The Ultimate Cordless Drill

by | Jul 29, 2015 | 34 comments

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.


Harnessable  Torque

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.
Woodworking brace and drill bits

Sighting Square

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.


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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Ken Haygarth

    One of my most loved tools, and one of my most used, And I never need to charge it up 😉

    • Richard

      Nope… just half a pack of hob nobs and you’re good to go again!

  2. Steve Jones

    The throw (or sweep) of the brace is worth mentioning since it determines how much leverage and speed you have available. I’m sure you (and Helen) would rather drill a 3/4″ hole in oak with a brace having a 7″ or 8″ throw than a 3″. You can really crank on the big ones; that’s where the ratchet really shines. When I use a brace, I use a 6″ throw for most jobs, but keep a 3″ and a 7″ around for special occasions. I’ve never found an affordable 8″ with a modern chuck in good condition.

  3. Walter

    Spot on… one could also say they are Solar Powered too.

    The sun powers the Apple Tree which grows the Apple I eat to make the power to turn the crank.

    We can also hag several up at the ready with the most used bits in the chuck for less cost that even an average quality Battery Pack Cordless.

  4. Don McInnes

    I love my ratchet brace which I bought second hand for no money and looks very similar to the picture. I always reach for it when large holes are needed as Richard is quite right about the limits of cordless drills for this type of work.
    Just a s a matter of interest an old friend of mine who is a retired police officer once told me that the brace and bit was the favourite tool of burglars as it was silent, removed large chunks of wood very quickly in door frames and hence gave easy access to houses.!!!

  5. Kirk

    I’ve been having a brace and a few auger bits, which was passed down from my grandfather, for a long time and never used it. A little while back I needed a drill to screw in some long screws and all of my cordless drills were dead and I didn’t have time to charge them so I grabbed the brace and chucked in a driver and wow it worked just fine. Now I use it quite often for screwing and drilling I just need to buy some more auger bits. I’m going to check e-bay.

  6. Mike Smith

    My most used tool. I bought my brace for a euro at brocante. I bought an attachment from Fine Tools in Germany which allows me to use the modern screwdriver bits.

  7. Jake

    Dead on! I inherited a full tool chest that included braces and bits. When I finally tried them I was amazed at how fast I was able to bore larger holes, especially compared to a cordless with spade bits. Using the brace or eggbeater makes me feel more connected to the task since it is tactile vs. squeezing a trigger.

  8. Micheal Kingsley

    I have a full sized brace that I use, but on guitars it’s the little eggscrambler hand drill for me. I know exactly how far into the wood I go, and it’s always the right angle! But for fast fastening, I set my electric for the right torque and run through them. Things like metal roofing or siding. If it’s wood, it always needs a pre-drill, and you have to be so careful not to snap off the screw, or run through bits or a million things that you have to worry about. Yep, I agree wholeheartedly!

  9. Micheal Kingsley

    You know, the cordless screwdriver also is a joke. My sister stopped by one day and asked me which one was best, there was a sale going on at Sears. I handed her the brass handled screwdriver in the kitchen drawer. You know, the brass one with all the smaller ones inside each handle like those Russian Nested Dolls….. She didn’t think it was all that funny….. How many of you have one of those stashed somewhere? It’s a Hammer, inside is a slot screwdriver, inside that is a phillips, inside that is a slot, inside that is the smallest slot for your glasses.

  10. John

    I can’t imagine using a power cordless drill if I am doing small handwork at the bench. I use my Stanley ‘Egg beater drills for that. Precise and relaxingly quiet. Building that arbour in 3 x 2 pressure treated? Now that’s a different story!

  11. Robert

    I totally agree, you can have a dozen accurate, big clean holes bored while the cordless is still dragging its arse. If I am repeatedly boring to a particular depth I just count the number of boring turns and repeat for each hole. BTW I find that a fitters ‘speed brace’ ( a tool rarely found in a good socket set these days) is lighter, faster and easier to use for screw fasteners than a cordless. These are still used in the aircraft trades, where it is kind of important to use tools that don’t make sparks

  12. Steve Voigt

    Great post, Richard. Question: what’s the orange-colored bit in the photo?

    • Mike S (UK)

      It looks like an Armeg Wood Beaver auger drill bit (which Richard mentions at the end of his post).

  13. Jeremy

    I totally agree on how much torque a brace can deliver.
    I’m also a firm believer in an egg beater drill for tiny holes as drills tend to clog and break.

    That said, if you haven’t given the small sized impact drivers a fair shake, you may just change your mind about cordless power tools. Especially for dealing with the dreaded Philips head fasteners, they pretty much eliminate the cam out, and can drive long screws just fine (although a bit noisy.).

    (also I love those modern 3 lobed auger bits in either my impact or my brace)

  14. Kermit

    In planking up wooden boats, my preferred screws were square drives and my choice of driver was a brace. These days I keep a battery powered unit for light homeduty chores, but the shop has a pair of braces, 6″ and 8″ Yankees, a breast drill, and a small eggbeater drill. I’m also a user of the old Yankee screwdrivers, having collected 4 in various sizes.

  15. Ian T

    A free workout with every hole, cheaper than membership fees at Bannatynes. 🙂

  16. Jeff Hallam

    It seems so rare to find the auger bits that had the finer lead screw on them. The set I have are well sharpened and are so great at softwoods but hardwoods consistently stall the bit because the screw seems too aggressive. Do you have a source for appropriate bits?

  17. Simon Hillier

    I love my brace and bits for many things.

