September 1, 2007

Entry Details


# 535

Dimensions (inches)






7 ¾”


Jarrah, She-oak, brass, steel, leather

Brace, driver and toolbox

For a few years now I have been thinking about building a brace. Not just any brace, but one that would be dedicated to forming small holes, such as those needed for screws. I have a couple of fray braces that I use with larger auger bits when boring wider holes. For smaller holes the intention was to use twist drill bits. This is a small brace, just

16 3/8” (415mm) in length and with a throw of 4 ½” (115mm).

My inspiration came from a beautiful wooden brace in Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s “The Art of Tools” (page 176 of my paperback copy). While there is some similarity in style, the structure is different. The brace I have built was carved out of a solid piece of Jarrah (rather than the segmented sections used in the inspiration). Jarrah is a hard and tough timber that is able to withstand the stresses imposed on it. I concentrated on creating a working tool that at the same time begged to be stroked and fondled! Curvaceous and silken. A tactile delight!

The shaping was done with spokeshaves and rasps, and dimensioned with a hastily made convex chairmaker’s scraper (from a scrap of a bandsaw blade). The pommel was turned on a lathe and attached to the body with a mechanical joint (steel tubing). Initially I had planned to leave the pommel free to rotate. In the end I chose to epoxy the connection as I wanted to ensure as strong a joint as possible. The pommel is smooth and the brace rotates with little effort.

Initially I had planned to build just the brace alone. It seemed appropriate to add a matching screwdriver. Both the brace and driver share a snap-on type fitting, allowing the brace to use the screwdriver bits as well. The screwdriver is 5 ¼” (130mm) long. The brace and screwdriver are both finished in Ubeaut Shellawax (a very durable finish that is a combination of hard shellac and wax). The brass, knurled ferrules were stolen from the garden hose (For inspection, it is possible to unscrew the one that forms the ferrule on the head of the brace).

The 7 twist drill bits range in size from 1/16” through ¼”. There are 3 flat driver and 2 Philips bits. I added a birdcage awl (for starting holes) made from a spade bit.

Finally, there is a toolbox for storage and display. Boards were cut from a single rough sawn She-oak plank, and thicknessed by handplane. This is an extremely difficult wood to shape. It is very hard and has considerable reversing grain. But it is beautiful. The rose tint of the She-oak blends well with the reddish-brown tones of the Jarrah.

With the exception of a bandsaw for re-sawing, all work here was completed using hand tools. The box was dovetailed, a Jarrah panel was added for the lid, and then cut open to form two sections. A drawer was cut with a curved veneer saw between two lower panels – the aim throughout was to minimize evidence of kerfs. Finally the lid was attached to the main section with wooden hinges (built along the lines of finger joints). These were cut with a dovetail saw and chisel and shaped with rasps. The box is finished in Danish Oil and wax.

Throughout I have attempted to unify the pieces with a theme based on the brace’s pommel. This is seen in the drawer handle, hinted at the end of the screwdriver, and in the shape of the hinges.

A series of action images …

Here is a sequence of the brace and driver in action. Following the removal of waste for the hinge (chisel and router plane), the screw holes are started with the birdcage awl, and then drilled with the brace. Use either the driver or the brace to fit the screws.

Finally it was time to make sure that the toolbox was travel-ready. The drill and driver bits were safely tucked away in their little drawer. The brace and driver received leather straps. These were made from an old belt, fixed at the rear with a brass screw and washer, and hooked at the front. The front catches were made from brass split-pins.

Derek Cohen

Entry #535