braces or wimbles

a quick one today, about braces. I showed a couple the other day from the collection formerly at Heritage Plantation. Here’s the last one of those I have, a small brace, fitted with a permanent bit. Now snapped off. A ferrule fits on the stock where the bit is secured into the brace.

small brace

 I have an old wooden brace, sent to me by Jennie Alexander (like many of my tools, thanks JA) that shows evidence of having had a ferrule also.

brace, oak?


embossing and staining from ferrule

This brace seems to be made of oak. It is impossible to date, I think. Could be 70 yrs old, could be 200 years old. I think more likely the former. Not sure if the head is original, it’s fixed on with an iron nail or brad through its protruding tenon.

head of brace

There’s some layout lines scribed on the stock to align the bit and the head:

layout lines

A nice, simple brace, fitted with just one bit. So this craftsman had several braces, presumably, for different sized holes. Here is a brace from Pilgrim Hall, showing a removeable “pad” – thus a brace that could have several bits. The caption uses a common period term, “wimble” for the brace. Moxon called the whole thing the “piercer”.

wimble & bit; probably 17th c; New England


and here it is, in the early 15th century, in the Merode Altarpiece. St. Joseph boring holes for foot warmers:

brace & bit, c. 1425
I often point out to folks that the tools depicted in this painting are fully-developed. Not a transition phase, so the early 1420s is the date of the painting. the tools’ forms are older than that still..there’s more to come. Randle Holme has a nice illustration identifying the parts of the brace…but I’m out of time.

12 thoughts on “braces or wimbles

  1. Peter: Thanks for the wonderful brace pictures. I agree the head on the second brace seems to be a replacement. But, this is speculation. True, the heads of 17C braces are rather small in their major diameter but they usually have a mushroom configuration. The smallness of the heads was possibly associated with the use of a breast pad in which the brace head was seated. I note that Joseph wasn’t using one, but he was making dinky rattraps for sale to the public.

  2. Peter: I seem unable to recall an early picture or reference to a breast bib used with a brace. There is an 18th Century illustration of a breast bib being used to hold stock when drawknifing spindles. See Hulot, L’art du Tourneur, Paris, 1775. Any other suggestions?

    • Somewhere you (we?) have a slide of extant brace w/o a head, and a bib with divits or even through holes in it. The top end of the brace it shaped to fit the holes…French, I seem to recall…it must be in the chairmaking files, so that makes me think your copy is the one I am remembering. I did’t collect as many images of chairmaking as you did…

  3. Peter: Hulot Plate 13 shows the breast bib and associated braces that you describe. The braces have what appears to be a pointed metal cone that projects from the top of the brace stock. The cone fits into numerous divots in the bib. Plate 31, the overview of the shop, shows a number of braces on the back wall. None of them have the usual wooden head. Hulot illustrates French practice. I am sure you have copies of these Plates. You also probably have the photograph (or slide) of a French chairmaker’s bib and set of braces that you refer to. [I suggest that you will find them quicker than I. Remember that during the first half of our 30-year journey I was a full time practicing divorce trial lawyer. While our journey kept me half sane, I was, perforce, often distracted and disorganized.] I speculate that the numerous divots in the breast bib assist the chairmaker seated in front of or more likely bending over stock to be bored at various angles. Salaman, Dictionary of Tool, under Brace, Chairmaker’s illustrates a breast bib that is dished out to receive a typical wooden brace head. Back in the days when I bored chair mortises straddling and bending over a low bench I made and used such a bib.

  4. Peter and Jennie: During the 2008 Williamsburg furniture conference, Roy Underhill’s presentation on screw making used a slide depicting several activities going on in a shop. In the left foreground a figure is standing on a bench using an auger backed up with a chest plate. The description of the plate began: Menniserie de la Trappe. My picture was taken from the image that was on the projection screen so it is fuzzy. I guess it is probably mid 18th cen.
    As far as breast wimbles go, Patricia Kane’s book Furniture of the New Haven Colony contains inventories that list breast wimbles. 1660/1 James Boykin: a brest wimble & bits; 1690 George Clark:two breast wimble bits,…one breast wimble & 2 bitts; Andrew Sanford 1705: 1 brest wimble; Daniel Benton 1672:a breast wimble two bitts. Other entries mention wimble braces or a wimble and stock or bits and a stock I don’t know if this is any help. A breast wimble could just be a name for the more familiar wimble that required no chest brace. That seems more likely to me.

  5. Hey Fellas,

    I came across this 16th/17th century print which was fascinating. Look at #4– the auger

    2133-2137. – Husbandry implements. (From Gervase Markham’s farewell to Husbandry,’ 1620): 1. Hack for breaking clods after ploughing. 2. Clotting beetle for breaking clods after harrowing. 3. Clotting beetle for wet clods. 4. Weeding Nippers. 5. Paring Shovel, for clearing ground and destroying weeds; 2138-2148. – Grafting and pruning implements. (From Leonard Mascall’s countryman’s new art of planting,’ 4to. Lond. 1592): 1. Saw. 2. Great knife with chesill-head. 3. Pruning knife. 4. Chesill with a Wimble-bit. 5. Mallet. 6. Vine knife. 7. Slicing knife. 8. Grafting chesill. 9. Hammer, with a file and piercer. 10. Scraper, to “Cleanse your mosse-trees.” 11. Grafting knife. Each instrument was fastened by a ring or button to the girdle of the labourer’

  6. I’ve found something out that I didn’t know about. I didn’t know braces were called this ☺ just take a look at my last name

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