would be impossible, but we want the client to be able to take pride in the brace and not have to explain away grime and rust. Most important, the brace has to work as well as it did the day it was made, if not better.

Pricing: We do not differentiate prices between individual braces of one particular model. We sell user tools. We expect each tool to work at a set standard. When a customer requests either a pristine brace or one with a bit of patina and character, we try to oblige them. Most customers simply want wooden bright work. Prices are based on availability, but not collectability. This is another reason we work with the models we have chosen. Prices also are based on the work that goes into the restoration process. We try to keep restoration time down to about one hour. We then charge ourselves our standard shop fee for this. By working within these parameters, we generally charge between $80 to $110 for a brace, depending on how easy it is to find that particular model and how much effort it took getting it ready for sale.

We are presently working to start offering "off the shelf" braces and get away from custom orders. These braces will be posted and priced individually, then posted as "sold" until a replacement brace can be finished.


Khimaira Website Hosting Solutions

Website designed and maintained by: Jekuthiel's WebDesign

Last revised: April 14, 2019