Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Working on the top for the cabinet swapping

I was planning on practicing my veneering techniques on it, but it was not very practical, as the depth of the repair areas are more than the paper thin veneer you get today.

I thought about making 2 or 3 layers, but thought this could be tricky to ensure it lays flat and what if I punch thru one layer?

So I decided instead to glue in a chunk of maple I splitted from a small piece.
Figured, as long as I have one flat face to glue, I could then leveled off the chunk without worrying about punching thru.

Chunk of split maple "cooking".

Next batter up after I do initial trimming with my trusty German No 8 knife.

The next tricky part would be to minimize the damages to the adjacent surfaces so I don't end up having to sand the whole top and refinished it.
But if that does not pan out, no big deal. I just want to try if I can make localized repairs, in prevision of doing just that on her big parlor cabinet, which she doesn't want to be refinished, just fixed up.

After a few minutes with the knife and the block plane,
it is almost flush, scraper is next to finish it.
I'm happy with the tight glue line.
BTW they are both same color, it is just the flash changing the colors

Had a closer look at the cabinet construction, it is made of glued up narrow maple boards then sandwiched with a layer of softwood, and finally a maple veneer on each side.

Slice of wood I cut to enlarged the opening for the sewing machine.
That cut surface is off my Bosh jigsaw with a special tooth geometry blade, 
darn good if you ask me. 

On this close up you can see what I was describing.
When I recessed the hinges, I went down to the solid wood part.
You can also guess the thickness of the outer layer, much thicker than today veneer for sure. The patches I'm making are the thickness of the two outer layers.

The blade I used was a BOSCH T101BR clean cut.
It is a High Carbon Steel blade with very clean milled teeth. 
10 TPI reverse pitch for clean cuts, and it sure deliver as promised!

The whole cabinet is made as such. 
All laminated hardwood construction with face veneer on both sides.

 I guess I should not be surprised.  Knowing the large demands for sewing machine cabinetry, this makes lot of sense.  They are not wasting much wood with this construction method and the results are a strong and stable cabinet.
Very clever these sewing machine cabinet makers :-)

I do not know if this is in fact a Singer cabinet, but judging from the quality of its construction, I believed it is.

Now the only remaining patch to put in is the small one by the small flip board up front.  It may sound a tad too fussy, but cannot have the fabric catch in that spot, hence the top should be as smooth as possible.

Then more butt scratching to figure out how to blend in the repairs on the top :-)

Bob, finding little shop time lately, but making some progress nonetheless.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Slowing down

You probably noticed that I haven't start any major projects in a while.  It is not for the lack of projects piling up...

But for the next foreseeable future, my priorities are my wife well being while she undergoes further treatments.  That means lots of trips back and forth to the cancer clinic in the city and no doubts many overnighter.

So you can expect my posts to be slowing down and me working on many small projects instead of starting new ones in the shop.  That's why lately they have been mostly of an historical nature than about my shop progress. And to quote Stefan, why I am so pensive lately...

I started this blog last February as a distraction to keep me from having to much time to worry about my dear wife. Some days, it's working, some days not so much.

Me and Heather

We have been together for more than 32 years 

As we face yet, another battle together, we are both cancer survivors, we will get through this.
You will think that having been through it before would make it easier, but nah....not really!

My Airforce motto
Per Ardua Ad Astra ( thru adversities to the stars) is taking a whole new meaning for me...

Bob, waiting in the cancer treatment centre.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

About woodworking tools

I drafted this a while back, but never got around to finished it...

There was quite a discussion on line a little while back, spurred by a recent post by Glen Drake all about Asian made knock off, of some of his unique looking tools.  So when does a copy of a successful tool becomes a cheap knock off or infringe on someone else patents rights?

I do not know if Glen Drake tools are patented, but they are in fact quite unique and readily recognizable.  So much so, that in the early 2000s, during one of our trips to the US, I came across what looked like one of his unique plane hammer, but it was priced really cheap, about US $20 at Woodcraft in clearance no less.  So I picked it up.  I never owned or handled the original, and this copy may look like the real McCoy, but I doubt it performs as well. Still the price won me over, guilty as charged :-(

The Woodcraft plane hammer

I was also surprised at the time that they had a metal spokeshave which look a lot like the Veritas version.   Soon after I found out that these were made overseas in some Asian country factory for them but apparently without permissions from either Lee Valley or Glen Drake.   Some of these early tools seems to have dissapeared, but judging from the recent rant from Glen, im guessing that they are at it again? Probably his highly regarded Tite-Mark gauges?


Copying sucessful designs is nothing new, look at the amazing proliferation of Bailey design planes!
Even the Stanley plane Numbers system became sort of the defacto plane numbering system.  Record and Union went with adding a leading zero in front of their plane number, but it was still a very close copy of Stanley.  In general, unless renewed, patents protection last about 20 to 25 years.   It was then probably fair game when Millers Falls and Record started making planes in the 1930s.  As it is still today for the various crappy remake of a once grand design.

For a while now Lie Nielsen has been making better reproductions of the venerable Stanley Bedrock designs and Clifton later on.   When more recently the same Asian manufacturer started making their own version for a few resellers, Woodcraft in the US and (the name escape me for now)...in the UK, people start to scream bloody murder, they are copying LN!   Well not really, LN was copying Stanley long expired models to start with.   Fair is fair. What is perhaps less fair is to copy a current successful product (LN), and offering it at a cheaper price point, but that too as been going on for ever it seems...

 In Glen tool's copy on the other hand, they are clearly reproducing, albeit cheaply, some unique artisan's models.  Small boutique tool makers have probably no patents protections and no resource to go after the big guy.  In this case Woodcraft, not the Asian maker, since they are only making what their customers are asking them to reproduce cheaper.  Not fair to blame the Asian tool makers.

The original Glen Drake. Notice the graceful shape of the handle

Cheap Asian copy made for Woodcraft.
Not so graceful, clunky handle, made of some gum or rubber wood, I think.


But before riding up to the barricade, lets be honest with ourselves.   We all love a bargain, but at what price?   The current trend of shipping whole factories and manufacturing to wherever is cheaper is nothing new.   It has probably accelerated in our lifetime since it is cheaper and faster as ever to ship goods around the globe.
Various great brand names products have been reduced to useless crap in the drive for better returns.

It is still comforting to know that there are still makers out there who care about their products and their customers.   And we owe them our unflagging support.

I have been a long time, loyal Lee Valley customer because at whatever price point, I know I am getting a great tool with second to none customer service.  And that to me is priceless!

And similarly the small guys out there making us great tools should be supported.   In that spirit, I apologize to Glen  (I'm Canadian, Heh ) for being taken by the cheap knock off and will make it right by buying his product.  For the record I own a few artisanal, or boutique tool makers ware.  Not cheap, but worth every pennies...

Bob, the tool man.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Meanwhile, back to the cabinet swapping...

I have  been working at it for the past few days here and there.

I was debating with myself how I was going to cut the long stopped groove for the machine hinges (2). Should I excavate them by hand or power? Router or drill press? In the end being solid maple I opted to go with power :-)

Since I long got rid of my Sears fixed router, I currently only have a small 1/4 Bosch Colt trim router. Plenty powerful, but I do not have many bits for it and the size required would have necessitated numerous pass to cut a wide enough and deep enough groove. Noisy, noisy, so I went with the drill press and a Forstner bit. Much faster and quieter :-)
Why a Forster bit? Because it is one of the few bits that can cut overlapping holes, even at an angle.


Sizing up the proper bit.
1/2 inch it is.

After setting the depth stop on the quill...

a series of holes are drilled.
The fence interfered with the drill's column, so I free handed it

A quick clean up with a chisel. Then cut the opening wider at the 
mouth to allow the hinge to swing fully up.

