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Boring Tools and their Makers


Scotch Brace Disassembly and Repair by Adam Maxwell

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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, right?

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.

The Problem

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.

pre dismantlement

Before Dismantlement.


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.

split head

Split Head.

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

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.


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