I’ve used a lot of braces in my lifetime, it was the only tool my father and I had for boring boltholes in joists when we were building our houses on our farm. And I have a few favorite brands that have good chucks and a smooth ratcheting action.
Here’s the best news: The very best braces ever made can still be found for about $10 at flea markets, tool swaps and (if you shop with care) on eBay. The ratcheting allows you to work up against walls and to use your arms in tight spaces or more efficiently (some motions with a brace are more tiring than others).
The North Bros. brace, however, is as smooth as silk and is quiet, like the ticking of a fine mechanical wristwatch. The pad at the top fits tightly and rotates smoothly.
(Just look out for the ones marked “Stanley.” After Stanley took over North Bros., a Philadelphia company, the quality declined.) I’ve fixed up all the braces (they didn’t need much, usually just a cleaning) and have sent them out to other woodworkers or tool aficionados as gifts.
If you want to read more about braces and the manufacturers, I recommend Sanford Moss’s excellent site: SYD NAS SHOOT. Sanford also sells a lot of braces, so if you’re looking for one, he’s a good man to know.
On one end the faces of the tool have file teeth, but the edges are toothless. These sections without teeth are called “safe edges” and allow you to file in localized areas.
There are two places you need to file: the cutting lip and the inside of the spurs. Put the auger point down against some scrap and gently file the lip.
Mimic the existing edge geometry; secondary bevels won’t help you here. The spurs score the rim of the hole and allow the cutting lip to lever the waste up cleanly.
Again, mimic the existing edge geometry and gently file the entire surface of the interior of the spur. If the lead screw of the auger bit gets clogged you can clean it out with dental floss.
Once you’ve sharpened up your first auger, try making a hole with your brace in some scrap. A sharp auger will beaver through wood at a remarkable rate.
Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.
Timber Tuff Tools Timberline Timberlake Timezone Wood Glue TMI Tomek Trend Triton Vantage Industries Vaughan Merits Tools Vesper Tools VPS W.W. Norton Publishing Wall Link Co. Watch Waterloo Wayne Barton Weller Whitehall White side Router Bits Wiley Wolf craft Wood Parts Woodpeckers Tools Woodlice Handsaw Blade Work Sharp Zeta Minster This classic bit brace has an open ratchet for forward or reverse partial rotation in tight quarters.
The chuck consists of 2 jaws with a universal design so that they accept tapered or straight-shank bits. 10" swing is compact and efficient, and provides plenty of mechanical advantage for fast drilling and controlled reaming.
I know, it should be belts and braces, but I’m more talking about a safe practice than risk aversion. Another thing is the swing of the brace as you rotate the handle to drive the bit into and through the wood, a good ten inches.
Internal corners in tight spaces are hard to negotiate even if the brace mechanism does have a ratchet for forward, lock off or reverse actions. But it is all too easy just to reach for the drill-driver and that means the total abandonment of another tool that still has truly practical options for us to work wood with.
My worry is that 99% of woodworkers do not know that the brace and bit are well proven methods of work and that they were not necessarily replaced by something better or even more advanced. This is especially important where total control is essential and an overactive trigger finger might cost the work in progress.
They needed sharpening every few days, so I not only gained those skills but understood the essentially of such actions. Trades rarely comprise the fine work demanded by artisans in craft in the same way.
Somehow they slow down my world to a workable rate within an acceptable pace best suited to my humanity. A high speed auger bit does that well, but in other situations, in furniture making, I’m never really in a hurry.
One thing I enjoy most about the conventional swing brace with its forward/reverse ratchet ability and its auger bits, and it’s a part that people seldom see or at least consider, is that with each hand turned revolution the bit achieves a controlled and measured depth of cut. This snail pulls the bit ever deeper into the wood, so we have the perfect controlled feed rate according to our human speed.
It's the sledgehammer and not scenario where the bit blasts through the wood uncontrollably ripping away in the hands of the macho-man. In this case, from the point hitting the wood, it takes 6 revolutions before the outer wings cut the rim of the hole.
I make one revolution and the whole rim of the hole develops the circular equivalent of a knife wall circumference. Once this rim-cut is done, subsequent revolutions engage the Baker cutters between the outer spurs and the conical threaded point to bore the 3/4 hole.
This starts once I’ve cut the rim so the rest to excavate through to the other side. Stock Numbered DescriptionAvailabilityPriceOrder Your version is a nice twist on the classic.
A 3-Jaw auxiliary chuck is also available, to grip round shank bits best. Steve Audubon, 1/2/2021 I have been working my way into hand-tool woodworking and wanted to get a brace.