Once one hinge was installed, I doubled checked my spacing 
with the machine, then cut the other one.

  After both hinges were fastened, using the previous holes on one side of the old groove, I marked and drilled pilot holes for the remainder screws.

Using a small gimlet I predrilled for the screws

One last check with the sewing machine, everything OK, but it doesn't fit right in the large opening on the top, since I now need to trim it a bit.

More markings and more trimming later, everything fit as it should.
Including the smaller flip board up front.  I had to cut a rabbet deeper on the front flip panel front edge to sink the machine lower up front.



Then realized that the back was sitting a bit lower than the top?
Checked the older top, it was a bit thinner, cut a recess for the hinges, that lowered the hinges in the top low enough to raise the back of the machine up.


Now need to fill the previous holes, and


Then do some veneer patching, near the hinges and by the small flip up board.



Reattach the top and fix the top surface.

Not done yet. Now need to ensure there is some support holding the machine in the lowered position.  Otherwise, the machine is hanging only by two pins secured by a set screw on the pin's shaft of the hinges. I would not put all my trust in that.

Not sure what I can do, most cabinet I looked at seems to only hang the machine by these 2 posts ? Whatever I do must not interfered with the sewer's legs under the cabinet. And if there is room, maybe a drip guard for the machine oil...

Machine flipped down

View from under, I want to put some thing to restrict it.
It is only holding by a set screw on the rear posts (2).

Although the top is solid wood, I put in  couple of solid wood patch to hide a couple boo-boos on the top. Good practice for later work on a few more of my wife cabinets :-)

Need to sand the top and refinished.
Then deliver to happy friend.

Bob, modding sewing machine cabinet

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Philosophical musings...


Sometimes life throw big curves into your best laid out plans...
and it forced you to revisit a few things.
Here's the reality: I am not getting any younger and not aging very well.  I must plan ahead.

Me in 1957, blind as a bat but don`t know it yet.
If I could live my life again, I`d make the same mistakes, 
but I`d start sooner :-)

Just how long do I plan on keeping my shop?  I cannot take it with me when we finally move into a retirement community.  Lets say, we stay in our current house for the next 10 years, before selling everything and moving on.
In those few years I want to treat myself with everything I got so I can enjoy that satisfaction.  Just like in woodcarving, you get along for the most part with very few tools, but whenever you need it, it is nice to have that special gouge or knife to reach in easier without bruising the wood.  And of course the type of carving you are doing, dictate different tools.  That's why carvers tend to accumulate a large collection of gouges, many of which are rarely used.  But they sure are nice to have at hand when you need it!

Me and Heather in 2000 carving a Moose together 
at my carving club.

So in the mean time, it would be nice to be able to open all these boxes I had in storage all these years and set up my shop so I can finally enjoy it!

Home is where the Airforce send you.
Carleton Place, Ontario 2003.
Somewhere in there there is a shop...

This is why I am in the process of setting up shop in my basement, and using mostly open tills versus closed cabinets or chests, in order to be able to see all my tools and admire them when not using them.


Sound a bit whimsical?  Well consider this; I have been collecting, studying and using antique tools for a long time, but rarely had the opportunity to see them all.
Some had been stored away between numerous moves around the country for a while.  It is more than grand time they see the light of day, so I can enjoy them.


Inspired by Chris Anarchist Tool Chest and his minimalist tool kit, I am also in the process of downsizing my coll...err I meant assortment of tools.  Yes, I am not a collector, just a user with a large assortment of tools to choose from :-)

While doing so, I am slowly replacing some of my tools with better examples.
May as well enjoy the ride while I still can...

And in case you are wondering, NO, I am not dying, that I know of, but living IS a terminal disease, we will all die from it someday.  I am just being realistic and learning to live with whatever life is throwing at us, that's all!
And YES, life is often way too short to waste it, be kind, be nice to people.
Whenever you can, commit acts of random kindness, just because you can...

