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The Humble Hand Brace - A Beginner's Guide to Restoring, Buying and Using #8: Part 8 - Tips and Tricks on Using a Hand Brace

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Blog entry by Brit posted 10-25-2011 04:00 AM 19215 reads 14 times favorited 68 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 7: Part 7 - Sharpening an Auger Bit Part 8 of The Humble Hand Brace - A Beginner's Guide to Restoring, Buying and Using series no next part

Sorry it has taken me so long to post the final part to this blog series. Life just gets in the way sometimes. However, here it is and I hope you enjoy it. In this episode I wanted to look at using a hand brace and explore some of the so called hints and tips out there to see if they really are useful. I’ll also show you how to get in touch with your inner level.

I’m assuming you’ve sharpened your auger bits like I showed you in the last episode. A sharp auger bit is paramount for drilling a clean hole, however just because your bit is sharp it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will get good results. So first things first, let’s insert the auger into the chuck. Sounds simple doesn’t it? You can actually damage the spring in the chuck if you don’t do it properly, so in this short video, I show you how to insert an auger bit correctly.

NOW LET’S GET COMFORTABLE

A good stance is important when using any hand tool and the brace is no exception. When drilling vertically, stand with your feet apart facing your work. If you can, position the work piece so that the Head of the brace is about chin-height. Lean forward slightly and rest your forehead on the back of the hand holding the Head of the brace. Why? Well as you know the auger bit has two cutting edges located opposite each other. As the auger bit rotates, both edges are either cutting with the grain or across the grain. Since it requires more effort on your part to slice across the grain, it gets easier, then harder, then easier then harder with each revolution. This makes it difficult to keep the Head of the brace steady unless you brace it against a part of your body.

The same principle applies when you’re drilling horizontally. Use whatever part of your body is comfortable to steady the Head of the brace. I find the most useful parts are the hip, belly, chest, shoulder and forehead. Also, notice the position of my feet. I am leaning slightly forward so that as the auger advances in the hole, I can take up the slack by moving my hip forward whilst still keeping the Head locked against it.

HOW TO DRILL A CLEAN HOLE

When you’re drilling a through hole, as soon as the thread has exited the other side of the work piece, there is no longer anything pulling the cutters into the hole. The tendency is to compensate by pushing harder in order to cut through that last little bit and before you can stop it, the auger exits the hole at a fast rate of knots and this happens. ARGHHH!!!!!!!

There are two ways to deal with this tear out and they both have their merits. Firstly, start drilling from the face side and periodically, feel on the backside for when the thread just starts to exit.

Remove the auger bit and turn the work piece over, then pick up the exit hole and finish the hole from the other side.

You still face the problem of having to push when the thread has nothing left to bite into and on thin stock like this, there is a danger that the spurs will catch the face side and split the wood on the surface. It is fine to use this method on stock that is over 1” though, as you have enough time to arrest the movement.

The second method for preventing tear out, and the one I like to use whenever possible, is to position a piece of scrap under the work piece and clamp them both securely to the bench. Then drill straight through from the face side. If drilling through dark wood, use a light coloured wood as the scrap piece. You know you’re through when you see different coloured chips being ejected. It is also useful if you are drilling through hard wood, to use soft wood as the scrap piece. The brace will suddenly become easier to turn when you start drilling into the softwood, giving yet another indication that you are through the other side.

This method produces a clean exit hole even in this dry Sapele with its interlocking grain.

DRILLING VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL HOLES ACCURATELY

There are a number of different tips related to accurate boring that surface from time to time. Before we look at them to see if they work, there is one tip that you should always utilize which relates to starting the hole. Just to recap, you’ve got a sharp auger, you’ve decided which of the above drilling methods to use and you’ve taken up a good stance. Use an awl to mark the center of your hole, then locate the thread on you mark. Start drilling slowly and look to see that both of the spurs start scoring the wood. This is a good indication that you are relatively vertical or horizontal. If one spur starts scoring before the other one, adjust your angle of attack accordingly.

