Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tools - Bit Brace

One of my hobbies is woodworking. I'll be writing articles every now and then about good tools you can get cheap, that have a dual purpose if you lose power. In some cases these "obsolete" tools are actually more practical and functional than the latest DeWalt doohickey.

Now there are two kinds of woodworkers, Neanderthals and Normites. Neanderthals shun modern tools, preferring to build everything by hand using expensive hand planes made by Veritas. Normites love power tools. If doesn't have a plug on it then it's not useful. I swear I could make a fortune by building an electric 2 1/4 HP pencil. The term Normite comes from Norm Abrams from This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop.

Well neither one of them is right. I've personally seen a normite spend an hour rigging up the perfect jig to trim a few thousandths off of a board with a table saw, when a hand plane could do it in 30 seconds. I've also seen a Neanderthal cut a 13" wide 8/4 board (2" thick) of rock maple with a hand saw instead of letting me cut it with my chain saw. I thought he was going to have a heart attack. I personally use the best tool for what I want to accomplish, regardless if it has a power cord or not.

Onto today's topic, the Bit Brace. Long before you had electric drills, the bit brace was used to hold a bit. It works by applying pressure to the round top, and cranking the handle around and around with the other hand. Bits come in a ton of sizes, but they all have a squared end for the brace to clamp onto. Generaly the smallest bit you use is 1/4" anything less you's use an eggbeater for. Recently, Lee Valley added two items that make the bit brace a very useful item to have around the shop. First they made an adapter from the squared bit to a 1/2" drive for sockets. The other is an adapter for the 1/4" hex used by screwdriver bits. It even has a little magnet so the bit doesn't fall out. you can find these items here. you also can buy new braces there, but DON'T. I think Lee Valley has great stuff, I don't work for them, just a satisfied customer.

You can find bit braces at flea markets for about $2-3 bucks. These are pre-WWII, tough as nails, no-nonsense workhorses. They are everywhere! I own at least ten, most bought for a buck. Bits are more of an issue, to get a complete set is expensive due to the "collectability" of it. But individual bits are easy to get. I usually buy then individually for a buck, but I can usually get them two for a $1. Then using some small files you can sharpen them up.

Now why would you want to use this instead of a electric drill? Well first off it's batteries never run out. Also, you can precisely control the torque generated so your not snapping off bolt heads. Finally I can create a LOT of torque with one. I've snapped the heads off of rusted in bolts by accident. It weighs about a pound which is a lot less than an electric drill.

It will take a little effort to get it all together, but once you have one your going to wonder why they stopped using them.

1 comment:

Mayberry said...

"Off grid" tools are gonna be real handy soon..... Hell, they are now!