Saturday, June 16, 2018

John S. Fray 12" Sweep Hand Brace

One of the tools I got from my recent good fortune was an old hand brace manufactured by John S. Fray.  According to information on Sandy Moss's Sydnassloot.com website, Fray was in business making braces and other tools from the 1870's until Stanley bought his business in around 1909 (one page of Sandy's site says 1909 and another says 1920, so I'm not sure which is right).  Fray held at least 6 patents related to braces.
The brace as found
The John S. Fray Co.
At one time I believe this read,
"BRIDGEPORT, CONN"
"U.S.A."
No. 123, indicating 12" sweep
I already have a 10" sweep brace, this 12" brace will help with boring larger holes
This is a ratcheting brace.  I cleaned up a lot of grease and gunk from the ratcheting mechanism, as well as from the chuck shell and chuck.  The mechanism works very well, though there is some play in the shaft - something is worn or loose, but I don't think it'll affect function.

The head spins nicely.  I removed it and irrigated the bearing area with 3-in-1 oil.  I also sanded and applied BLO to the head before reinstalling it.

Here's the main thing that's wrong with the brace: the sweep handle is supposed to have two "collars" or "stops" that keep it in the center of it's portion of the shaft.  One of them is missing altogether and the other is so loose as to be non-functional.  So the handle can jam into the bend in the shaft and eventually it'll be damaged or broken.
This collar is free to slide all along the shaft
Note the notches filed into the shaft - I think they are there to help retain an applied collar
I thought for days about how to fix this and finally I contacted Sandy about it.  He's a big brace guy so I thought he might be able to help.  And help he did.  He suggested using plumber's or electrician's solder, basically melting solder in a can and pouring it into a mold of some sort that I'd clamp around the shaft.

I still scratched my head a while about this (because I couldn't find my solder and had no idea how I'd make a mold) and finally I thought about using J-B Weld.  I tried it on a piece of 1/2" dowel (the brace shaft is 1/2") using a couple of pieces of scrap wood to form a mold.
Mold pieces
Mold clamped to the dowel, forming the collar
The result - a little filing and it'll look just right
Now for the real thing:
Brace clamped in vise ...
Larger part of mold clamped onto shaft
J-B Weld applied and top mold clamped on to lower mold
After allowing it to dry overnight and removing the mold, a little cleanup of the excess J-B Weld (that stuff files easily) had the first collar looking pretty good.
First collar done
The next one would be more challenging as there was very little room to move around.  There needs to be about 1/16" play for the sweep handle, though I probably ended up with about 1/8".  And there can be no excess J-B Weld under the handle.

I made a separate piece to clamp around the wooden sweep handle and this helped to set the distance for the second collar.
The large piece of wood clamps around handle
Rubber bands were used as temporary clamps for the molds,
then spring clamps held firmly
Front view
Some J-B Weld squeezed out under the handle and it was tough getting it out.  But some dental tools saved the day.  In the end I'm happy with how it turned out.
There were voids in the J-B Weld, but I can live with that
Showing both newly fashioned collars
This brace is a welcome addition to my tool kit.  The extra 2" sweep will help with boring larger holes.  The ratcheting head is a little loose, but hopefully it won't cause any problems.