Using squares
Many people use two squares to ensure they are drilling vertically. To do this, set the squares at 90 degrees to each other and before you drill any further ensure the auger is parallel to both squares. Adjust your angle if necessary before your continue drilling. I give this method the thumbs up, but it is not easy to do this when drilling horizontally unless you can clamp your squares to the work piece.

Ye olde ring trick
It is said that when drilling horizontally, old timers would slide their wedding ring onto the shaft of the auger before inserting it into the chuck. They would then use it to indicate whether or not they were drilling horizontally. If you can’t visualize this, the following short video will demonstrate this theory. As you watch this, consider whether my wedding ring is helping me or just distracting me.

My verdict: I wish I could say this romantic theory worked, but honestly I think its rubbish, so I have to give it the thumbs down. If you agree that this technique is pants, let me tell you that it is an even worse aid to drilling vertically. :-) There’s also the ever present danger of losing your ring and having to answer to SWMBO.
However I’m not one to dismiss the work practices of old timers lightly, so I thought it was worth a little experiment to see if I could improve the accuracy of this technique.

I squared up an off-cut of hard maple 180mm long, drilled a hole through it and ripped it down the middle lengthways. Then I fashioned a large washer with a file, rebated it into the middle of the two halves and glued them back together. This washer meant that there would be two fulcrum points resting on the auger shaft.

Then I drilled out the top to receive a bullseye level and centered it in the hole with epoxy.

I laid a straight metal rod on my granite breakfast bar (a known flat surface) with about 3” hanging over the edge and then suspended my new aid from the bar to see if the bubble in the level centered correctly. It was slightly off but a couple of swipes with a No. 4 ½ on one side brought it back to level. With a spring in my step, I rushed outside to try it out.

My verdict: Undoubtedly better than the wedding ring, but too sensitive. I was going dizzy trying to watch the little bubble go anywhere except inside the center circle. Shame really. :-( I was going to call it a Bull’s Eye Bob, as it was a cross between a bull’s eye level and a plumb bob. I was even going to enter it in the Scrap01 challenge, but if you remove the 01 from the challenge name, you get what this tool is now. Oh well, nothing ventured….etc.

Using reflection
The use of reflection is a wonderful aid to the hand tool woodworker. I use the reflection of the work piece in my saw plate all the time to ensure that I am sawing perpendicular and vertical. Often I don’t even bother marking a line to follow, because a reflection in flat surface can’t be wrong. So you could say, I had high expectations of this technique. Here’s how it works:

Get yourself an old CD or DVD and tape it down to you work piece (you might have to enlarge the center hole a bit) When you are drilling vertically or horizontally, the reflection will continue in a straight line.

If you deviate, the reflection will bend away.

My verdict: This works a treat and by looking at the reflection from different viewpoints you can ensure you are spot on.

Drilling at an angle
Using Jennings Pattern or Irwin Pattern auger bit, with care you can also drill at an angle, at least up to about 30 degrees. It is best to engage the thread perpendicular to the work piece and as you turn the sweep handle, move the Head until you are at your angle. It is important to do this whilst turning or you risk bending the thread. You can then use a sliding bevel gauge to check your angle.

At the end of this episode, I’ve posted a link to Episode 19 of a blog series that master chair maker Curtis Buchanan has recorded on YouTube. This episode shows how Chris uses a hand brace to drill at an angle for the legs of a chair. Believe me, this series is THE BEST THING ON YOUTUBE. If you love hand tools, do yourself a favor and watch the whole series. I think he is up to episode 31 now.

Drilling a blind hole to depth
When measuring for depth on an auger bit, you need to measure up from the cutting edge, not the tip of the thread or the tip of the spurs. Over the years manufacturers have patented a number of devices that clamp to an auger bit and act as a depth stop. Millers Falls made one I think, Stanley made one that used a spring and Eclipse made this one.

