Bit Braces made for the U.S. Ordnance Department

Bit Braces Marked for the U.S. Ordance Department.
From left to right PS&W 59 1/2, MIllers Falls, Stanley/Fray X3, Stanley/Fray no. 8

For some reason I can’t explain, I have always been interested in small bit braces. I have found an interesting sub type of six inch bit braces that are not only short sweep, but are also more compact in design, barely 12in long overall. Almost all of these braces I’ve come across were marked for the U.S. Ordnance Department. At first I assumed that these were somehow used on bombs, fuses, shells, or other ordnance. It turns out the O.D. had a larger mission during the WWI-WWII era these braces belong to. The US O.D. not only supplied munitions, but also served in an equipment supply/warehousing/repair/safekeeping role. From the Wikipedia entry on the Ordnace Corps:

At the start of World War I, the Ordnance Department was charged with supplying the Army with arms, equipment, and ammunition establishing and maintaining arsenals and depots for the manufacture, repair, and safe-keeping of ordnance, and provide horse equipment and field outfits for Soldiers, such as canteens, tin cups, knives, forks, and spoons.

During World War I, the Ordnance Department mobilized the United States industrial base, jointly developed weapons with European allies, and established overseas supply depots and Ordnance training facilities. In 1919, testing was moved from Sandy Hook Proving Ground to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

By 1940 all Ordnance training, officer and enlisted was moved from Raritan Arsenal, New Jersey to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, forming the Ordnance School. World War II expanded the Ordnance Department's responsibilities to include production, acquisition, distribution, and training missions for the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Force, and,
in some categories the Navy. In August 1942, the Ordnance Department assumed responsibility for procurement and maintenance of all wheeled and motored vehicles.

I have seen a few O.D. manuals and procedure books from this period. They all deal with establishing safe, secure locations for equipment storage. There isn’t much about actual munitions, other than storage procedures. The equipment lists for the O.D. specify a ratchet bit brace, auger bits, twist bits, screwdriver bits, and countersinks. I have found several types of braces marked for the O.D., some of which are shown below. Interestingly, none of these models were shown in any of the catalogs published by these manufacturers at the time they were produced.

The most common example I’ve come across is the Stanley/Fray X3, a compact 6in brace. Almost all examples of this model I have seen were marked for the O.D. These are standard Stanley braces along the lines of a no. 923 brace but more compact and featuring hardwood handles instead of cocobolo.

I have come across several O.D. braces made by John Fray in Bridgeport, CT and later by Stanley after they acquired Fray in 1920. Shown above is a Stanley/Fray no. 8 all iron bit brace with a Spofford chuck. The chuck screw is marked for the U.S. O.D.

Millers Falls made an unnumbered brace for the U.S. O.D. that closely resembles the no. 34 but with hardwood handles. It is similar in style to the Stanley X3 in terms of size and design.

Finally, Peck, Stow, and Wilcox, of Southington, CT produced a compact 6in bit brace model no. 59 1/2.

These interesting compact braces continue to interest me. If you come across any examples that are not shown above please let me know.

Commentary from Period Tool Catalogs

I enjoy reading tool catalogs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They provide insight into how these tools were marketed to the people who bought them and used them at the time. Aside from the information they convey, they can also be damned entertaining at times. I especially appreciate the acerbic wit of the Chas. Strelinger catalogs. Strelinger was a Detriot, MI tool merchant which offered a full line of tools of all sorts. Their 1897 catalog is full of little essays like this one, which describes the benefit of buying dedicated molding planes to tackle tasks that are repeated frequently rather than try to make do with a combination plane like a Stanley 45.

Gotta love it.

A Few Notes on Shipping Tools

Shipping tools over the past two years has been challenging. We have faced delays, price increases, service disruptions, and lots of general frustration. Here are a few notes of recent changes

I am switching to UPS for more of my shipping. On April 3, 2022 the USPS instituted a surcharge on all packages over 24 inches in length. the charge for all boxes over 30 inches in length is $15 USD. This makes shipping tools like planes and saws considerably more expensive to send by USPS. As a result I am switching to UPS for most of my shipping to keep your costs as low as possible. If you can’t receive UPS packages (PO BOX, APO, etc.) please let me know.

