Woodworker Chronicles #2: emBRACE the BOREdom

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Blog entry by PurpLev posted 11-18-2011 05:46 AM 9360 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Don't be such a ☐ Part 2 of Woodworker Chronicles series Part 3: Not Another Sharpening Post.... - YES! »

I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but I am somewhat attracted to Brace bits… go figure. something about the shape and engineering of the tool really works for me I guess.

My first introduction with the brace was way back in ….2009 (ok maybe not that long ago). I was sitting in a bar, and caught her in the corner of my eye. there was something about her…. oh wait… wrong movie… OK – swap reel… I was dropping the trash at the transfer station, and in the transfer station we have a small covered area which is a swap-shop, people brings functional things they don’t use anymore and other people pick them up. anyways, someone left a 8” brace NOT at the swap-shop area, but right next to the trash conveyor belt… laziness I guess, or they probably didn’t know about the swapshop area… being a woodworker, I obviously picked it up. I didn’t have any plans for it, but was eager to find one if I must. shortly after, my batteries in my cordless drill started to die on me, and wouldn’t hold a charge. I was installing something and my battery just gave in… at which point I figured I must complete the hole and picked up the brace to finish it up. I did use a regular drill bit which was not ideal, but I managed to get through it just fine.

I have not used the brace yet (but do know my way around drills and drilling holes – I was an electric contractor in a previous life… ok maybe not previous life, but a previous job and we were running wires in places you wouldn’t think possible, and lots of them).

Jumping in time to about a month ago, I went to pick up ‘some old tools’ off of craigslist ad. I really was interested in the Stanley #5 plane in the bunch, but figured I’d take the lot as I could make use of most of the things on it. among the tools I was surprised to find a Stanley 140 skew rabbet plane as well as the #5 I wanted to get, and another unnamed #4 that was restored and works real well, and a few other things, among those, a 8” and 10” brace bits. Since I already have a 8” brace, I didn’t bother cleaning up that one, but did give the 10” some TLC since it was a different size and included a ratchet mechanism for the chuck. The before:

When I started the restoration I didn’t have any more evaporust and so I cleaned the majority of it with file and a scraper. While cleaning it up under the layer of rust the model and size revealed itself to be a 10” Miller Falls:

Which was a nice surprise. I really feel lucky to live where I live. there is so much WW history around this area with Miller Falls being a drive distance away and right next to them is Starrett. It’s nice holding a tool that was made right ‘here’ so many years ago, somewhat romantic. I actually left the metal body of the brace like that with a ‘brushed’ finish look which I really like.

This got me curious and I did some research RE brace types, mechanisms, pricings, sizes and all and found a really good website that discusses and lists the Miller Falls braces and other tools with a lot of good info if you are ever in the need, or just interested to learn more about it here:

Back to the restoration – I sanded the handles, and applied several coats of BLO until it wouldn’t take it anymore. and at some point got evaporust to give the chuck and the rachet a proper cleaning (could only do so much with files). the result was a really nice looking, smooth working brace:

There are different types of ratchets for the chucks, but they all allow for boring in tight corners where you don’t have the spacial area to allow for a full 360 turn of the brace. The ratchets can be set to either allow only counterclockwise turns, clockwise turns, or both (simulating a brace with no ratchet). It’s a nice feature to have. and I personally don’t see a point of having a brace without it unless it’s for it’s collector value which I am not really into.

So, I really dug the brace thing ,and figured it would be cool to get one for my daughter so as a way to get into woodworking this can be a boring tool for her. Brace bits come in different sweep sizes, from ~5-~14 are probably the most common sizes. there could be sizes above and below, but I haven’t seen any as of yet (and have not looked for it either). Sweep is the diameter of the arc that is made by the handle of the brace when you turn it 360 degrees (a full turn). The larger the sweep the more torque you apply to the boring bit, and theoretically the bigger the bit you can turn, but also the larger the movement you make (space wise). For some unknown reason to me (maybe just caught in a fantasy) I thought that the smaller the brace sweep, also the smaller the general dimension of the tool, and after finding a 5” brace ordered it (eBay) thinking it would work for a small kid being small brace… when I got it I was surprised to find that it was actually heavier than my 10” brace. I think the material used is heavier by Stanley as well as the chuck was larger. And so, what I found was that the smaller the sweep, the only thing that is really smaller is the sweep and nothing more, the brace and chuck are otherwise about the same length (maker/model dependent of course) and to illustrate here is the 10” Miller Falls with the 5” Stanley:

“daddy, it is heavy” ... oh well. I guess she’ll have to grow a bit more before using this, maybe an eggbeater drill is more fitting to start with… but this 5” is a real sweet looking brace.

Of course I didn’t really care much for having a miller falls and a stanley, and am currently awaiting arrival of a matching stanley 10” and will try to sell the miller falls as well as the 8” on Craigslist (just my own bug, I need things to match … somewhat).

Now brace bit prices are not really that high… but have you seen the prices on those (better) bit sets? holy moly! almost feels like the old’ ‘bait and switch technique’ they get you with the tool, and then bite you with the bits…

oh well…. gotta give in to the addiction (which stops RIGHT NOW!). Bit set is on the way with the Stanley 10”, at which point I might be able to free myself from power drilling larger holes even though brace bits are really meant for carpentry and not so much for precision woodworking. we’ll take it one step at a time and see how this goes.

Thanks for reading,

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

4 comments so far

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5342 days

#1 posted 11-18-2011 06:03 AM

My dad was something of a handyman, and we always had a small shop with a pretty good variety of tools. But I don’t think we had a brace until we inherited a bunch of tools when my uncle died in ‘67.

Funny you should mention the bits, because I too remember having a certain fascination for them. Something about all those curves and sharp edges, and the way those curly shavings would spiral up from the hole you were boring. Almost hypnotic.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4772 days

#2 posted 11-18-2011 06:12 AM

Yes Charlie, just like drilling in metal on the lathe, the curly shavings that come out of the drill bit flutes are so fascinating I sometimes feel I would forget to stop the drill bit at the correct depth just to see them coming out… can be dangerous.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View moonls's profile


412 posts in 4110 days

#3 posted 11-18-2011 04:42 PM

Sharon your blog brought to mind that I had used one of those braces long ago (30 yrs.) when we were building our pole building garage. Because the one you showed looked familiar, I went to my shop & dug it out to find that it was a Stanley 10” with the ratchet. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane!

-- Lorna, Cape Cod

View mafe's profile


13202 posts in 4213 days

#4 posted 11-21-2011 11:03 PM

Sharon, the bits are sexy! I love them, how the gently show their curves. Some of the old I have are with round holes in the end so they look like something you will find on a beach.
I never seen a five inch before, I have a 6 and a ten and some really old devils.
Congrat, and thank you for the story it was refreshing.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

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