Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brace Yourself

I may not have mentioned it, but I have been dabbling in a little rust hunting this summer. Nothing serious; the number of car boot sales visited can be accommodated on the fingers of one hand, but I have looked a bit. And bought bugger all.

In part I was rendered somewhat nonplussed to find that the tool guy in Pool Market was no longer an outside tool guy, but a tool guy with premises inside. And more stuff. In some kind of order. It's almost like a real old tool shop. At one end, anyway - the rest is the usual Amtech/Rolson tat. Well history shows that when faced with a real old tool shop I tend to be rendered stingy and seldom buy anything. And so it has proved - not a thing has this way come, despite being regularly offered the Record fibreboard plane... As it happens the other available rust has been uninspiring and I haven't bought a thing.

I did, however, put forth the word that I was looking for a 12" or 14" sweep brace. Bench building? Lots of large holes? Seemed the time to kick an intermittent search up a gear or three and get serious. I even looked on the dealer sites, on the off-chance. I've come to the conclusion that I'd have better luck looking for an orthodontist specialising in the treatment of chickens. Yeah, they're listed in all the catalogues as something you could purchase, but did anyone ever actually do so? In fairness, in part I believe I'm hampered by the undesirability of the common woodworking brace. Viz: No-one thinks they're worth trying to sell, and hardly anyone bothers to differentiate between a 8", 10" or 12" sweep even if they do. But nevertheless I asked.

Last weekend I checked in with aforementioned tool guy on the off-chance, noticed the fibreboard plane was still there, lingered over some spankingly shiny auger bits I don't need and can't afford, and went on my way - brace-less. Naturally I had a look round the stalls outside, and found a tool guy I don't recall seeing before. He's probably been doing it for years, but so out of touch am I, I really wouldn't know. Anyway, he had all sorts of cool stuff (F'rinstance a Mathieson firmer chisel who's blade really was a serious hunk of steel, and judging by the state of the handle had been treated as such) and some braces. Shiny, well-loved braces with ratchets and chucks and so forth.

All of them 10" sweep.

But, lo! Next to the shininess was a thing of glowering darkness and rust. A thing with no chuck, no ratchet and no shine, but a thing with a really big sweep. I pounced like a cheetah faced with a three-legged antelope. I peered. I saw a shamrock mark:

I peered at the other part of the arm, and saw a very clear size stamp:

16"? Sixteen inches?! Holy smokes... The stained hardwood pad was a bit beaten up, but it did sort of rotate, with some encouragement.

The chuck... isn't. It's your basic tapered hole with a thumbscrew to hold the tang of the auger in. Except the thumbscrew went walkies at some point, so it has a bolt that doesn't turn terribly easily. But it's not a deal breaker - the tool gods also bestow spanners on their believers ;)

That's not a brace, that's a brace. Next to a Stanley #901 10" brace for scale.

So, yes, the tool gods got a little over-enthusiastic, to be honest. I'd swap a couple of those inches for a ratchet and a proper chuck. But spurning the tool gods is not a wise thing to do, and I snatched it up and sauntered up to the seller with absolutely no idea of his prices.

Part of me likes this bit, but most of the rest of me hates it. There's no telling whether you're going to be ripping off the seller's arm with gladsome cries and handing over a quid or two - or doing the slow walk of misery and returning the desired item or items to their rusty brethren. I offered up the time-honoured and nonchalant I'm-hardly-even-interested-in-the-answer "What d'you want for this?" Tone of voice naturally implies that what you really mean is "How much are you willing to give me to take this undesirable item off your hands, just out the goodness of my heart?" He stared out worryingly.

"That's an old one, that is"

That can mean one of two things. The one you don't want it to be is the six penny brace one. For some (almost) inexplicable reason, six penny braces make even the most brace-indifferent dealer see pound signs. I haven't seen many of them, but virtually all of them have had double figure prices on them. The one that didn't, I bought and simply re-tapped it for a new thumbscrew. But they're old, aren't they? At least they look old, and quite decorative. Unlike other braces, they're not just floating about in the huge pool of secondhand boring equipment, begging for a user. They're desirable just to be decorative. Price accordingly.

Well, I looked at the dark and rusty monster in my hands and figured I had a good chance that beauty was only in the eye of this beholder. The next words were encouraging.

"There are some newer one's there, only three pounds."

The man evidently thought me unhinged to be considering this metal behemoth when there were nicer examples to be had and was giving me the chance to see the light. Bless him. See what I mean? Brace sizes just escape folks as anything to be considered an issue. A brace is a brace is a brace. Some are rustier than others, and that's about it.

I declined the newer examples, and paid the man the price demanded (A fiver - not wholly gloatable, but not bad and worth the price if one is to keep the tool gods sweet) and went on my way. I may have whistled a little under my breath and the discerning observer might have noticed my step was considerably lighter despite the extra weight of metal I was carrying, but overall I think I did pretty well not to do an undignified dance of celebration.

So will it do the job, this Wagon Builder's Brace (for such it is)? Or will 16" prove to be a sweep too far for your intrepid, but ultimately girlie correspondent? No idea until I try it. I'll keep my hat in the ring for a 12" or 14" chucked and ratcheting model anyway, because one likes to be prepared for all eventualities. The true user always likes to have a wide range of sweeps from which to choose...


  1. Blimey, that's a whopper, Alf. Hope your arms are long enough.

    Cheers ;-)

    Paul Chapman

  2. I picked up a 12" brace same as yours at a car boot for a couple of pounds. No makers mark but the same "WROT" followed by "6IN".
    Makes it a 12 inch swing but, any idea what the wrot means?

    cheers Baz

  3. Baz, I'm not absolutely sure, but it was often used as an abbreviation for wrought iron (may still be) which seems the likeliest explanation.


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