International shipping is coming back online after the pandemic. I can now send small packages 1st Class International to Australia and Canada once more. I also have a new shipping option for small parcels that could be a real cost saver. Anything larger than a foot or more than four pounds is going to be costly.

As always, I do my best to get your tools to you safely, on time, and at the lowest cost.

Hello World.

Hi folks. I am starting this blog to replace the one I had previously neglected on my website. There are a few reasons for this:

First, I’d like a way to communicate with everyone who visits my website beyond the little blurb at the top of the tool list. I’m not really into Twitter/Facebook/Instagram and the email list became unmanageable. Blogs have been around long enough that they can be considered old-school at this point. So.. the blog is the way to go.

Second, I have a lot of stuff to write down. This will both help ensure I don’t forget it and also help make sure the information doesn’t disappear if I get hit by a bus tomorrow.

Finally.. hell, I forgot my final reason for doing this. I’ll update this post when I remember.

I’m going to try to import some of the more pertinent posts from my older blog. There was some useful stuff there and good conversations about tools and woodworking.

I can’t promise I’ll update this often. When I do I’ll make a note of it on my website.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

Stealthy Lions

I’ll admit I’ve become a bit of a brace geek. I’m a big fan of the Millers Falls Lion brace. It’s a heavy-duty brace every bit as well-made as the PEXTO Samson and a more robust design than the North Brothers Yankee. If you need a beefy brace fora big job there’s none better. They tend to be a bit on the pricy side since they are always in demand and not very common.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. Millers Falls made braces for Craftsman (I believe) in the 1940s-50s. These were high-quality braces but lacked the exotic wood pad and handle, but otherwise identical in every way to the mainline Millers Falls tools. You can tell the Millers Falls Craftsman tools by the “BB” maker code in small font near the Craftsman logo. I’ve seen a couple of different models- one of these is unmistakably a Millers Falls Lion in branded for Craftsman.

Take a look at these two and see if you can pick out the Millers Falls Lion from the Craftsman.

Lion Braces
Lion Braces  (click for larger)

Lion Chucks
Lion Chucks (click for larger)

OK, so the stained pad and handle give it away- the top is the Craftsman, the bottom the Millers Falls no. 772 made ca. 1925.. Other than the wood, both are identical in every way.

So keep an eye out and an open mind toward those Craftsman braces. You might find a Lion in disguise.

Mortise Chisel Handles

I’m Following up on a recent Twitter discussion (you can follow me @HKToolCo ) on making handles for traditional British “pigsticker” mortise chisels. I promised I would dissect one to see how the handles were attached. Granted, this is just one example, but I think it’s good evidence.

Here is the subject: a Marples 3/8in pigsticker with a broken handle.

Broken Mortise Chisel Handle
Broken Mortise Chisel Handle (click for larger)

The handle broke along the grain due to an off-center blow from  a mallet. Judging by the mushrooming on the end of the handle it was used to being hit very hard. This handle didn’t have perfectly straight grain- it had some run-out along one edge. If you are making mortise chisel handle make sure to use riven stock and watch the grain!

Removing half the handle and leaving the bit in situ we see this:

Chisel Handle Cross-Section
Chisel Handle Cross-Section (click for larger)

Closeup of Cross-Section
Closeup of Cross-Section (click for larger)

There are a couple of things to note here: First, the hole in the handle is tapered . It is a rectangular hole to match the tapered rectangular tang of the blade. It was not bored with a drill, there are chisel marks or similar along the edges of the mortise. Also, the sides of the hole don’t match the taper of the tang perfectly. The tang has barbs cut into the corners of the soft steel tang with a chisel. These help prevent the tang from coming loose.