I saw this brace reviewed on Rex Kruger's You-Tube channel and realized it was everything I was looking for. I usually don't buy tools sight unseen, but I was wrong to be worried.
Being able to have complete delicate manual control over your drill bit can make all the difference, especially when you need a perfect and clean hole in furniture you are building. The handle and brace are made from durable dense plastic that does not feel slippery or cheap.
The ratchet controls are super robust, much stronger than you would find on a typical socket wrench. On top of all that, having the 1/2” socket head converts a very useful tool for drilling into an amazingly versatile workhorse.
Mark Whitney, 8/17/2021 I am doing a re-wiring job in our older house (a 1953 Ranch with Additions), and I need to turn a small original bedroom into a modern home office. However, I do not want to gut the interior lathe board master walls, which are still in very good shape (just sand repaint).
So with this Hand Brace, the Heavy Duty 3-Jaw Chuck, and a two-foot long L-6 Hardened Tool Steel “Nail Biter” Ships Auger from Cleveland Tool (yes, I am a retired machinist & consulting mechanical engineer), off I went. Fifteen Minutes of hard hand cranking later, and I have chewed a neat ½ inch diameter hole through a six-inch thick beam into the stud wall.
Put the right bit in the chuck, apply some muscle, and you can drill through anything! Chris Holmes, 8/8/2020 Wonderful tool and less expensive than a used 'classic' on eBay.
The socket was designed to fit the chuck of an electric drill, but I didn't want to depend on another battery powered tool. This 3-jawed chuck works with a half-inch socket wrench, which makes it the perfect tool for the job.
I couldn't wait to try it out, so I used it on some ponderosa pine & cottonwood logs I was seasoning. I bought mine with the 6 drive set which is essential in my opinion and the 3 jaw chuck.
I doubt many people will use this as a wrench speeder as the top handle is made for pressure which is not required for mechanical work. It holds bits tighter than the four jaw chuck that the brace comes with.
Response By: Garrett Wade Tech Department Thank you for your review on the Versatile 9" Brace. Please call our technical department at 1-800-221-2942 regarding the chuck.
Response By: Garrett Wade Tech Department Thank you for your suggestion on the Versatile Socket Brace. M, 1/21/2015 Good quality and includes every type of bit I would ever need.
In short, if the words torn, positive, tricking, and snake-eye sound familiar, then you know what I'm talking about. If you don't know (and don't want to know) if you just need a bit to fit the tricycle you're trying to help Santa assemble on Christmas Eve, then you can find it by looking at the pictures in this box, and if by any chance you take out 4 or 5 at a time, you can always return them to the right slots.
If someone (not you of course) accidentally turns the box upside down, the bits do not fall out. James, 7/26/2014 I read the review that Patrick Smith of Texas wrote, and I can't help but thinking that he was trying to use a round shaft bit in the 4-jaw chuck which is intended for only the 4-sided chisel head type of wood bits.
Maybe rather than replacing the brace, you needed to sell him the optional 3-jaw chuck instead. James, 7/26/2014 In regard to my earlier comment where I said the chuck pulled off to easily when extracting a long bit from a deep hole.
Rather than using the standard friction” retention method of most socket wrench sets, modify it to use the center shaft release button. It's an idea you can find on some inexpensive keychains or some expensive socket sets.
The idea is that the common spring-loaded round bearings providing the “friction” that keeps the chuck in place is replaced with a spring-loaded shaft that has a protruding “button.” Without pressing that “button” I could pull as much as I wanted to remove a bit from a hole and the chuck would not come off.
Response By: Garrett Wade Tech Department Thank you for your review on the Versatile Socket Brace. Margaret G Phillips, 6/21/2014 Great to have all the needed sizes and shapes in one bundle.
Ron Bradford, 10/17/2013 When I saw this item, I had to have it, and I am very pleased with the chuck that has the capacity to be used on a 1/2 adapter. I work a lot where no electricity is present, so a battery operated drill is no good.
I am looking forward to spending years with this tool and handing it on to my family after me. Lisa Kearns, 4/16/2011 We recently had a brick mailbox built, and I wanted to mount a plaque with the house number on it.
Leon Garcia, 4/16/2010 The first set I bought did not have the light duty ratchet and I used it all the time for everything around the house. MRG, 9/15/2009 I used Stanley braces for years before battery powered tools became reliable.
This brace is nearly as strong (lighter frame and plastic used in place of wood) but the 1/2 drive makes it a truly great tool. The ratchet mechanism allows for drilling in impossibly tight spaces.
Get both 3 and 4 jaw chucks, and you will have a drill that will handle all the torque you can generate and keeps on going when the batteries give out or the cords won't reach.” Ray Louie, 4/16/2009 Great hex driver bit set.