    My DeWalt Impact driver is also one of my coveted tools. I could not have driven over ten thousand screws when refurbishing my 1930’s house in the time it took with a brace and bit.

  18. Bob V

    My introduction to brace and bits (way) was back in the Fischer-Spassky chess match days. In-laws needed to add an outdoor antenna to see the matches, thus a hole though the sill for the cable. I was thinking extension cord, power drill, spade bit. My father-in-law grabbed his brace and bit and was done before I’d have had the extension cord run. I’ve been hooked since. And braces and bits go very cheap at flea markets and antique tool sales. 🙂

  19. Steve Edwards

    I use a shiny new brace with the fine tool adapters mentioned earlier for all but very small pilot holes. This is where my trusty gimlets come in to there own.

  20. Paul Bouchard

    I’m very attached to my Sears cordless drill because it’s done a lot of rough work for me. That said, a cordless drill with spade bits cuts too ragged and Forstner bits cut too slow. I love my Irwin auger bits and Stanley brace. If you want to use modern drill bits, Lee Valley sells a hex adapter for braces with the older style jaws.

  21. Stefan

    Hi Richard,
    well said.

    Meanwhile I’ve got the fourth brace. 3 of them are flea market finds for just a few bucks.
    I think I have to stop that 🙂 . But a second one becomes handy from time to time.
    I love to use them and I was surprised when I was switching from my cordless drill driver to the brace, that it is not as hard to use as expected.
    For the time being I’m trying to collect a good set of auger bits. Found some and have tried to rework them. Maybe you can give an advice how to that in one of your next rants.


  22. enl

    I get funny looks when the brace comes out, or the Yankee spiral, or the eggbeater. But they so often are the best choice, quieter, cleaner, and faster than the electric, both for drilling and for driving. A set of Yankees live in my travel box in the truck, and have never failed me. The battery job is always dead, and gets a charge when I need it. The transition to electric (or air, or petro, or hydraulic) is only definite when working steel in quantity. I also get funny looks for using a hand hacksaw for small cuts in steel rather than a power saw. Again, cleaner, quieter, often faster.

  23. DenverGeorge

    You are dead right about the brace being easy to align, especially for angles for chair and stool legs. Absolute piece of cake. I put most of my furniture together with square cut nails and drill many pilot holes. That’s how I got introduced to hand powered drills. Small bits in a cordless drill are a recipe for frustration. But an eggbeater – that’s dirt easy. My electric drill gets more and more rest, not so the brace and eggbeater.

  24. Jason A. Hammond

    Since I’m the only hand tool guy that works at the local big box home improvement center, I often tease customers that I have the original 100 year old cordles drill. When they want to know what it looks like or how it works, I mimic the motion of the brace and they usually roll their eyes and walk away 🙂

    • DenverGeorge

      I have no problem at all visualizing the reactions. I work part time at a woodworking and hardware store and get the same looks when I talk about cut nails and eggbeater drills.

  25. TC

    I’ve been using an old brace recently with old bits and i can’t believe how easily they cut nice big holes, brilliant! I’m in the aircraft maintenance business and we do indeed use speed braces or ‘speedies’ for removing and refitting screws and fasteners. We have to work outside in all elements, sometimes quite remotely so no chance of battery failure, good torque with a slow start, no screw head damage and weather resistant. At home a Stanley pump screwdriver is sufficient for most things.

  26. Jim Linn

    I drilled all the dog holes in my beech 80mm bench top with a brace and 19mm bit. It’s an effort, but there was no way a power drill could have done the job.

    I tried the same size of hole in hard maple and found I needed to up the lever arm by clamping on a contraption. Even another 100mm or so sweep made a big difference.

    Using a large Millers Fall type crank drill is excellent for drilling tiles and plaster because one can get very delicate starts, avoiding slippage.

    Having four drills set up; one for pilot, one for clearance, one for countersink and one for screwdriving, makes a lot of holes quick work.

    For precisely square holes, I use my refurbished hand cranked pillar drill.

    Power tools have their place, but are way over rated.

  27. Oscar M.

    I would love to hear any suggestion to buy a brace and bits… Links preferred thanks!

    • Jim Linn

      Ebay for the brace, but buy some modern augers from Axminster. And a bit sharpening file.

  28. Igor Kerstges


    Great ‘ultimate’ article! In the ‘points to consider’, it is mentioned: “If buying a brace I would look for one with a chuck to accept modern bits”..

    I find myself constantly ‘on the hunt’ for square-end drills as my brace does not accept hexagonal bits. Does anybody have hints which braces do accept hexagonal bits? I am not aware of any..

    Thanks and cheers,

  29. John Gibson

    Just back from a windsor chair course. My Dad’s 1950 Stanley 10″ sweep brace & Irwin bits worked a treat for the holes in the seat while the other students with the stubby school drill bits & cordless drills were wandering all over the place on the compound angles. lots of length on the auger bits to see the angle, and no rush to make fine adjustments to the angle.

    My bench partner, new to the old ways, ended the class with “I gotta get one of those brace things”.

  30. Mark Chisholm

    On this subject I completely disagree. Modern cordless drills are possibly the most useful tool invented in the last 50 years. And when you say a brace can provide more ability to drive a screw into wood I can only assume the drills you use are not great. I use Ryobi – which is the same as Milwaukee but green and cheaper and have used it to drive in 200mm framing screws into un-piloted wood. And lots of them on one charge.

    And try using a brace to drill a 3/4″ hole through 12mm steel plate. I have done this a few times offshore on ships with battery drills.

    In all other things I agree with you about hand tools. But not cordless drills.


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