This old military man has seen enough of life misery in some god forsaken places on earth, I wishes for peace on earth in our life time.  Real long lasting peace that we can ALL enjoy...


Bob, stopping to smell the roses.. or was that rosewood :-)
I leave you with this song

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Part 3 Where we actually get to finally use our bit in a brace...

We now have our bit sharpened and tuned up.
We are aware of the various types of braces and chuck`s types, which would fit our bit best.
And finally we have an understanding of why which braces is better than another depending on the type of job we want to do.
It is now time to put the metal to the wood...

So if those shell types are so old and primitives, why would we want to bother with them?

Old yes! Primitives?  Hardly, they have yet to invent a better bit for many operations.  They are just what you need to make strong chairs connection.


Drilling stop holes close to the outside surface.
A normal bit will have its center bit poking thru or nearly so.
The nose bit can get as close but not poke thru.
The outside surface near the end of the hole is rather fragile on the square hole.
Look how much stronger the same surface is in the round bottom hole.
Square surfaces at the bottom of the hole are in stress. Chip and break easy.
No such stress found on round surfaces.  

Here is another illustration from a different point of view :-)
History has recorded the British Comet as the first Jet liner to fly in 1949.

Comet Mk1A in RCAF livery, we had two in short lived service.
The RCAF was the first military transport to usher in jet transport  
Trans-Atlantic flight, before the USAF and the RAF.

It beat the Avro Canada Jet liner by a week, due to last minutes delays.

Avro Canada Jetliner. It never went into production, sidelined by 
the Korean war and the need for combat jets.

But the Comet also quickly developed a bad reputation for randomly blowing up in the air, for no apparent reasons.
It was also one of the first commercial aircraft to be pressurized for the passengers comfort. Well, either that or give them all oxygen masks, they had a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet!

It is probably to this day, the most studied aircraft air frame in the world!
Problem it turns out was simple. It was because the windows were the old fashioned square ones...and the plane was subject to compression and decompression stress.

Take a close look at the windows on this MK1A

Notice the round windows in later versions.
MK2,3, 4 etc

You guessed it, the compression/decompression cycles generated stress cracks at the window`s corner and the aircraft suddenly lost compression (rapid decompression, boom!) Making the windows round solved that problem. Next time you fly, take a look at your windows, the corners are never square.

So now you should be convinced that a round bottom hole is stronger than a square bottom one at any altitude :-)

DRILLING
Yes finally...

Depending on your nose version in whatever shell bit you have, the lack of a center pin, allow the bit to be started in any directions (angle). That is a big advantage for chair making, as an obvious example.

Bit easily started at that roughly 45 degrees angle

The resulting hole and "fur" near the top of the hole, 
it is the end grain fibers, there is nothing to cut them.

Because of that same nose design advantage, it can also be hard to start, tending to skate around.
Small inconvenience, easily overcome by making a small divot using a gouge, (the actual bit would do that just fine BTW) or a tad more pressure to start the cut should suffice in most case.
If centering or position is important to you, then just make a small gouge like cut where you want it.
Making a shallow cut with a gouge to establish a starting point.
Only need two shallow cut, one from each side, twist, done.

Nose bit rides inside the shallow cup at start true easily.

After a few turn of the brace, we have a good hole established.
The round bottom of the hole make a perfect glue reservoir.

One drawback of the shell family of bits is the lack of any mechanism to eject the chips, the deeper you go, the more likely you will jam.
Keeping the bit shiny helps, and stopping to remove the bit to clear the chips is what you need to do in deep holes. In my example, I as drilling thru roughly 3/4 in stock, it wasn't necessary to stop.

The following is true of any drill bits, following tune up:
Assessing the cut quality.
Look at the shavings formation.

Big thick shavings coming from the center bit. Their thickness and how tight they curl up is a function of the router angle. Also to cut thick shavings you need a long spur (side cutter). If your spur is barely longer than your router, it will tear up.

Not much chips to look at from the shell bit, however it should show signs of cutting not just making dust

Are they flowing easily or sticking (wet wood is sticky in case you did not noticed)
Looking at their shape we can see how it is produced and where it was on the bit that was responsible for the tears or scratches or whatever you can read into.
You are becoming mesmerized by looking at the chips,  you are becom....

Take a look at the hole left
Is the rim well defined
how rough or smooth is the hole

Same center bit before and after sharpening.

Can you tell which thru hole is the center bit and which one is the shell bit?
Notice what is left in the center of the hole started by the shell bit.


Now if you understand your bit(s) , you understand their limitations and should realize that some results cannot be bettered by more touch ups. You want better, change bits!

Because of its shape, roughly a half diameter, you cannot overlap its cut.  The best bit for that remains the Forstner. The shell requires to be fully buried, all around, in the wood to work (to turn).

So there you have it, from the history of making holes to the evolution of drilling implements to the invention of the brace, we can make quickly, efficiently, round bottom holes in wood, which allow us to make stronger joinery in less space. (can make holes deeper, closer to the bottom edge).

The tools I used for this demo.

And that my friends, is a wrap.
And all the brace`s and bits lived happily forever after...

Bob, feeling dizzy from all the spinning around of the bit.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Part 2 Bracing for a long overdue revolution, the brace

Part 1 was tuning the shell bits, now time to put our freshly sharpen bit into a brace, but which ones?  Does it matter?  YES

I said earlier that the modern brace is a relatively new invention.
Thousand of years after some anonymous genius invented the wheel, another anonymous genius came up with the crank!  This made possible the bit brace, which revolutionized (pun intended) how we make holes.

We believed that China had a bit brace in the first century, but the brace did not appear in Europe until about the 15th century.  Some sources says 12-13th century, but nonetheless, it took a long time for the idea to replace the pump and bow drill.

Wood brace found in the Mary Rose, a Tudor period British warship 
built in 1510, sank in 1545, discovered in 1971 and raised in 1982.
It still contained a treasure trove of ship carpenters tools. 


From Jim Bode tools.
A 16th or 17th century French brace.

From Jim Bode tools.
A European 18th century brace in Cormier wood.

About 1631 from Dutch engraver Jan Van Vliet.
Notice the brace on the wall.


The earlier braces were of course made of wood and had a fixed bit.  Hence you required a set of brace/bits to drill various holes.   A chair maker for example would have many braces for that reason.  Good thing they were used to reamed their holes after all these years  :-)  Even after replaceable bit pads were the norm, chair makers kept their various fixed bits drill for a long time well into the 19th century.  Some claim it was because the fixed bits were more secured and drilled truer.  But some habits lingered long after everyone else had made the move, for whatever reasons.

Removable bit pads.  The metal bit is fixed inside a wooden pad
 that clip inside a square hole, much like a clothes pin.
These clothespin tang are considerably rarer than the more common standard tapered type.

Other pads simply relied on a tapered fit. 
The modern twist bit and screwdriver one are obviously not original.


We seen that the earliest brace bits used the shell type and were cutting on the nose.  Being no screw thread to pull the bit into the wood, pressure was required to drill.  For extra pressure a brace bib was sometimes worn on the chest to exert body pressure on the head of the brace.

Same bib that was used earlier with the pump drill, same idea.
Often nothing more than a piece of wood was used.
After WWI we begin to see numerous breast plate made from recycled brass shells.  Drilling in this position, besides applying pressure with your body, 
let you see, feel the other side and stop before you spelch too much.


If you restore and uses shell bits, you will quickly discovered that how you sharpen the nose has a great effect on how much pressure is required.   In my previous demonstration using a small turning gouge, I did not need much pressure going thru pine.  Hardwood would had required more pressure.

All that down pressure and forces required to crank the bit around will greatly influence how the brace evolved with the choices of material available.  Perhaps this is why it took so long to materialize?

