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Tools and Woods with Bob Smalser

  The Incredibly Versatile Sweep Brace 1 of 3  

I can’t think of a more multi-purpose tool than the ratcheting, reversible sweep brace, once present in almost every household… and because of that, nice ones are often under 10 dollars today complete with bits. 

Boring clean, accurate holes with ease, taper reaming those holes, screw driving and countersinking, cutting round tenons, and pointing spokes, the brace still holds a prominent place in the tool kits of chair makers and boat-builders today because it still does some tasks much, much better than machines.

Braces came with different patented chuck designs and ratcheting mechanisms, and in different sizes and configurations. The most common sizes available have 6-inch sweeps, 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch and even 14-inch, the 10 being the most common.

They are so inexpensive today, that there is no reason not to have two or more in play for a given task rather than bothering to change bits. In addition to an 8 or 10-inch, a larger 12 or 14-inch brace is handy for those occasions where more torque is required. So is the joist or right-angle brace for use in confined spaces.

Shown are some varieties of chucks commonly found, all of them with two spring-loaded jaws. 

The Stanley joist brace on the right has a chuck that comes off with a setscrew, but the others just screw off.  The late model Miller Falls at center left is the beefiest design.  The unmarked one to its right has lost its spring, and I’ve fabricated a replacement from music wire.  The 2-jaw chucks are designed for 4-sided augers and accessories, but also work reasonably well with modern 8-sided screwdriver bits in longer lengths.  Today, there are boatbuilder suppliers who carry magnetic bit extensions for the brace designed to hold those interchangeable, quarter-inch 8-sided bits.

The lead screw auger bit still has a place in modern shops.  A low-friction design that pulls itself into its own hole, little pressure is required to bore even the deepest holes, and combined with the short joist brace offers options for tight spots not available elsewhere.  It’s also the easiest tool to sharpen in the shop.  A tapered auger file is used to put an edge on the inside (never the outside) lips that serve as nickers…

… and both main cutting edges of the bit.

Learn how. Discover why. Build better.
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Millers Falls Tools

Goodell-Pratt Braces


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