Mortise Bottom
Mortise Bottom

The bottom of the mortise is packed with what appears to be sawdust mixed with some sort of glue. it did not cut well with a chisel and was certainly not solid well. It had formed to the bottom of the tank. That, combined with the barbs on the tang made it very hard to remove.

Chisel Removed: Evidence of a Burned-In Tang
Chisel Removed: Evidence of a Burned-In Tang

With the chisel removed it’s clear there is evidence of charring along the edges and in the glue/sawdust bed at the bottom. I’d bet that the tang was heated and burned-in to the handle.

Dissection complete. Again, it’s just one example but it provides a good starting point for anyone looking to re-handle a vintage mortise chisel.


Halloween and Hurricanes

Hello everyone,

Here in Connecticut we’re supposed to get hit pretty hard by hurricane Sandy. The coast is at the greatest risk from the predicted huge storm surge. Thankfully we’re 500 ft. above sea level up here in the hills so we shouldn’t have any flooding. I am worried about something falling on the house, but there’s nothing I can do about that. We have the generator ready and plenty of food put up. Let’s hope for the best.

I’m going to postpone the tool sale I had planned for tomorrow. I’ll have a house full of kids and a possible interruption of power and/or Internet access so it’s best to push it off a week to November 5. This will give me another week to put together even more good tools which should make this an enormous list of tools for sale. Lots of fun stuff coming up- I promise.

We spent some time today carving pumpkins for Halloween. The kids are all excited about our town’s Trick-or-Trunk event at the school on Halloween. We live in the middle of nowhere so door-to-door trick or treating isn’t practical. Instead, everyone gathers at the high school and decorates their trunks/trucks and passes out candy. My daughter has been working hard on our display this year- she picked a Plants vs. Zombies theme. Hopefully the hurricane won’t wash out Halloween again like it did last year. Here are some photos of the pumpkin carving. As you can see, old tools were utilized. I have a Harvey Peace keyhole saw that I’ve modified just for this purpose and it works great. A center bit in a brace is a good way to cut a pilot hole for the saw, and plus it makes fun curly pumpkin shavings that the kids love.

Boring a pilot hole with my 4in brace and center bit.

Removing the top with my specialized pumpkin-cutting keyhole saw- my son's favorite part.

Curly pimpkin shavings curtesy of a razor sharp center bit.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!


A Note on Molding Planes With the Owner’s Mark EEL.

Hello everyone. I posted this note over on Google+ a few weeks ago. I thought I would repost it here for all of you who aren’t on G+. There have been a number of molding planes that have come up for sale lately with the owner’s mark EEL at the heel. I thought I’d let you in on what I know about these.

The EEL mark stands for Eugene (Gene) E. Langdon. Mr. Langdon was a famous furniture maker from Pennsylvania specializing in 18th century furniture. Mr. Landgon passed away in 2011 and the contents of his shop were consigned to auction.  He had an enormous collection of molding planes and other hand tools, all in excellent condition. Some of his molding planes like the ones shown below one, tuned and ready to use. All of his molding planes have the “EEL” stamp on the heel.  A number of them have shown up on eBay and on other tool dealer’s for sale lists.  I snap them up whenever I find them (and can afford them) because they are almost always top-notch and fantastic users. Mr. Langdon kept many of his molding planes honed, set, and ready to work. He was featured in Fine Woodworking several times and his shop was featured in Fine Woodworking No.174, the 2004/2005 tools and shops issue. If you have access to this issue you can see the racks and racks of molding planes he owned and used.

Gene Langdon's Owner Mark
Gene Langdon's Owner Mark

Here is a FWW short biography:

This is a silly game, but it has a picture of his shop here:

Finally, there is a book available that details Gene’s work and life. The preview on this site will give you some idea of the quality of his work and give you a quick glimpse of his shop.

That’s it for now. Look for more Old Tools tomorrow- assuming all goes as planned!


Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event Recap

Two weeks ago I attended the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Manchester, CT. I mentioned this on my blog and invited you to stop by and say hi. A number of you asked for a report so here it goes, complete with pictures.

The two day event was a huge success for me. I went there with high hopes but almost no expectations.  My idea was to setup a few tables of tools for sale and set out some tools from my own shop to demonstrate. Having never setup at an event like this my goals were simply to meet a few of my customers I had previously only communicated with by email, and perform a few demonstrations without making a fool of myself. Along the way I hoped to sell some tools as well.

Continue reading “Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event Recap”

The “Diamond” Foot-Power Mortiser

I added a new tool to my shop the summer. I don’t buy much for myself these days. I have my small working set of tools that I use and my collection of Harvey Peace saws, some of which I use, others are purely wall-hangers. I don’t “need” a lot in terms of tools at this point. In fact, I have to be very careful about becoming too attached to tools I find because it’s easy for me to convince myself to keep something. There’s a fine line between collecting and hoarding. I never want to be considered a hoarder.

However, every once in a while I come across something that’s so unusual and so interesting that I just can’t pass it up. It’s the kind of thing that makes you say “wow” and get that tingle of excitement that you might have a chance of owning it. This is the type of tool that you only have one chance at and will probably never see again. I’ve learned over the years that when something like this comes up you jump at it and so what you can to get it. I still regret my decision seven or eight years ago to pass on a dead mint Harvey Peace P-70 handsaw because it was just a little too much. At the time I didn’t realize how rare that saw was, never mind in that condition. I’ll never have a chance at that saw again. So, whenever possible I try to go for those one of a kind tools.

This brings me back a few months to the end of July. I was up in Avoca, NY at MJD’s three day old tool extravaganza up at his HQ in the Finger Lake region of upstate New York. This event featured a 3,000+ lot auction spread out over three days. Many of these lots had dozens and dozens of items, 10 Stanley planes, 30 molding planes, 100 saws. This auction doesn’t have a lot of his high-end stuff, it’s a lot of “TLC needed tools” and frankly some real junk. It’s good junk though, and there are always some real diamonds in the rough. There were more old tools than one person could possibly look at over the course of three days, never mind inspect. While perusing the second day’s auction lots, I came across a machine in the “big items” tent that made me say “wow”. It was a “Diamond” foot-powered mortising machine made by the Seneca Falls Mfg. Co in the late 1800s. The machine was in great shape considering that it was well over 120 years old. All of the cast iron work was complete with no cracks. The machine moved perfectly and the adjusters were all present and accounted for. It had most of its original paint. Even the set of five original bits were there. It was just plain cool. I really wanted it for my shop.

I went back to my hotel that night and did some research. I found a few examples on the Internet, most of which were in pretty poor shape. I did some poking around on the Vintage Machinery website and found some great information (Vintage Machinery, formerly OWWM, is a fantastic site if you haven’t’ found it already.) including some original advertisements and catalogs. I learned that the Diamond mortiser was originally sold for $25 in 1890. This is close to $600 in 2011 dollars according to the inflation calculator. It featured all iron and steel construction and weighed in at 145lbs. The spring-powered “chisel reverser” can be easily adjusted for tension. It has screw-operated hold-downs on the table to keep the work flat to the bed. The entire bed can be moved up and down by loosening  a hand screw and sliding it along a giant dovetailed way. Coolest of all, the table could be rotated 45 degrees in either direction to allow it to work at almost any angle.  It came standard with three bits. Additional bits in sizes from 1/4 to 1in. were offered at additional cost. An optional tenon cutter was also offered for this machine as well as a “blind slat” mortising tool for making blinds. From what I found in the catalog, the machine was complete and in excellent condition. I decided to go for it.

