MILLERS FALLS COMPANY
The most recent and best history of the Millers Falls Company is that of the
outstanding web page published by Randy Roeder. This
important document should be consulted for all questions about this company and
its tools—especially braces.
Prior to 1868, when the Millers Falls Mfg. Co came into being, the
foundations for the firm had been set with the
partnership of Levi Gunn
and Charles Amidon, beginning as early as 1861. First manufacturing
washing machine wringers, the pair ultimately acquired rights to the seminal
chuck patent of William H. Barber, and began manufacturing
bit braces as early as 1864. In 1865, the pair took on a third
partner, Elijah R. Saxton, renaming the company "Gunn, Amidon & Co."
Saxton's participation lasted only for about 18 months, and then he departed,
turning up later in Buffalo, NY.
Interestingly, Charles Amidon, after leaving the
Millers Falls Mfg. Co in 1870, operation other manufacturing
companies in Millers Falls, ultimately also ended up in Buffalo,
and in 1877 entered into another business alliance with Saxton, forming the firm
of Saxton & Amidon--a relationship that lasted until 1883, at least.
earliest roots of Millers Falls brace making are traced to those marked by
"Gunn & Amidon". These are rare items. The earliest brace of mine
that can be traced to these roots is a 12 inch sweep sleeve brace that is
marked on the lower bow with Barber's May, 24, 1864 patent date, and on
the upper one, "Manufd by G.A.&S" / Greenfield, Mass. I interpret this to
mean "Gunn, Amidon & Saxton." It is the earliest putative Millers Falls
brace that I own.
By 1868 Gunn & Amidon took on a third partner, Henry Pratt, in order to
obtain new financing, and the
Manufacturing Company was born.
When looking at early Millers Falls braces it is important to realize that
from 1868 to 1872, the company called itself the "Millers Falls Manufacturing
Co." and was located in parts of Greenfield, Massachusetts. Only after a
reorganization and a move to the nearby village of Millers Falls in 1872 was the
company name changed to the Millers Falls Company. Accordingly, braces marked
"Millers Falls Mfg Co." (or a variant of this) can be dated to the first four
years of the company’s existence.
Among the tools initially produced by the fledgling company, braces were
most important. Beginning with the acquisition, by Gunn & Amidon, of the May
24, 1864, patent (#42827) of William H. Barber for a chuck shell that forced the
spring loaded special jaws closed when it (the shell) was screwed onto the chuck base. This idea became the
most enduring form of bit brace chuck, and variants of it are still produced
Because one of the founding partners of Millers Falls was Charles
himself a bit brace inventor, refinements of the Barber chuck were quickly made
by Millers Falls. Even as the Barber chuck was beginning to find acceptance, the
Millers Falls Manufacturing Company experimented with other chuck designs,
including those of Albert Goodell and
The Goodell chuck (patented July 14, 1868, #79825) is rarely seen today
(Pearson "A" rating). It is an interesting chuck, having a pair of curved jaws
the rotate toward the center of the chuck when an outer knurled ring is turned.
This is accomplished when the curved outer sides of the jaws, which are slotted,
engage the threads on the inside of the knurled ring.
shown in the patent diagram is a second feature of the chuck that involves a
second knurled ring near the top of the chuck. Rotating this ring moves an
internal seat engages the top of the bit. Thus the jaws can be tightened against
shank of the bit (with the lower ring) and the base of the tang then forced down
to rest against the backs of the jaws. This feature anticipates later patents
awarded to Armstrong (lever cam adjust) and
Bartholomew (screw adjust).
This pair of braces with Goodell chucks show some interesting
differences. The seemingly earlier one (lower), with a replaced cup handle, is
marked "No. 2" on the upper bow, and "Pat. July 3, 1866" on the lower bow. The
only patent I can find on that date related to braces is one for a chuck design
by Frank Johnson of Brooklyn, NY (#56059). This is for a means of shaping jaws
to fit a variety of bit shank sizes and does not seem related to this chuck. So
the patent date presents a puzzle. The second brace has a wooden wrist handle,
and a full brass outer sleeve on the chuck. The bow on this one is marked,
"Millers Falls Mfg. Co." The chucks on these braces work identically. Both have
Clemons B. Rose of Sunderland, Mass was awarded at least six brace patents,
two of which were important ones. One, #63944 was issued on April 16, 1867 and
is the basis for the "Rose" chuck found on some early Millers Falls braces. It
was reissued on January 5, 1875 as #6212 (under the aegis of the Millers Falls
Mfg Co).* The chuck features a pair of jaws that protrude from the mouth of the
chuck as the knurled ring at the top is turned. Like the Goodell chuck (and
later Fray chuck with interlocking jaws), the jaws are grooved on their outer
sides, at the base, and engage threads on the inside of the knurled ring. These
chucks have prominent brass ferrules below the ring, are showy, and prized by
collectors. The four braces below include two of larger sweeps (both 12") and
two smaller ones (6" & 8"). One of the larger braces (at the top) is marked,
"Bitstock Co., Greenfield, Ms / Pat’d April 16, 1867. According to Randy
Roeder’s research, the "Bitstock Co." may have been operated by Gunn
and Amidon (both Millers Falls partners). Perhaps this was a guise to
manufacture the Rose patent chuck before its acquisition by Millers Falls in
Among the other three braces above, the largest is marked, "Millers Falls
Mf’g Co. / Greenfield, Mass" with the patent date and "No. 1". The smaller
braces are each marked with the patent date. The smallest is also marked "No.
5." These braces carry a Pearson "B" rating for rarity.
My collection also contains a Bit Extension ( 19" long, overall) fitted with
a Rose patent chuck. The rod is signed only by an owner. It is not clear that it
was a Millers Falls product, or hand fashioned from a scavanged chuck.
But, except for the chuck, it is similar to catalogue illustrations of other
early Millers Falls extensions. At least two other collectors have told me
that they have identical bit extensions with Rose chucks. One of these is
marked, "Millers Falls Mfg. Co" and the other, "Millers Falls Co."
Rose’s second enduring patent was for a distinctive wrist handle (Patent
#82251, Sept. 15, 1868). This quite decorative handle has a terete rosewood (or
cocobolo) handle enclosed by broad brass ferrules at either end. The ferrules
are riveted to the underlying wood and are soldered to the shaft of the brace.
They are immovable and don’t rotate even though the patent description makes
that claim.. Of the four Rose chuck braces shown above, three have
complete wooden handles that must have been applied to the shaft before bending
the bows (a la Bartholomew), while the 8" sweep brace’s wooden handle is in two
halves, and could have been applied after manufacture.
It is appropriate to mention that a weakness of both the Goodell and Rose
chucks employed by Millers Falls was the difficulty of replacing broken jaws.
The internal workings of the chucks were not easily accessible, and jaw
replacement must have been difficult, if not impossible. That fallibility was
obviated by the design of the Barber chuck.
William H. Barber patented his revolutionary chuck on May 24, 1864.
According to Randy Roeder’s
Barber was from Windsor, Vermont – up the Connecticut River a ways from
Greenfield, Mass. He sold his rights to the patent to Levi Gunn and
Charles Amidon in 1865. Gunn and Amidon, who had a small manufacturing concern in
Greenfield, began producing the braces. In 1868, with Henry Pratt, they formed
the Millers Falls Manufacturing Company and brace production began in earnest.
Very soon (the patent was awarded on Jan 14, 1868) Charles Amidon, perceiving
weaknesses in the Barber chuck, patented a refinement that involved pinning the
jaws together, changing the shape of the jaws, doing away with the cast (or
machined central piece in the middle of the chuck), and eliminating the basal spring
behind the jaws of the Barber chuck. This refinement was termed the "Barber’s
For brace collectors the distinctions between the chucks—Barber’s and
Barber’s Improved--are important. Barber’s original patent was produced in
quantity by Millers Falls for only
a short period of time—between 1865 (at the earliest), and sometime in 1868 or
69. The bulk of the "Barber" chuck production over the ensuing years was
really of Amidon’s patent—not Barber’s. Indeed in my experience, true Millers
patent chucks are found uncommonly today, despite Ron Pearson’s rating of "FF"
(frequently found) for them. They are, however, fairly often appear on
unmarked braces found on
smaller company's chucks after the early 1880's when
Barber's patent expired.
Because the original Barber patent chuck had
several independent internal parts (2 unattached jaws and a floating spring
behind them), parts are often lost and the original jaws are usually replaced
with Amidon’s jaws—making a "Frankenchuck." Collectors beware!
Indeed, Henry L. Stevens, on June 22, 1880 patented an improvement to the
original Barber jaws that included a sleeve to help keep the spring and the jaws
together . This "improvement' is so rare that neither Ron Pearson nor I
had seen it-- until one recently came to light.
A comparison of original Barber
patent chuck (on the left) and Amidon's "Barber's Improved" chuck (on the
right). With fewer parts, parallel jaws, and less milling on the chuck,
Amidon's improvement made functional and manufacturing sense.
I have only two Millers Falls Mfg Co braces with authentic Barber patent chucks in my collection.
They are of different sweeps, but are otherwise alike and quite distinctive. In
each, the brace is without a wooden wrist handle, but has a thin, very nicely
turned wooden cup handle with elongated metal quill. The lower bows are stamped,
"Millers Falls Mfg. Co" on one side, and "Barber’s Patent / May 24, 1864." The
chucks are lightly marked with decorative knurling, but no other marks. I regard
these as early products of Millers Falls Mfg. Co. The wooden cup handles are
especially interesting because the later Rose and Goodell patent braces, made by
Millers Falls Mfg. Co. had iron handles. The handles on the
earlier braces are different (and nicer) than later Millers Falls Mfg Co brace
Slightly later braces from MF Mfg Co. are marked, "Millers Falls Mfg. Co."
and "Barber’s Improved Patent" with the 1868 date. The mark is also on the lower
bow, and the chuck shells look identical to the original Barber patent
shells—with light knurling, but no further information. No model number appears
on any of these early braces.
Note that one of these braces (the one with the replaced crude cup handle)
has Rose’s patent wrist handle.
As another example of a Millers Falls Mfg Co. brace, the one below is
interesting because is is signed by the company (predating 1872), has a Rose
patent wrist handle, Barber Improved Chuck (with patent date), and a
model number stamped on the lower bow. It is No. 13, which conforms to the
later model number for the 8" sweep sleeve brace (which this is). Randy
Roeder's research suggests that this model was produced by the Millers Falls Co
about 1878, but here is a marked example, pushing that model back to 1872, at
Another example from the Millers Falls Mfg Co. is the brace
below that is marked, "No. 22". It also carries Amidon's Jan 14, 1868
patent for the "improved Barber" chuck. Distinctive the for rather bulbous
wooden wrist handle, this is another model that was manufactured by the Millers
Falls Co. after the 1972 reorganization, but this example shows that it was
produced before 1872, as well.
Following the formation of the Millers Falls Company in 1872 - coincident
with the absorption of the Backus Vise Co, the taking on of Henry Pratt as a
partner, and two years after the departure of Charles Amidon – the new company
expanded its brace line substantially, producing a variety of models that
differed in quality of wood and construction. Initially, however, most were
equipped with Barber’s Improved chucks. These braces distinctively are marked
with a model number on the bow; and further marks ("Millers Falls Co, Millers
Falls, Mass," and patent information) are now on the chuck shell. Three examples
of such braces are shown below.
bottom brace is marked, "No. 13" on the bow, and "Millers Falls Co. / Millers
Falls, Mass" and "Barbers Improved / Pat'd Jan. 14, 1868" on the chuck
shell. It has an 8" sweep. The middle brace is marked, "No. 73" on
the bow, and "Millers Falls Co" & "Millers Falls, Mass. U.S.A." on the chuck.
It also has an 8" sweep. The top brace with lignum cup handle is unmarked
on the bows, but the chuck is marked as the bottom brace. Its sweep is 6".
See Randy Roeder's website.
The non-ratcheting (sleeve) braces, numbered 10 to 16, are
interesting in that for a number of years, Millers Falls produced the Nos. 15
and 16 braces with a 4 inch sweep (2 inch throw). These braces are sought
after by collectors today, since they are not common. The No. 15 was
produced with the Barber Improved chuck between about 1876 and 1922.
Below is an example of one. The small sweep and frame, sporting a standard
size Barber Improved chuck (with McCoy jaws) gives the brace a somewhat ungainly
Number 16 sleeve brace is even more uncommon. This number was equipped
with a small chuck, designed for use with Millers Falls' tool handles. It
was produced approximately between 1885 and 1903. In their catalogs, this
brace was said to have been designed for piano makers. This was probably a
pretty small market, and so an extended production period was not in the cards.
An example of this brace is shown below, along with a comparison of its chuck,
and one from a more recent Millers Falls tool handle.
The early brace marketing success of the Millers Falls Co was not without
contentiousness. A plethora of brace chuck patents appeared in competition with
the Barber’s Improved chuck. Some of them were close, if not actual,
company that was particularly keen on competing with Millers Falls was that of
William Ives of New Haven, Conn.
Prominent among the many attempts to outdo the basic Barber chuck design are
other patents by Ives, Amidon, and
Backus (whose vise company was incorporated into the
original Millers Falls Co.). Others later tried to improve on this basic chuck
design (eg. Fuller).
With the utility of the Barber Improved chuck proved, the next inventive
step in the perfection of the bit brace was to develop a ratchet mechanism that
allowed the brace to be used in situations where the complete sweep of the bow
was restricted. The ability to bore clockwise and counterclockwise was a
requirement for the ratcheting concept. The earliest ratchet patent dates from
1857, but Millers Falls adopted a patent granted to John Lynam in 1871. This brace was produced for a fairly short time and is uncommonly
found today (Pearson, "B"). I had looked for years for an
example of the Lynam ratchet patent, and falling short have come to believthat
it is much less common than the Pearson "B" rating would lead one to believe.
Finally, in May, 2018 I found one at a local flea market.
The development of a commercially viable ratchting mechanism was an
important one in the evolution of American bit braces. An early entry into this
market was made by Millers Falls with the production of a brace, the ratcheting
mechanism of which was based on a patent (April 11, 1971) by John T. Lynam of
Jeffersonville, IN. This is a simple mechanism, relying on two strips of spring
steel that serve as dogs for the single ratchet pawl, an are positioned by a
thumbscrew with an acentric shaft. This brace went into production in 1871 (when
Millers Falls was still the Millers Falls Mfg Co. According to Randy Roeder's
great MF history (http://oldtoolheaven.com/brace/brace1.htm
) production ceased by 1881). Two brace sizes were produced—No. 1, with 12”
sweep; and No. 2, with a 10” sweep. Pearson's book, by the way
gives an incorrect date for this patent, so there is room for confusion, At any
rate, this is the brace that I found. It is in the 10” sweep (MF No 2). The
ratchet mechanism conforms in every way to the patent description, and is surely
an early Millers Falls brace. But I can find no stamped markings on it, except
for an owner's stamp (W. S. Davis) on the upper bow. The brace took a hard knock
to the top handle that chipped out the wood at the top, and broke the quill
flange below. But it is rare, and it works!
By 1878, however, Millers Falls was producing a line
of ratchet braces that incorporated a ring selector and proved to be a very
successful product. This was their line of models numbered 30 to 34. I own
one of these braces, a 10 inch sweep No. 32, that has the chuck shell marked
with both Amidon's 1868 patent for the improved jaws, and a patent date of Jan
17th, 1871. This latter patent was issued to
William P. Dolin for his ratcheting device.
It rates an "NS" for rarity. This seems to be the earliest example of a truly successful brace ratchet.
example is a No. 31 (12 inch sweep) the chuck shell of which is also marked with
Dolin's ratchet patent date, and the patent issued on Aug 15, 1871 to
William McCoy (No. 118058). This covers the retaining
rings on the wrist handle, that are buttressed on their inner surfaces.
