History of the Brace and Bit goes way back in Time
By The Working Man
A brace is defined as a hand-held boring tool that consists
of a pommel, crank and chuck. Usually used with auger bits
or spoon bits, but sometimes adaptable to other boring
The ancient Egyptians and the Romans had in their possession
a wide range of wood working tools, but although they were
learned people and had extensive knowledge the brace and its
drilling and boring abilities that we know today wasn't a
part of their woodworking tool collection.
The double crank brace that imparts continuous rotary motion
and that woodworkers use today is a much later development.
In fact there is little to no evidence that the brace
existed before depictions of it where found in fifteenth
The first crude braces were found on the English flagship
the "Mary Rose". They can be dated back prior to the sinking
of the ship in 1545. A more sophisticated example of the
brace was found on the Dutch expedition that wrecked in 1596
in Novaya Zemlya. This example of the brace had a turned
head and pads that were interchangeable. It is quite similar
to the Holland braces that were used up until very recently.
Collectors of the brace may be able to find some early
examples from Birmingham and London dating back to the
eighteenth century. This was when the brace was more common
and developed in greater quantities. These braces could
accommodate a wide variety of cutting tools as it was made
with a metal pad or chuck.
Later in the 1820s the Sheffield Company that was long
established in the making of tools became the centre of
trade for these items. The first register for what was the
"Improved Carpenter's Brace Heads" was designed by Thomas
Moulson and then Henry Brown.
This sparked the invention of many other device patents and
brace makers vied to register their designs either imagined,
real or completely fake. By 1850 the flood of patents abated
and not long after that the American iron brace became the
brace to dominate the market and signaled the demise of the
domestic market of the brace.
The Brace Bit can be traced all the way back to Ancient
Egypt where tomb frescoes depicted the use of a bow drill in
2700 B.C. A metal boring bit is shown in these frescoes.
This bit was probably used to ream or make small holes. When
the brace became a part of the tradesman's kit in the
fifteenth century it was already a well developed tool
Earliest examples of the wooden brace have the metal bits
stuck directly in the stock and an example of this can be
seen being used by chair makers even today. The later
invention of the removable wooden pad or plug allowed for a
lot of different bits that could be fixed to the stock to
comprise a "bit stock".
The brace is advantageous because of the continuous rotary
motion and isn't "start and stop" like the bow drills. The
invention of the brace bit increased the accuracy and power
because it can be double-cranked.
Because of this many different brace bit designs came on the
market. One such design is the centre bit which has the
ability to scribe and cut holes up to three and one-half
inches in diameter.
The plug bit which usually bores holes in casks of
liquid. The plug fills the hole and keeps the liquid inside
until a tap can be set into the cask or barrel. This
modification on the brace bit is still in use today.
In the United States in the latter half of the Nineteenth
Century there were so many patents for a new type of brace
bit that it boggles the mind. Many of the patents where for
designs that were too impractical or complicated to ever
have gone on the market as a tool. Several hundreds of
patents where filed for one design or another during this
Some of the most noted successes were brought to us by
Clarke & Swan, Irwin & Forstner, and Russell Jennings. But,
since the invention of the cordless electric drill, these
brace bits have been outdated.
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