Buy a Hand Brace and Bit Set
When combined with auger bits a “brace” is used to bore holes into wood for various purposes, including for pegging joints and boring holes for mortises. These sets are referred to as a brace and bit set.
You can find really old brace and bit sets that have a simple thumb screw (above) or brace and bit sets with a ratcheting mechanism (below). The ratcheting mechanism is especially handy for boring in corners where you can’t rotate 360 degrees. But that isn’t a situation that I’ve run into very often, so don’t specifically look for a brace with a ratcheting mechanism. However, I find that most braces have a ratcheting mechanism.
What is the “sweep” of a Hand Brace drill?
The “sweep” of a brace is the imaginary diameter that the handle creates as you rotate it in a circle. A wider sweep (like 12-inch) will bore a hole faster and more aggressively, and a narrower sweep will bore a hole more slowly and carefully. deciding on the ideal sweep just depends on what you’re making. But I wouldn’t worry too much about this since you likely won’t be using a brace and bit enough for the sweep to matter too much.
How do you measure the sweep of a Hand Brace drill?
In the below photo, if I measure from the center of the handle to the center of the ratchet & auger bit, I see a measurement of 5-inches. Double that radius to get a 10-inch sweep hand brace:
What features should you look for in a Hand Brace?
What should you look for? Braces with sweep between 8″ and 12″ are suitable for traditional woodworking. Braces are very common and shouldn’t cost you very much money: as little as a few dollars. Collectible (e.g. old wooden bodied braces) or popular models of metal braces can run a lot more. Just make sure the top handle (i.e. “head”) is tight, that auger bits can be held firmly in the chuck, and that the brace rotates smoothly.
Which Hand Braces are best for Woodworkers?
I own about a dozen different hand brace drills, but I have a couple favorite hand braces that I favor. I particularly like using my No. 112 Spofford patent split chuck brace (Made by John S. Fray):
The 12-inch sweep gets the job done quickly, without being too large, the handle is comfortable, and the quick release split chuck is convenient. These can run you over $100, but you may be able to find one that needs a little TLC. Stanley purchased the John Fray company in 1909 and used the same design and Fray name for a number of years, and then started marking them with “Stanley” around 1920.
I also really like using my antique 8-inch sweep Stanley 2101A “Yankee” brace that I picked up awhile ago from a local hand tool dealer, for about $60:
It is much more solidly built than my other ratcheting braces, and has a very smooth action. This brace comes in different sweep sizes, and under the model numbers “2101 or “2101A”. The 2101 Yankee brace was originally made by North Bros (apparently of slightly better quality back then), but the company was acquired by Stanley. Bell System (i.e. Bell Telephone) used this particular brace (and other tools) for their telephone linemen in large numbers, so a lot of these braces will say “Bell Systems”. Bell Systems didn’t manufacture them, they just had them made for them in large quantities. Jim Bode said of this particular brace: “The finest and heaviest duty, most indestructible bit brace ever made. Silky smooth ball bearing construction, both top and bottom. Oil filled. Concealed ratchet system. Heavy-duty chuck. Accepts both traditional square tapered shank bits as well as round shank bits. The last bit brace you will ever need!”
Here are some popular woodworking braces for you to research prices: