A COLLECTION OF BIT BRACES
Last Modified on Nov. 5, 2008
This site is not affiliated
with any company named herein, and its written or image contents may not be
reproduced without the express permission of the owner. Copyright (c) 2003, 2004,
2005, 2006 by
Sanford Moss. All rights reserved.
Iron-framed bit braces are uniquely American tools that were developed
independently of the earlier wood-framed "wheelwright’s braces," English brass
plated braces, and the Sheffield steel framed "ultimatum" braces of the
Nineteenth Century. Even before there were manufactured braces, the need to bore
holes was satisfied, at least in part, by braces wrought by blacksmiths, and
made almost wholly by the material they knew best--iron. These early
blacksmith braces are seldom signed or dated, but make an interesting early
historical beginning point for any brace collection. And this is where my
The earliest American
patents for bit holding chucks and construction details go back to the 1830s,
and a plethora of patents for chucks, ratchet mechanisms, etc. appeared from
1860 to the early 1900s, some of which, such as
Darling's, are quite unique. By 1900 the successful manufacturers of American bit braces had
shaken down to the John S. Fray Co. of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Millers
Falls Co. of Millers Falls, Massachusetts, and the Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co
(P.S.&W.) Co. of Southington, Conn. There were other players, to be sure,
but the top-of–the-line braces of these companies were quality tools that still
hold their own. In particular, the simple Spofford patent chuck made popular by
Fray and mounted on a steel frame with cocobolo handles enhanced by inlaid
pewter rings, is today a highly desirable brace, both for looks and
functionality. P.S.&W. braces with unique ratchet selectors, protruding
"interlocking" jaws, and with rich lignum and cocobolo handles,
continue to be popular
among users today. Millers Falls pioneered the "Barber" chuck that provided a simple and
fool-proof means of closing the jaws on a bit shank, and their line of braces
remain extremely popular and useful.
Shortly after 1900 The Stanley Rule & Level Company
entered the bit brace business in a serious way, acquiring several
companies to obtain patents, tooling, and workers with brace building
experience. Their line of braces became extensive. But to put some
limits on my brace collection I arbitrarily drew 1900 as a year beyond which
braces did not interest me as much. While I have many braces that extend
that limit (Stanley, Goodell-Pratt, Millers Falls, North Bros, McClellan, etc),
they are treated more as curiosities than an integral part of my collection.
American braces make interesting objects for a
collection. The number of brace patents is large; the
research of Ron Pearson and Jim Price have produced books* and other
information that detail many
of these patents; and early braces can be found quite cheaply in the
"wild"--having long been overlooked by collectors.
My interest in early bit braces was whetted in my
beginning "tooling" days, with each one that I found requiring substantial research
to identify and appreciate. As brace collections, go mine is small; but one that
contains some of the major (and minor) patented braces produced
in the late 1800s. Because I sell a lot
of braces, far more pass through my hands than accumulate in the collection.
This gives me the opportunity to retain just a relatively few of the
representatives of important patents and styles. I've tried to arrange
these braces in some order on this page. That order is by manufacturer, in a temporal sequence. Where minor makers pop
up, they are interjected into the mix. As an initial orienting mechanism,
you might care to look at an
historical overview of brace chuck development graciously provided by Jim
This page is very much a work in progress. More braces will be added
as they turn up. I'm sure the page is rife with mistakes and errors, so
critical comments that will improve its accuracy are sought and welcomed.
My hope is that this presentation will be informative as well as an aid to
identification of braces that you may come across--and perhaps help stimulate
more interest and research on American Braces. Let's see how this works!
American Bit Brace
Fuller Goodell Bros
Goodell Tool Co
Hazeltine & Chantrell
C. E. Jennings R.
Mason & Parker
F. Chantrell Darling
Davis Daboll Dolin Fegley
Haeberli & Schmidt Hay Holt
Ives & Rutz
C. Rose E. Rose
Shepardson Smith Spofford Stevens
Taylor Tucker Wilcox
* - Pearson, Ronald W. - The American Patented Brace, 1829 - 1924.
An Illustrated Directory
of Patents. 1994, The Astragal Press (Mendham, NJ). 185
pp. See the Mid-West Tool
Collectors Association (MWTCA) website for his updated list of brace patents.
Pearson's "rarity index" (cited throughout this page) is based on the numbers of
patented braces that he examined during the course of his research for the above
book. Of course, those numbers have been extended in the intervening
years, but continue to provide the only measure of relative rarity among braces.
His scale is as follows: NS
- No Examples seen (none seen)
A - Fewer than five examples seen.
B - Between six and twenty examples seen
C - Over twenty examples seen, but not common
FF - Frequently Found.
- Price, James E. - A Sourcebook of United
States Patents for Bitstock Tools and the
Machines that Made Them. 1992. James E. Price (Naylor, MO).
Jim has produced a
containing a comprehensive list of bit stock related patent drawings. This
contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org or
James E. Price, PO Box 6,
This site is not affiliated with any company named herein, and is purely
educational. Copyright (c) 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Sanford Moss. All rights reserved.