I don’t use screws often in furniture making but when I started building lots of benches I found myself in need of a good cordless drill for all of the vice fitting and particularly around the tool wells of the Little John’s. I also needed something with plenty of power. Drilling 3/4″ holes for bench dogs drinks through a battery so I had a mains drill for this, it’s not a pleasant job, the bits get hot quickly and in no time at all I’d burnt out three drills.
The best thing I can say about a cordless drill is it gives you a spare hand to align your parts and hold them securely, and that’s a big plus. But if you’re making furniture traditionally (rather than lots of pocket hole screwing) then I have to say that the ultimate cordless drill remains the brace. I absolutely believe that hand tools are the best modern day solution for an individual maker, even a professional, and whilst you probably think I’m crackers to say that, the brace makes an excellent case for going old.
There aren’t many phrases that conjure up feelings of old fashioned and out of touch quite like ‘the bit and brace’, but if you put this tool up against the best that technology has to offer it can not only match it, but in many cases excels for our particular needs.
Have you ever tried using your cordless drill to put a big fat screw in to hardwood without pre-drilling? Unless it’s an unwieldy monster of a tool it will likely whine at you before the half way point and slumber right down as you drain the battery. That’s because it’s hard work. Drilling large holes is the same story.
If you have a good drill then you will find a setting to change the gear and up the umph, but now you have to hold on tight because it wants to throw you around with it or slowly break your wrist.
There aren’t always a lot of holes in furniture making but there can be some big ones. Removing the bulk of waste, drilling for chair legs for example, and there can be some really big ones if you’re building your own workbench.
The design of a brace makes these hard jobs easier on you. It’s old and people powered but it’s also good physics, and physics can win over electricity any day in my book; physics and a callus forehead. The motion of drilling is relaxed as you churn through the wood at a consistent pace.
I asked Helen to put a large screw in to some oak with the brace. I got at an odd look but she did it without asking (strange requests are quite normal here). The screw went in and out with ease. I passed over my cordless drill and asked her to try again with that. It moaned, was slow and barely completed the job. and did that ta da ta da ta da thing as it slowly shagged the end of the pozi bit.
I can spot something that’s out of square from a mile off, and yet I find it almost impossible to sight for square when using a modern cordless drill. They’re designed to be kind of sleek and fashionable – like a trainer. There’s nothing in mind for referencing for square and your grip’s close to the centre which adds to the difficulty.
On the other hand the brace is a work boot, it’s built solely for purpose. Sighting square is second nature. You can ‘see’ your line going right through the tool, and this comes in for angles as well as for square. I don’t need to bother with marking out or creating a guide when drilling out for legs in a simple chair or stool, I can sight how it should look and the brace allows me to drill the splay accurately.
The word that I’m sick of hearing but seems to crop up constantly these days. But still, Cordless drills are expensive and the cheap ones are naff. If you need one infrequently in your work then there can’t be any better reason to look to a brace than the low price. They’re available new and old for a song.
If you have a little cordless drill and occasionally need more power then a brace with fill that need. If you have no cordless drill at all then don’t dismiss an egg beater type for your small holes (I find them very precise for fitting hardware) and along with the brace they’ll do all of your drilling very cheaply.
Points to consider
If buying a brace I would look for one with a chuck to accept modern bits, and if you’ll be using it for screwing as well then the chuck is definitely needed and you should look out for a ratchet version (handy in tight spaces). You can use a wide variety of bits in it, but where ever possible choose those with the self-feeding ends, I’ve found the Wood Beaver drill bits and a brace to be a very good team.