This is a Frequently Found patent. This brace is in wonderful condition
and is marked by C. Clough, a Nashua, New Hampshire cabinet maker from the
Following its introduction, this line of ratchet braces underwent periodic improvement in jaw and spring patterns, and were sold for a
long while (up to at least 1955). They are common today and still considered excellent ratchet braces.
A less well known line of Millers Falls braces was that of 6x models (61,
62, 63). This line was only made from about 1879 to 1922, but at least the
early models had the elusive 1880 patent of Stevens that put a brass cylinder
around the coiled spring behind the jaws to protect it from damage or loss.
The remainder of the chuck, with its machined struts in the chuck remained the
same as Barber's original chuck, patented in 1864. It is surprising first,
that Millers Falls used this improvement only after 16 years elapsed from
Barber's patent, and second, that it was apparently used on just a limited
number of Millers Falls braces. It remains a seldom seen patent.
Here is an example of a No. 63 Millers Falls brace,
marked with the June 22, 1880 patent of Stevens, and with the distinctive chuck
and jaws. (Pearson, NS)
noteworthy improvement in brace jaws occurred with the second patent of William McCoy
(#421,420) issued on Feb. 18, 1890). This described the use of a wire
spring to hold the pair of jaws apart, until pushed together by the action of
the Barber chuck shell. This appears to have been the forerunner of the
later spring loaded jaws found in all of the quality braces made by P.S. & W.,
Millers Falls, North Bros. and Stanley, but it is seldom found in the older
braces (Pearson "A"). Here is an example found in a No. 34 ratchet brace
with 6" sweep. The patent date is marked on the chuck shell. I've
also found this patented jaw set on a Millers Falls Drill Brace and angular bit
stock (see below).
As Millers Falls entered the 20th Century their finer chucks were
developed--the so-called "Master" and "Holdall" chucks that gripped round and tanged shanks
more securely—and the "Lion" chuck that was easier to tighten, gripped all sorts
of bit shanks, and was fitted with ball bearing for smoother operation.
This chuck was developed to compete with the earlier "Samson" chuck of
Peck, Stowe & Wilcox, and later helped stimulate
development of the North Bros ratchet chuck.
This No. 772, 10" sweep brace is fitted with an early Lion chuck.
The chuck was introduced in 1915, and this one is marked with two patent dates -
Feb 16, 1909 and Nov 8, 1910. Neither patent is listed in Pearson.
In addition to braces, Millers Falls marketed a variety other sorts of
bitstock tools. These included brace drills, chain drills, hollow auger braces,
and sill borers. Examples are shown below.
This Millers Falls "Patent Universal Angular Bitstock" device carries a "Feb'y
18, 1890" patent date on its chuck (for McCoy's patent for chuck jaws--Pearson
"A" rating for rarity).
This is an example of the No. 182 drill brace with Barber Improved chuck,
also marked with Feb 18, 1890 patent for the McCoy spring jaws. For more
information about brace drills, see George Langford's
This dedicated hollow auger brace is the No. 2 hollow auger, not well
received and an uncommon tool to find. It is built on the frame of a No.
10 14" brace.
Here is a Millers Falls No 51 sill borer, or joist tool, made for boring holes
perpendicular to the axis of the tool. This was introduced in 1915 and was
such a poor seller that is very uncommonly found today.
attempt to market a ratchet corner brace did not meet with much success.
The two handle format was awkward and capable of less vertical force application than the
more successful Fray
model, which was adopted by Stanley. This is a rare tool to
Return to Brace INDEX
* - It is curious that the patent drawings are signed "C. B. Rose /
Millers Falls Manf. Co. / Assignors / per K.B. Dimagini, Atty" and are dated Jan 5,
1875. This is more than 2 years after the Millers Falls "Manufacturing" Company
ceased to exist. According to Roeder, application for the reissue was made in
1873--still later than the reorganization date.