Tool of the Week: The Brace

by Patrick Dunn

Some tools just stand the test of time, regardless of technological advances. The brace, in all its simplicity, is one of those modern tool dinosaurs. First developed sometime in the 15th century, the manual brace hasn’t really changed much over all those years. Aside from its transition to steel, the only real advance has probably been the introduction of a ratchet mechanism somewhere along the line that allowed a user to maximize the tool’s torque when operating in a cramped environment.

The brace is composed of a U-shaped crank with two free floating handles, one on the end of the brace that fits in the palm of a user’s hand to provide the pressure and one at the base of the U that a user grips to turn the crank and provide the power. The chuck on most braces is slightly different from that of a modern power drill. Rather than being designed to accept the common, straight-shanked drill bit, braces usually have V-shaped brackets, which are actually designed to accept square-shanked bits. Though likely out of mass production, these square bits can commonly be found at garage sales. So opportunities surely abound if you’d really love to get into using a brace, as woodworkers have for centuries.

For most uses, though, the brace has largely been replaced by a variety of power drills, which are often able to complete the same task in a fraction of the time. Modern power drills also offer more accuracy, as the user’s hands and arms can remain in relatively the same position throughout the drilling process.

Nonetheless, the brace definitely still has its uses. In fact, they still often reside in the toolboxes of those who occasionally work with larger fastenings or who work away from a power supply for longer periods of time. And, if you’re a tool aficionado, they’re actually quite fun.

The brace is one of over 1,000 tools currently available at The West Seattle Tool Library. Located at The South Seattle Community College Garden Center, The Tool Library is open on Saturdays from 9am-2pm and Sundays from 1-5pm. This Saturday, January 22nd, from 10am to noon, The Tool Library will host “Ask an Expert for the Do-It-Yourselfer,” which features free advice and shared knowledge from a rotating cast of local experts.

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