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