Despite the usefulness of corded and cordless (battery) drills implements, a good old fashion hand brace still have a place in our tool kit. And it will never run out of juice.. well your own maybe, in which case, sip another cold one :-)
The essential brace and bit by Chris Schwarz
Part of my last finds, was this 10 in sweep brace stamped PS&W Co and 3410 on the brace arms.
Model 34xx is nickel plated, and only came in three sizes:
8, 10 and 12 inch sweeps. 3410 being the 10 in model
For most of cabinetry work, and general woodworking, a sweep of 6 or 8 inch is plenty.
10 and 12 inch braces are brute force braces better suited to carpentry work. The bigger the sweep the more torque you can generated. Therefore, the available ranges of brace sweep, run from 6 to 12 inch in 2 inch increments, and less common but available, is a monster 14 inch brace.
8 and 10 in are the two sizes you will find the most.
Add to this range a variety of finish, materials and chucks, and you have a very large selections of braces available. Way too many, at one time Millers Falls alone carried over 135 braces (in 1915), down to 35 by 1949. Many were very similar, bright metal, or nickel plated. Rosewood or Harwood head, stained various colours. Samson or Barber chuck, 2 or 3 jaws, ratcheting or not and etc.
When shopping for a brace, the most important things to look at are;
- Are the head and chuck in line? If not it would be impossible to bore true. Sometimes the frame has been bent by brute force. The earlier wrought iron braces were more susceptible to this kind of damages. The fancy (and expensive) Ultimatum type braces are very susceptible to this kind of damages due to their construction.
- Does the chuck operate smoothly? Often springs are missing or broken, IF they were present. Not all chucks jaws had them. Open and close the chuck, the jaws should open and close. If you have to push on them to close them, it probably has no spring, but it could also be sticky from build up of goo inside including rust. Easy fix, replacing springs... not so much.
Be very careful when disassembling the chuck to clean it, these little springs have a mind of their own it would seems, just saying :-)
- Does the head rotate freely without excessive play?
In some brace designs, you can take up the slack easily, others, not so much... At times they are found rusted solidly, and no amount of liquid rust buster etc seems to be able to break them free... I just happened to had one like that before... I was afraid I would break it before it broke free. Head still frozen solid...
Not as important, but a rotating handle helps prevent blisters. Not all design used a rotating handle, but if it has, it should also rotate freely.
All that to say, it pays to know what to look for when shopping for braces. Having some idea of their construction, help narrow down your inspection for missing spring or problems areas.
Generally speaking, the big American braces makers: Goodell-Pratt, North Bros, Pexto, Millers Falls, and yes, Stanley, made excellent braces. But they also made a large variety of braces to fit all uses AND price points, so keep that in mind.
Peck Stow & Wilcox Co history PEXTO
Looking at our model No 3410
Identifying marks are often stamped on the brace frame
Model No 3410, and we know this mean it has a 10 in sweep
Stamped on chuck arm
The throw is of course half the sweep.
In this case we are measuring 5 inches = 10 in Sweep
Stamped on head arm
This smaller Stanley No 923 measured at 4inch.
Sweep of 8 inches
And sure enough it is a Model 923-8 IN
Stamped on head arm
So how much difference does this 1 inch of additional throw (2 in of sweep) makes?
Plenty to be noticeable, torque wise...
12 and 14 in, definitively carpenter's tools.
10 inch and 8 inch braces,
the differences in sizes
It sport the classic Barber chuck, the bulbous shape is the giveaway
Two jaws, meeting tight
The Barber chuck exposed.
NO springs on the Alligator jaws
The ratchet mechanism used exposed cog gears, box ratchet, and has
the selector ring to shift direction. Another classic design
So this solid example of a PEXTO brace will find a place in my boring till. It is a good brace with plenty of torque. Comes in handy at times...
If you cannot torque something in or out with a 10 in sweep brace, you may want to reconsider your next move...
Bob, who came back with a small load of 1X12 pine boards...