Brace Youself

I don’t want this blog to be all doom and gloom, but I do want you to be aware and informed. I think you can agree, things these days are all twisted. One minute it’s up, then before you know it, it’s down again. You feel like you’re going forward, and then you’re going backwards. Things are really screwy. So, it’s time I make a decision, and hopefully this will help educate you to make the right choice too. Of course I’m talking about, hand tools verse power tools.  Specifically,  should i use a power drill or an old brace and bit for my woodworking?


Before I simply choose one or the other, let’s look at  some pro’s and con’s for both the power drill and brace.

Building furniture for a living, time is important. The power drill is definitely fast. It also allows me to use one hand to operate the drill and the other free for holding the workpiece. But the drill can be sometimes heavy or awkward to use. And because the weight is offset, sometimes drilling a straight hole can be a challenge.

The brace, on the other hand, is VERY light, but requires two hands to operate. This means I need a clamp to hold my workpiece down. It also is much slower than any power drill and the torque is limited to only what my arm strength is. But I can sight down the brace a lot easier, control the drilling better, and make much more accurate holes.

Bottom line…. There is a place for both in my shop. So let me give a quick break down of the drills/braces I use.


For power drills, my choice is a cordless and I have both nickel cadmium and lithium ion batteries. The nickel cad. Batteries are heavier and take longer to charge, but when it’s getting low on juice it slows down. The lithium battery charges faster and is lighter, but when it’s getting low, it gives no warning and just stops. Now normally this isn’t much of an issue. But if I happen to be up on a ladder drilling a hole and as the bit is halfway in, it goes dead; this is not a situation to be in. I guess if you are just working in the shop, a cordless lithium ion 12v is sufficient.

DeWalt (left) Nickel Cad. battery. Milwaukee (right) lithium ion battery

Now for a brace, I have several. Most are old, some are sentimental, but there is one that is my favorite.  Nearly all of the braces have a ratcheting chuck. I could see where the ratchet mechanism could be useful. If i was in a tight place to drill and couldn’t make a the full swing, the ratchet would be ideal to have on the brace. But let’s face it, in that case i would use my power drill.

The chuck on the brace works just like the chuck on the power drill. Turn it one direction to tighten around the bit, and turn the opposite to loosen the bit. But the power drill does this fast. Where the chuck on the brace is slower when changing bits.  This is one reason i have several braces so I can put my most commonly used bits in them and leave them there.

But if I could only have ONE brace, it would be one with a Spofford chuck. This chuck design was made by Nelson Spofford  (1859-1866) and the company of Fray and Pigg used it on their braces. Then Stanley Tools bought Fray and continued using the Spofford style brace up until 1942. The Spofford chuck (also known as the clamshell) allows a quick changing of bits in mere seconds and gives great holding pressure to the bit to prevent it from falling out.

Spofford chuck (left) Ratcheting chuck (right)
Spofford chuck (left) Ratcheting chuck (right)

So in the age of modern technology, there is still a place for old school tools and techniques. I feel power tools do a great job of getting the rough work out of the way. And hand tools do a nice job of the finish detail work. So do yourself a favor and pick up a brace at a garage sale or flea market, and see if you don’t slowly fall under the spell of the slow, calm, peacefulness that only a hand tool can deliver.


Go dance now people!

-Chad Stanton