Italian brace 1649.

Various bit designs exert more forces on the brace than some other.  A modern Jennings or Irwin would required less force to turn than a pod shaped bit or a center bit.

Typical wood construction.

This Medieval brace is made of various wood parts assembled together.  It goes around the problem of relying on the wood grain direction and inherent weakness of it.  But it is only as strong as the diameter of the parts used and the construction methods to held them together.

Medieval brace of jointed turning construction.
It is probably limited in the amount of downward force it can take.


Making a wood brace put a limit on the practical size of the throw.  Too big and it would be severely weaken.  Hence older wood brace tend to have smallish throw.

The main parts of a wooden brace. 
As with all braces, the sweep is double the throw, 
hence a 4 in brace has a sweep of 8 inches.

Why is the throw measured from center line (handle) to center line (line passing thru center of head to bit)? Because the throw, swing or sweep is a measure (indication) of the force that can be exerted.

Another way to strengthen the webs is to uses as much as possible the natural crook of a piece of wood.   Similar to this one.



Another is to beef up the parts that are subject to weakness due to the grain running out (short grain).  Such as typically seen on Dutch brace (Spyke boor).
The web part that is slanted, either the rear (mostly Dutch as illustrated) or the front is often an indication of its cultural origins.

The width of the web was determined by the amount of stress that the brace was to received.

And finally as exemplified in British wooden brace of the Victorian era, the uses of metal re-enforcement plates.   Notice how the throw of the brace has increased.

The throw of a brace is the distance between the handle and the line between the head and the bit (see drawing above). Say 3 inches.   Twice that would be the sweep of the brace (a full revolution of the handle)  6 in sweep.  The bigger the sweep, the stronger must be the brace, because the leverage is longer (stronger).

Photo from Hans Brunner tool site.
They were made in various domestic and exotic woods.
When they sport these brass plates on both sides, they are called Plated braces.

Notice the release button or catch, it hold securely the bit by 
capturing the indentation filed on the shank of the bits.
The sweep on this brace is 7 in BTW.

A common problem with tapered shank bits and the catch button is that there were no real consensus or standard about the size of the taper shank nor where to locate the notch.  As a results, not every bit found will work with these.
Sometimes, bits are found with two notches, probably made by the then user to adapt them to his brace.

This bit fit, but the indentation is not in the right spot to be captured.
And no, I`m not about to make a new notch for it...

This bit has too big of a shank to go deep enough inside the chuck.

Another variation on the Sheffield braces was the Ultimatum brace.  Using cast  metal hollow pieces often stuffed with exotic wood. Black ebony, Lignum Vitae etc.
Their weakness is at the mechanical connection for the middle wood handle. These were often presented as gift rather than to be used, but they are usable tools in their own rights.  It is just that they were and still are rather expensive...

Photos from Jim Bode tools.
WM Marples Ultimatum brace.

When using wooden brace, please be careful not to over torque and damage them.  If you need more strength to turn, either uses a different pattern bit, OR, use a stronger metal brace.

The industrial ages brought along a number of metal braces design and a large number of various patented design to hold the bits in place.

The Scottish metal brace is quite elegant with its simple design ornamentation.

Photo from WK fine tools.
This type still used a notch bit design.

An earlier Gent or Penny brace.  It is missing the wooden ball handle.
Notice the bent frame.  When shopping for braces, look at the alignment between the head and the bit at the chuck.  Should be all in the same straight line.
Being wrought iron, its frame is easily bent.  The small opening for the bit shank, is one clue that it cannot turn bigger bits without injury.

Simple button mechanism to capture the notch on the bit shank.
Push to release bit.  This would be similar to the British button mechanism except that theirs are all internal.


But the one design we are most familiar with, is the ubiquitous American metal brace sporting a variety of patented chucks.
Perhaps the best known are the Millers-Falls one sporting the Barber chucks.


Not all American pattern braces sport a ratchet mechanism, nor the familiar clam shell alligator jaws. 