I don’t own any of these, but I know Mads has the Eclipse version, so these two photos are courtesy of Mads. Thanks Mads.

I believe the the Eclipse depth stop fits auger bits up to 3/4”. At the moment though, I just wrap masking tape around the auger bit.

The only problem with using masking tape is that you need to constantly clear the chips away as the tape approaches the surface of the work piece, otherwise they can rip the tape or cause it to move up. A permanent marker would probably be better. If you see an Eclipse depth stop, buy it and get one for me while you’re at it. :-)

To sum up, whilst some of these tips and tricks do work at least in part, I’m not sure they are really necessary. The good news is that the human body has a remarkable ability to see and even feel when something is vertical or horizontal and whether something is square. The problem is that we don’t use this inbuilt ability enough and are too quick to reach for the laser level. So take a moment to reconnect with your inner level.

Feel better? Good! Now grab a hunk of softwood about 3”x3” and practice boring. How many of you were satisfied with your first dovetails or any other joint come to that? Accurate drilling, like any other hand tool technique requires practice and therein lies its appeal. There would be no challenge, no sense of achievement if everything worked first time.

Mark the center points for a number of holes. Follow those marks around to the back side of the work piece and mark them there also. Start drilling and sense vertical or horizontal. Stop when the thread just exits and see where you are in relation to your mark. If you are off, correct it on the next attempt.

Well that just about wraps this blog series up. Who would have thought that there was so much to say about the humble hand brace and we’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot along the way. It only remains for me to thank all of you for your support. I hope you’ve found it informative and entertaining. At the very least, I hope I’ve convinced you that this simple tool deserves your respect and a place in your shop.

Thanks for watching.

<< Link to Episode 19 of Curtis Buchanan’s Chair blog on YouTube: http://youtu.be/wj5jtv0pjS8 >>

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.



68 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8476 posts in 2401 days


#1 posted 10-25-2011 04:10 AM

those braces look so good. do you find that you get to use all sizes? or do you notice you end up using a particular brace mostly?

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Brit's profile

Brit

5310 posts in 1595 days


#2 posted 10-25-2011 09:13 AM

PurpLev – Yes I do use all the sizes. Its funny, because my interest in hand braces coincided with both of the batteries on my codless Dewalt drills not holding their charge any longer. I keep forgeting to order new ones, instead I just reach for a brace or a hand drill. The smaller braces (6” sweep) are dedicated to driving screws and bolts and countersinking. The 8” sweep is used for drilling smaller holes up to 3/8”. The 10” sweep drills from 3/8” to around 5/8” and the 12” sweep handles anything bigger.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3314 posts in 1407 days


#3 posted 10-25-2011 03:22 PM

I still have my cordless for farm work, but when the batteries dies I doubt I will replace it.

This was an amazing entry.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View llwynog's profile

llwynog

283 posts in 1331 days


#4 posted 10-25-2011 07:10 PM

thanks a lot Andy, great info. I recently discovered how accurately one can drill with a hand brace and was quite surprised about it. I found out that I can drill in a much more perpendicular way to the surface with a handbrace than with a (handheld) electrical drill.

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View Brit's profile

Brit

5310 posts in 1595 days


#5 posted 10-25-2011 07:48 PM

RGtools – Thanks. I think cordless drills have their place and I’d hate to be without one for too long, but they’re nowhere near as much fun.

llwynog – I couldn’t agree more.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View mafe's profile

mafe

9690 posts in 1842 days


#6 posted 10-25-2011 10:11 PM

Andy, I tried two times now to send you and get the mails back… Otherwise I will upload them to my site and send you a link so you can download them.
I love that photo of you in the Lotus position, it suits you better than the first one where you are sleeping up against the brace… I must admit that brace is sexy! Seriously sexy.
Thank you for this wonderful blog series it has been a pleasure to follow.
Best thoughts, will I see you tomorrow by chance?
Mads

