‘What Is That Thing?’

braceI’m sorely tempted to install new kitchen countertops from – gasp – Ikea, because I know it would instantly update the look of the kitchen…but the real reason is because I find it frustrating to not be working on something. I am not good at just sitting around. But I have a showing on Saturday and an open house on Sunday – and I’m well aware that while I estimate new countertops would take me three or so hours, it would in reality take at least twice as long, plus lead to a snowball effect of tangential fixes.

So I was delighted when my neighbor, who’s in the midst of rehabbing/flipping a house down the street, called for some woodworking advice. How serendipitous – a project, but one I needn’t worry much about! He needs to drill flat-bottomed holes on a 40° angle in a curved bottom rail and rounded bannister to accept 3/4″ spindles.

I showed up all smiles with my brace and a 3/4″ bit, and he said (I’m paraphrasing here) “Dear God what is that thing?!”

I explained that it would be quick and easy – that the long lead screw would allow him to line up the bit perfectly with his marked center locations, and that just a few turns would do it for each hole. I also brought along a block of wood cut at 40° for him to use as a guide, and offered to demonstrate the ease and finesse with which he’d quickly finish his project.

He wasn’t having it.

He has a benchtop drill press with a tilting table, but clamping  those rounded pieces on an angled surface and having to unclamp and re-secure the workpiece for every hole? Well, I couldn’t convince him that a brace and bit would be faster. So I reached in my pocket and handed him the 3/4″ Forstner bit I’d stashed as a backup.

I almost offered to do it for him, but decided instead to go home and read “All’s Well That Ends Well.” I should be writing rather than worrying about countertops and my neighbor’s spindles.

(But I know I’m right about the brace and bit.)

About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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19 Responses to ‘What Is That Thing?’

  1. stroyno says:

    You are totally right. I’m enjoying the new blog.

    And good luck with the house. I have a good feeling about this weekend…

  2. John Vernier says:

    Yes, you are right. I once had to convince a co-worker to use a brace and bit for something on the job, and the look on his face as he said, “Oh! You want me to use THAT?!”, stays with me.

  3. There are tool people, and then there are TOOL people. Your neighbor is obviously one of the former. Not a bad thing you understand, everyone has their thing…

  4. Ken Speed says:

    I don’t mean this in a critical way but I have to admit that due to MANY irritating experiences I now make it a habit to NEVER loan ANYBODY a drill bit. Amazing how they get lost or broken or left in a rain filled coffee can in the back of pickup truck for a week when they belong to somebody else.
    I do keep a brace in my tool box and use it although I’m more apt to use it to drive or remove screws than to drill holes.

  5. Frank says:

    I just want to say,your new blog is great…as for the brace and bit, I use my hand tools more now than before.the reason is you get better results with hand tools plus a lot less noise…lol

  6. I would of pulled a gouge from my pocket and asked if he would prefer to chop the holes out himself. Then maybe showed him the bit a brace. Maybe that would have been enough to convince him. 🙂

  7. What a great diversion that spun into a telling vignette. I can’t imagine not grabbing the best tool with which to do a simple job, but at least you had the prescience to anticipate his need to complicate the issue with a power tool.

    And I agree with everyone else: I like your new blog.

  8. woodchippie says:

    Lol. My mother thinks that I’m nuts in using hand tools. She needed a few flat bottomed holes drilled to insert shaker pegs and she couldn’t figure it out. I handed her my brace and bit set. She looked at me and said don’t you have a cordless drill or something like that? I grinned and said, “this is cordless.” She said no way, I haven’t seen anyone use one since my dad used one. I told her that it’s what I had. Lol, she ended up leaving it on the bench. Never finished it.

  9. Frank says:

    Hello, I think the comments on this is fantastic, as for the power tool use, what did we do before power tools ? Seemed woodworkers, carpenters had no problem building by hand. Granted power tools have their place in a shop, but it seems we have lost contact with the spirit of using hand tools and what we can do with them… Thank you for putting up with this rambling message…. Lol

  10. joemcglynn says:

    I’ve seen plenty of woodworkers shy away from a bit and brace, opting instead to build a complex fixture to fit on a drill press to drill three holes. for a stool (for example). The funny thing is thing is that before I’d tried using one I probably would have been that fixture-building guy.

  11. MikeP says:

    As a former stair guy (for over 15 years), I can attest that the brace would work just fine. Although a regular corded drill with a spade bit is what we used. Quick and easy. I drilled thousands of holes that way.

    • fitz says:

      Hmmm – maybe it was his particular spade bit that was causing the trouble, then. He tried that, but the work was getting all chewed up – I didn’t think to take a look at the bit, because it wouldn’t have been my first choice.

  12. MikeP says:

    I always had a sharp one for every job, and the holes were drilled with the rail in place. Drilling vertically. Balusters were laid out with a plumb bob. Holes were started with the drill square to the rail, and then moved vertically. Very high speed electric drill. The holes need to be a little larger than necessary since the baluster slides up into the rail then either screws into the tread with a double ended lag or doweled into the tread with the factory bottom dowel. This biggest mistake is the slow turning drill bit. Especially in a hardwood. The uphill side of the hole is where the tear out usually happens.

  13. My fourteen year old nephew was visiting a couple weeks ago. He wanted to make a birdhouse for his mother. When I showed him how to use the brace and bit, his eyes lit up and he said, “wow! That was cool!” I think we have a convert. Damn near made this old Marine cry.

  14. Frank says:

    That was great, nice to see a new woodworker learning the old ways….

  15. Pingback: You Know the Aphorism ‘Be Careful What You Wish For?’ | Rude Mechanicals Press

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