My all time favorite metal brace.  Spofford or Fray patent.

The simplicity of its split chuck enables it to grip pretty well every bits I can throw at it.   Simple, hold bits securely, very strong.   If you bend this brace, you should probably start a career as a strong man in a circus :-)

And finally rounding up our braces overview, lets have a quick look at some commonly found examples of the American pattern that we know and are more familiar with.

First the non-ratchet type

Atkins No 010. Strong steel construction, simple, 
nothing much to go wrong, Barber type chuck.

Unscrewing the clam shell, expose the jaws.

Two jaws, alligator grip, no spring to loose.

The business end of your typical 2 jaws chuck.

Ratchet braces came next to solves the problem of limited access preventing the full rotation of the brace.  They have a three positions selector, ring, lever or button: CCW-Lock- CW

Millers Falls with Improved Barber chuck and exposed cog gears. 

A Stanley No 923 with fully enclosed mechanism.

A common ailment of old enclosed mechanism braces, is the old grease used has a tendency to dry up and seize everything.  Often a blue/green dried up gunk.
Clean & lube is the easy fix, not so easy is to take some of them apart.

See the springs holding the jaws open?  Do not loose them.

Removing two screws, then a circ clip, you can remove the head. 

Typical construction of heads on various similar braces. 
This one is the Stanley 923. If they used the same stupid grease on the head, 
that they put in the mechanism, it will freeze. Clean & lube = fixed.

The head should be free to rotate and have minimal play in order to bore true.
Some have ball bearings, most not.  Some allow for taking up the slack as it wear down, most not.  At any rate, now you know what to look for and how to take them apart to troubleshoot.

Bet you can now quickly spot the good ones from the duds

Most have two tapered jaws to grip the tapered shank of the brace bit, They would not grip very well the round shanks of modern bits.  But there are ways around it.

 Seldom seen 4 jaws brace chuck. Will grip round shanks no problems.
Tapered shank? Not so well.
Newer manufactured brace often sport these or 3 jaws chucks.

And of course there are a variety of adapters to fit pretty well everything, with a little bit of imagination :-)
Check out the selection at Lee Valley   They also have a 3 jaws chuck brace which would grip round shanks bit.

But nonetheless, the reason they used a tapered square shanks was to resist the tremendous torque which can be applied with a brace.  You will always get better grip with these tapered bits of old.   And please DO NOT cut off the tapered shank to adapt your bits to a powered drill like I sometimes seen advocated!


And to go around the problem of drilling in close spaces and the ratchet is not sufficient, we have two choices.

The Stanley No 716 Joist brace, designed to go
 between house joists for example.

And my favorite for its gizmocentric funky look, the Amidon patented corner brace, later to be purchased and manufactured by Millers-Falls.


Mine has the original patent date on it.
Pretty funky, but mostly hang on my wall as a decoration :-)

I hope that this quick overview of braces has given you some ideas as to better match your braces to your bits and to the type of work to be performed.

We are now ready to put bit into the brace and poke some holes :-)

You will notice that some jaws have a small V cut out into them.   When found, line up the square corner of your bits into it.  This will ensure a more secure grip.
It was an earlier attempt at accommodating round shank.


 If your brace has a ratchet mechanism, ensure to turn it to the proper position to lock or unlock your bit.  You will quickly figure this out, but just saying :-)

You do not need to bottom out the bit shank to be solid when putting pressure, a benefit of the tapered shank.

So in order to pick the right brace for the job, you must consider its intended use;
A big hole or fastener is going to require more torque, get a bigger sweep brace.

The type of drill bits used as an effect on the stress put on the brace, get a metal brace versus a wooden one.

And of course, your chosen brace chuck has to accommodate your drilling bits.

Lastly, please remember to treat your braces with the respect they deserves.  Do not over torque them, especially the wooden variety.  They lasted that long, they should outlast you.

Bob, bracing for your comments...