-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Brit's profile

Brit

5310 posts in 1595 days


#7 posted 10-25-2011 10:59 PM

Just updated the post to include two photos of the Eclipse depth stop fitted to an auger bit straight from the Vintage architect himself. :-)

Mads – I used to be able to put my legs in the Lotus position. When I tried it for the photo, I didn’t even get close before screaming in agony. LOL.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View mafe's profile

mafe

9690 posts in 1842 days


#8 posted 10-25-2011 11:33 PM

I work Japanese these days (as always trying new), sitting on the floor on a pillow, so to watch you was really natural.
But I must admit I am sour in all the joints of my body since I am not used to using my body so much as the Japanese woodworkers do, they are so less loocked than us, we work much more static so it is not just a tool change to work with the Japanese tools, also a mental change, but I hope to become more of a rubber man with training.
I will remember to look for a Eclipse for you.
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Mads

-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Brit's profile

Brit

5310 posts in 1595 days


#9 posted 10-25-2011 11:50 PM

Mads – I just found an eclipse depth stop on eBay and ordered it. :-)
I’m laughing at thought of you sitting on your pillow with your shoes and jacket. You’ll have to give me a demo next time I visit. I think I’ll stick to the western way of working though. LOL

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View Brit's profile

Brit

5310 posts in 1595 days


#10 posted 10-26-2011 12:04 AM

Here’s the Stanley No. 49 depth stop.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View mafe's profile

mafe

9690 posts in 1842 days


#11 posted 10-26-2011 12:26 AM

Thats sexy!
(Not me the Stanley 49).

-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Dennisgrosen's profile

Dennisgrosen

10850 posts in 1868 days


#12 posted 10-26-2011 01:06 AM

thank´s Andy … great blog
the ring thing theory isn´t as bad as you think … not that I ever will use it though … lol
but it works by looking at the way it walks op and down on the shaft … and by that you can see
if you stay level enoff …sideways … well …you use your inner spirit to see if the angle is 90 degree
so you have to use the lotus sitting before you atack the object with the brace ….. lol

using a mirror is a great tip I have used alot with electric drills :-)

I like the depthstops too but don´t have one … so I gess I have to learn the Roy Underhill methode
know how deep my bits bore for every turn on the brace and learn how to count …. or get me
an old batteryfree chineese computer to help me ….. LOL

take care
Dennis

View Brit's profile

Brit

5310 posts in 1595 days


#13 posted 10-26-2011 01:19 AM

Dennis – I know that’s how the ring trick is meant to work. In that little video, I was purposely moving the brace out of horizontal to encourage the ring to move. The problem I have with it is that I didn’t feel it improved my accuracy at all. You would have to be a pretty sloppy craftsman to get any benefit from it IMO.

Thanks for reminding me about counting the number of turns. I was going to talk about that and it completely slipped my mind. Let me briefly mention it here. Since the feed rate of an auger bit is controlled by the pitch of the lead screw, you can count the number of turns it takes you to drill your first hole. When you have reached your depth, you can drill successive holes to the same depth simply by turning the sweep handle the same number of turns.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View Dennisgrosen's profile

Dennisgrosen

10850 posts in 1868 days


#14 posted 10-26-2011 02:02 AM

I think you was talking breafly about it in some of the others where you mention
different steapness on the screws it was the one said there was made bits for timber work
and fine work not sure at the moment

about the walking theory I have only seen it work in one situation and thats when you adjust the sandpaper
on a band sander (hope that was the right name )

take care
Dennis

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8476 posts in 2401 days


#15 posted 10-26-2011 03:05 AM

Thanks Andy. I basically ended up using a brace when my cordless drill died and luckily had an old brace laying around. I was just contemplating whether I needed both sizes (I have 1×10” and 2 8” sweeps) and based on your response I guess I will.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

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