Adam R. Maxwell
As we all know, “Scotch” is an appellation
mainly reserved for whisky, but it’s also applied to a
certain type of iron brace made in the mid-19th century.
They’re a fairly rugged tool, but not as common as the
garden variety American ratchet braces which you’ll even
find here in Old Tool Hell (Washington State). The Scotch
brace isn’t a really user-friendly tool, since it lacks a
handle, and requires notched-tang bits, but it has some
great curves and a lignum vitae head. Could be in Hollywood,
Finally seeing one on eBay, I bid a
not-insignificant-amount on it at the last second, and ended
up with it.
We’re all familiar with that feeling of
excitement when the eagerly awaited box arrives, and likely
also with the letdown that occurs when we realize that
either a) the pictures were inadequate or b) we missed an
important detail, like that Stanley #49 that I bought which
had no lever caps. But I digress.
Let’s start with the good. The brace had a
great chuck spring, and the metal was in good shape. Maybe a
wire wheel had touched it at some point, but it had wasn’t
blindingly bright or disgustingly dirty.
Now to the bad: the seller didn’t think to
mention that someone had wrapped baling wire around the
lignum head, which was cracked through. From research, I
knew that a crack here was not uncommon, but was still
disappointed. The sensible thing to do would have been to
put it up on a shelf as a curiosity, or pump the crack full
of epoxy and then remove the wire. Nuts to that.
I think taking apart braces is fun, for some
reason. It’s interesting to see just how clever some
long-ago galoot was in designing such a boring tool, and the
Scotch brace didn’t disappoint. I removed the head fairly
easily, after making a tool to remove the end plug. I use
the word “tool” loosely here; I drove two wire brads through
a piece of wood to make a spanner, and the plug turned
easily. A bit of oil isn’t amiss if the threads are tight.
Definitely a broken head. Painful, but we
have the technology to fix it, right? It looks like
this brass collar with the nails through it was originally
designed to help keep the head from splitting, but it had
become detached at some point and was just acting as a
thrust washer. Again, easily fixable.
However, there are a couple of
little nuts that have to come off of the tapered
shaft first, and this is the most clever (or evil)
part of the Scotchman’s design.
Shaft and Nuts.
Both of these brass spanner nuts are rather
crude, although they mate well with the shaft. The outer one
is left-hand thread, and the inner one is right-hand thread,
so an unwary dismantler could easily destroy the soft brass
trying to remove the nuts. A broken head is bad, but nobody
wants to deal with broken nuts! In this way, removing the
head in two pieces was really a blessing in disguise.