Friday, December 03, 2010

Not so routine drill

So we have some theories.

I quite like the idea from Michael and Stephen that it's the lead screw that makes it an auger rather than a drill bit. Except what about the bull nose Single Twist or L'Hommedieu variety with no lead screw?

Wadda you mean "The what?" You don't all have them in assorted sizes...? I do. (Auger problem? What auger problem...?) But unfortunately I have a slippery slope of the icy rather than the toolish variety twixt me and a photograph of same. But trust me, very definitely augers without a lead screw. Favoured by shipwrights, I gather. (Ah, Darrell LaRue's page has some here. Couldn't find that page when I looked before; thought it had died. Does the world need another brace bit reference? Probably not. That'll save me some work then...)

Howard wisely zeroes in on the spiral or helical screw of the auger, but as we know, the average person asked to point out a drill bit would pick out something also with a spiral cutting edge. An email correspondent takes it further though, and I think this may be the closest we'll get to a rule that'll stick. Viz:

"We typically call any drill bit where the helical vein is less than the root diameter a "drill bit" and any drill bit where the helical vein is larger than the root diameter an "auger bit.""

Bend your brain to that one, gentle reader, and see how you like it. It doesn't cover every eventuality either really, but I think the essential problem with trying to define the difference is the initial labelling is rather wayward. We know from custom what we'd call an auger and what we'd call a drill bit, but how often does custom come into being based on a precise and technical definition of something? Yeah, exactly. We may be on a hiding to nothing here.

Happily though, we have side benefits and discussion as a result. Such vital questions as "Why do catalogues list braces and not the bits to use in them?" and "Whither the forstner bit?" These are good points.

The forstner bit for braces, I have no idea about. Where are they? I've never seen a single one. Not one. Not even my encounter with the patternmaker's tools lead to finding any, and that was as likely a source as any. Like 12" and 14" braces, were they just something listed in catalogues but really only Americans ever bought them? I have no idea. Of course there are modern ones with round shanks, which leads us to question two...

Modern braces, but no brace bits. I confess I was a little horrified to hear this. Last I checked - and in fairness, it was a while ago - Axminster, for one, listed Clico Jennings Pattern auger bits. But not any more. Lee Valley has a few square-tanged brace bits, such as these Spoon Bits, but it is indeed a bit of a desert out there for new bits. Having said which, do not modern braces tend to be designed to take hexagonal and even round shanks? I know certain older models of brace chuck were also able to do that, and indeed a basic two-jaw brace will generally cope with hex-shanks pretty well in my experience. So you could argue they are listing bits that'll fit the braces they sell, they're just not what any right-thinking neanderthal would consider the bits of choice.

Personally I think a serious revival of hand boring methods is well overdue and we should all jump on the band wagon in a hurry before The Schwarz finishes inadvertently putting the price of admission completely out of our reach. Although I'm still kinda hoping he'll discover the joys of a fluted drill bit in a hand drill so someone'll put them back in production. In the meantime, I fear it's to the car boot, the flea market, and the dreaded online auction site if we wish to feed out brace bit habit.

Which we haven't got. Well I haven't; can't speak for you...


  1. Hi Alf, sorry being late to this particular party but thanks for a diverting subject on a day too cold to get into the workshop.

    After a leisurely browse round Google, I turned up some new (to me, at least) aspects of the augur story.

    First, the word was originally 'nauger', from the Anglo-Saxon nafgar - from naf meaning something like the hub of a wheel, and gar meaning spear. An excellent article here:

    I think it's clear that the word 'auger' predates the brace. My guess is that 'auger bits' were simply bits shaped like an auger. Other early bits were more like awls, often square-shanked with a point. Perhaps the ability of the auger's spiral to clear waste led to that design being adapted to the general style of drill bit.

    This site:
    gives an OED reference as early as AD700 but, sadly, doesn't give details.

    Finally, a great find at Google books:
    Lots of 'boring' history starting at page 179 (tragically several pages are not available but there's a lot of reading anyway).

  2. Hi Alf - Forstner bits with square tangs for a brace definitely do exist - I've got some, bought on eBay for not much cash. I've only noticed one other offer of some, which I missed bidding on. They were Austrian IIRC - Stubai?

  3. Alf

    I do find it odd that we have to look for good braces and egg beater drills, and new auger bits on sites such as Dieter Schmidt, Tools for Working Wood and Lee Valley, when the drills are French or German made and the auger bits are British made.

    I recently raised this gap in the tool range with one of the UK's main hand tool retailers and was told it was down to patchy supply (of Clifton's auger bits), which would disappoint customers.

    I'm not sure how the US sites manage to keep stock and satisfy their customer base, but it seems a bit weak to me. Surely a stock level indicator is all that is needed to manage customer's expectations.

    It is the real and obvious gap in the hand tool market over here, where everywhere else seems to have it sorted. Very odd and a bit annoying.



  4. Hi Alf

    My tool bible (Woodworking Handtools, Instruments and Devices by Graham Blackburn) says "Ship auger bits are much longer than regular auger bits, have no spurs, a very open twist and may be made with or without feed screws. They are also know as spiral augers(tautology?). They are often used with a traverse wooden handle, like the carpenter's nut auger". So I guess the definitions were/are a bit, er, flexible?



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