Homemade brace question

I am part of a small group of scouters that have built a, colonial living history themed camp site, at our local scout camp.
It is built to look like a frontier fort of the late 1700's, on a smaller simpler scale.
So far we have built a blacksmith shop with a three board bellows, and a cooking area with an adobe oven.
Now we are building a woodworking shop. We plan to have a couple of specific projects that the scouts can sign up to make. We will have plans and kits there for them to use. The first two projects are a primitive camp chair, and a candle lantern. The chair slides together, made from an 8 foot 2 x 12. The lantern has 3 glass sides and a fourth side made from punched copper with the scouts choosing and punching their own design.
Right now I am making some tools for these projects. I have made a couple of bow saws and will be making a couple of frame saws for ripping boards, and some hand braces set up with 1/2 inch spade bits.
The braces are the item that I am having a hard time deciding how to make.
I am wondering if anyone out there has had some experiences, making wooden braces. Specifically I am looking for ideas on how to attach the bits and what to use for the body. Since these will be used at a scout camp by scouts and their leaders who are only there for the weekend and don't have any real "ownership" of these items, I need to make some assumptions.
1. They will get wet from time to time, from spills or being laid out on a picnic table outside the woodshop and left there overnight.
2. They will get used hard by kids and adults that will of course try the go faster push harder technique.
Ideally these two scenarios will never happen but I am a realist, and even though these are scouts, and the leaders will have to go through a safety lesson and instruction how to use the tools, they still will not be as attentive as most of us would like them to be. That's nicey nice talk for, there's a dope in every group.
Given these assumptions I need them to be fairly easy to replace/rebuild and they need to pretty robust.
I want to use speedbore bits so that the camp ranger can easily find replacements.
I am thinking of using plywood for the handles, laminating two peices together to make about 1 inch thickness. I think this would withstand most of the bending forces on the neck of the handle. I plan to just round the grip off rather than making a spinning hand grip (unless someone has better ideas). I was thinking about using a doorknob for the top knob on the brace. This could be on a long bolt and would be able to spin.
Since new speedbore bits have 1/4 inch hex ends, I am thinking that I could pin a magnetic bit holder into the end of the brace, to make a socket that would hold the speedbore but think that I'd like to lock the bits in somehow to keep them from getting separated from the braces.
Any thoughts or insights are appreciated.
--
Lloyd Baker



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Lloyd, It seems you have a graet deal of work on your plate. Your posting reminded me of Roy Underhill (don't seem to find his program on TV in my area any longer). He used a bit brace with a spoon shaped bit. I recall in one show he used it to bore holes for chair spindles. The brace itself was made of solid wood and considering the politics of the colonial era was probably brought over from England. If you haven' already done so, you might Google him for some ideas. Joe G
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wrote:

Joe thanks for the compliment but I am no where in the league of Roy Underhill, but he's one of my hero's for sure.
I have done quite a bit of research on colonial tools and am very familiar with original braces and bits. I own an original gentleman's brace, probably about 1850 vintage not colonial period, and several original spoon bits, some definitely colonial period and obviousely hand forged. I wanted to go with a wooden brace for appearance sake, but perhaps I should abandon that idea in favor of a metal shaft.
For our camp I want three or four braces that will be easy to maintain and will stand up to serious abuse.
Perhaps I could weld a hex drive adapter to an old worn out modern brace (easily found at flea markets). Something more to research.
Thanks for your input.
Yours in Scouting Lloyd Baker
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In that era, settlers who either did not have access to, or could not afford, English made tools would fashion their own. A bit brace would have been made from a suitably crooked tree branch. Alternatively, a local blacksmith would have fashioned one from an iron bar. The bits themselves were held in a tapered socket and secured with a thumbscrew. In your case I'd epoxy a hex shank holder into the end of the wood. The bits were "spoon" type back then. You can still buy them but they're expensive. The speedbores are fine for your reenactment.
You mentioned the thought of making one from plywood. I'd do that if I were making a theater prop that wouldn't actually be used as a working tool; I think your kids may end up with a lot of splinters in their hands otherwise.
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J. Thanks for your input.
I was thinking of covering the ply with hardwood to cut down on splinters. Effectively the Ply would be inside for structural strength to mitigate cross grain forces on the neck. Many of the orginal pieces that I have studied have been reinforced with brace side plates. That's another option. At Fort Boonesboro's carpenter shop they have a few homemade braces, that they use, hanging up. Perhaps I need to go back there and take a look at them.
A metal brace is a possibility too. I may just cut the chuck off of a modern brace and weld on a hex bit adapter. Then I could put hardwood over the steel shaft and have the look of the original wooden braces with the strength of a modern brace. It would already have swivel handles that way too. Hmmm...
Basically I am just trying to find the simplest solution to achieve the look and function that I am going for.
--
Yours in Scouting
Lloyd Baker
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Do you have any reference for the existence of such an iron-framed brace in that period?
(because I'm betting you won't find one within 100 years of it)
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Seen 'em at Williamsburg.
First hit on Google returned this:
http://www.antiquetools.com/10-tools/10-Tools/18cBrace.html
J.
Andy Dingley wrote:

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scouter3 wrote:

If you google "wooden brace bit" you'll find a good deal of information. The design you describe was not uncommon. Usually made of hardwoos, one site mentions apple but I don't see why hard maple wouldn't work fine.
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--John
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John,
Thanks for your suggestion. I've already done a good deal of research on colonial tools. I portray a colonial carpenter in some living history venues. I was just trying to find the simplest solution to achieve the look and function that I am going for. I thought maybe I could learn from others mistakes or successes.
A solid hardwood handle is a thought, but I am most concerned about the forces on the cross grain. I can picture some 12 year old cranking away with the spade bit and have them break out through the opposite side or hit a knot and jam up and then try to force it to turn. Snap goes the nice hardwood brace.
You or I wouldn't do that and we wouldn't let a youth do it if we saw them. But the plan for this project is that groups can come rent the facility and use it, with their own leadership providing the supervision. We plan to have a special training course to "License" the leaders, and only those that have taken our training will be given the keys to the fort. Still they can't be watching everything all the time.
Yours in Scouting Lloyd Baker
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scouter3 wrote:

That's the thing, I would have expected such a brace to be too fragile for practical use, but googling I was surprised to find many, many illustrations of such some of which have survived for quite a long time, so perhaps properly designed it's not as fragile as one might think.
And from the looks of them if they break they aren't that hard to replace.
Have you made and used such a brace yourself? Was it fragile?

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scouter3 wrote:

This might help. http://www.americancenturies.mass.edu/activities/media.jsp?itemid 428&img=0
R
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Thanks for the link, I will have to look at the video at work. I don't have the activex controls on my machine to run it.
Yours in Scouting Lloyd Baker
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Sat, Mar 17, 2007, 6:18am scouter3 snipped-for-privacy@ix.netcom.com (scouter3) doth put out: <snip> Any thoughts or insights are appreciated.
I would have thought augers. instead of a brace.
JOAT Custom philosophizing done. No job too small; must be indoor work, with no heavy lifting.
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Some good ideas. Slightly OT, I saw a wood lathe in New Zealand used by settlers very early 19th century that might be your next project. Consisted of a very crude holder for a pole, with a rope wrapped one turn. The operator pulled down on the rope to spin the pole, and two vertical poles were pulled together at the top as the rope was pulled down. The spring of the vertical poles pulled the rope back up on the return. The down pull was with a foot pedal, just a longer board going thru a loop of the rope at the bottom. Push on the foot pedal to spin the piece to be shaped, cut on the down stroke, release your foot to reset for the next cutting stroke. I was very impressed by a lathe made of a few branches and some rope! Supposedly they used this to make chair parts, table legs, and other round things. Probably not pens and laminated bowls!
They were also into using empty wine bottles - the recessed bottom - for bearing surfaces. Used a lot on fence gates. And for auto closing, tied a canon ball or stone to one side with a rope staked to the ground. As you opened the gate, the rope got tight and lifted the canon ball. when released, the weight of the ball closed the gate. Those guys may have been old, and washed rarely, but they wern't dumb!
On Mar 18, 2:05 pm, snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (J T) wrote:

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Thanks for the suggestion.
I have been thinking about a spring pole lathe, and maybe someday. But first we have to walk before we run.
The purpose of this shop is to give the kids a chance to do some basic woodworking and allow groups to come use it with a minimum amount of training.
Perhaps I can somehow lock the lathe up so it can only be used when more experienced people are there to run it for demos and closely supervised activities.
As far as those old timers, after 30+ years in living history, I have learned that we are definitely not any smarter or more resourceful than our predecessors. We just have the benefit of learning from and building on their experiences. In some case I think that, due to the availability of technology, we have become less resourceful, over all. That's a part of why I am doing this project. To pass along a way to touch our past and really learn from it.
Your in Scouting Lloyd Baker
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(scouter3) doth put

Thanks for the idea, an auger is another possibility. I need to check on the time period that augers came into common use.
They will be making holes 3/8" and 3/4" diameter for the two projects. I want to make three sets of tools. That's why I was thinking braces with changeable bits. Easier to replace as time goes on.
Another thought would be to use gimlets for the 3/8 holes, but I haven't been able to find a source for good ones lately. I've looked at the Lee Velley offerings but they look an awful lot like the cheap Taiwan ones that I have seen at woodcraft.
Yours in Scouting Lloyd Baker
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Looks like you have a job for your blacksmith shop... ;)
--
flip
Just on the border of your waking mind, There lies - Another time,
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