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The hand brace, or bit and brace

The hand brace (also known as brace, brace and bit, brace drill) has become something of a quaint, niche tool.

It is also one of my favorites.

The hand brace, brace, or brace drill

Axial pressure is applied to the rounded handle at the end - no death grip required, just enough that the bit properly engages the workpiece. The centre grip works the U-shaped crank. Power comes mostly from the chest and upper arm muscles: a hand brace generates substantial torque. Both grips rotate freely; no hand or wrist movement is involved.

The hand brace, brace, or brace drill

Most hand braces also feature a gear release that turns the brace into a ratchet-driven device, ideal for situations where full 360-degree crank rotation just doesn't work. A sixty-degree arc is sufficient to work the brace.

The hand brace excels at a few specific tasks. Its ability to drive #12 or #14 screws puts rechargeable drills to shame: you'll suck both batteries dry in very little time. With a screwdriver bit in a hand brace, you'll still be driving dozens of screws, deep, without breaking a sweat.

Similarly, with a socket adapter, a hand brace will drive nuts and lag bolts (oh yes) and even wheel studs faster than any non-ratchet wrench. I find the motion far more natural, easier. I generate more torque, and am far less likely to slip than I am with a wrench.

Hand brace with socket driver on an adapter bit: great for driving nuts and boltsAdapter bit and socket driver

Last, and not least, the main reason I suspect the hand brace has not faded into obscurity as yet: nothing does a better job of drilling with auger bits. Nothing.

The reason is simple - auger bits have knife-sharp edges, or flutes, that easily burn if overheated, and permanently lose their temper. This can happen even at hand-driven speeds. Use one in a hand-held drill, and you will drive it too fast.

An auger bit, showing sharp fluted edges, lead screw and a leading scoring spur

Auger bits will also catch and bind on the wood they're boring - and this can break them if using a power drill. (The scoring spur and lead screw are especially breakage-prone.) A power drill does not allow you to sense this until it's too late. Use a hand brace, and you feel it bind - stop, and reverse. Fixing the problem. Easy. Nothing beats the tactile feedback you get from a brace.

Auger bits aren't in common use, of course. Use them for deep holes in softwoods or green hardwoods, or in MDF - its far easier to drill straight if drilling freehand, and far faster than using saw-tooth or Forstner bits.

Auger bits excel at rapidly drilling deep, straight holes in softwoods, green hardwood, and MDF

I love auger bits in a hand brace for drilling dog holes on workbenches - very quick, very easy. No trying to maneuver long slabs of wood under a drill press. It's very satisfying to take the low-tech, no-noise route when building a traditional bench.

It's actually fun.

Just don't use them on a seasoned hardwood top. You've been warned.

- PD

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