Original Advertisement for the Diamond Mortiser
Original Advertisement for the Diamond Mortiser

The next day I inspected it again and still found no flaws. It wouldn’t come up for sale for a long time- there were 1,250 lots to be sold that day, a good six or seven hours of auction. As I sat there, I tried to figure out ways to justify the cost. The auction estimate was $750-$1,500 but large things like this tend to slip through the cracks at auctions. The absentee bidders can’t afford to bid high and pay shipping on top of the cost, and the floor bidders may not have much interest in it. Still, you never know what’s going to happen in an auction.I figured I could sell a few things out of my collection to raise some funds, and if it really worked as advertised I’d sell my hollow-chisel mortising machine which hasn’t done much but gather dust these past few years.

Late in the afternoon the lot came up for sale. It opened  with the high absentee bidder at about $300. I jumped in and ran the absentee bidder out at a surprisingly low number. The auctioneer then turned to the floor looking for bids and found no other interest. Why is it that when you have the high bid on something you _really_ want the auctioneer seems to slow down and take 5 minutes to search for a new bidder before hammering it down? In reality, the bidding took all of 20 seconds for this lot to sell and I wound up winning it for what I think is a very reasonable price, slightly less than those 25 1890 dollars would be worth today taking inflation into consideration. Another way to look at it- it cost about half of the going rate for a Stanley No.1  in good shape and I’ve seen probably a hundred of those over the years. I don’t think I’ll ever see another one of these. There are lots of ways to self-justify new acquisitions, trust me.

After the auction I conscripted two of MJD’s younger, larger auction helpers to assist me with loading it in my truck. It’s only 145 pounds, but it’s all awkward angles and moving parts, and there is no good way to lay it down without putting lots of weight on one fragile part or another. After a few minutes of careful loading, followed by a healthy and well-earned tip, I had it loaded to my satisfaction, propped on top of layers of Styrofoam and cardboard. I covered it with a tarp and hoped for no rain or major potholes on the way home. It arrived home safe some seven hours later. I convinced my wife to help me unload it and we managed to get it into my shop without any damage to the machine or our marriage.

The Diamond Mortiser in its New Home
The Diamond Mortiser in its New Home

Close-Up of the Fence, table, and Hold-Downs
Close-Up of the Fence, table, and Hold-Downs

Showing the Adjustable Chisel Reverser, Embossed Frame, and Sliding Height Adjustment
Showing the Adjustable Chisel Reverser, Embossed Frame, and Sliding Height Adjustment

At top- the Chisel Reverser and Drive Shaft with Morse Taper Chuck.
At top- the Chisel Reverser and Drive Shaft with Morse Taper Chuck.

Massive Foot Pedal and Cast Iron Legs
Massive Foot Pedal and Cast Iron Legs

The Bed Tilts 45 Degrees or More In Each Direction
The Bed Tilts 45 Degrees or More In Each Direction

Four of the five Original Bits That It Came With.
Four of the five Original Bits That It Came With.

I’ve had the machine in my shop for almost two months now and I’ve played around with it quite a bit. I can’t resist showing it to everyone who walks through. It’s certainly a conversation piece- hard to miss and everyone asks about it. So, how does it work? It actually works very well. The technique is just like chopping a mortise by hand with a mortise chisel except that it’s much faster. You start at one end of the mortise and work your way down, then reverse the bit and sneak-up on the far side of the mortise. With the bits freshly sharpened it makes short work of smaller mortises in most hard and softwoods. Wider, deeper mortises require a few passes which is to be expected. The major benefit for me is that the mortises are always square and plumb. The mortise bottoms need some clean-up work afterwards, but the vast majority of the work is done by the machine and much faster than I can do by hand. In fact, I’m pretty sure it does a better job than my Delta benchtop hollow chisel mortiser, but I may be a bit prejudiced. It’s a hell of a leg work-out as well.

The Machine in use cutting a 3/8in. Mortise in Cherry
The Machine in use cutting a 3/8in. Mortise in Cherry

I’ve found a bunch of fun stuff the past few months. I hope to have more time to share some of them with you. Keep an eye out for more tools coming up later this week. As always, thanks for looking.