An interesting exchange on Facebook which may be of wider interest to TATHS members
Richard Arnold has commented on a discussion at a recent East Midlands TATHS meeting about early braces.
The first button pads to appear were made of iron rather than the usual brass examples commonly seen right through the 19th century. The top brace in this trio is possibly the earliest and was made by John Ryley of Birmingham sometime around 1770. The middle example is marked "Freeth" There are two possible candidates that may have been the maker. Firstly, Benjamin Freeth of Birmingham who is listed in 1770 as being a gimlet and auger maker, or from the same 1770 directory, Samuel and Samson Freeth, Edge tool makers, and factors.
The last brace in this trio is by William Laurie of Edinburgh, 1774-1813. This brace shows the transition to the more usual brass pad. The iron form seems to be exceedingly rare, and Richard knows of very few examples world-wide. If anyone knows of other similar braces he would love to see them.
David Schweizer then contributed photographs of a brace with a cast iron chuck which he has owned for many years, it is not a button chuck; although there is some evidence of a well rusted pip on the front of it, there is no evidence of anything on the inside of the bit socket. The mark on the chuck is clearly B FREETH, which rules out Samuel and Samson Freeth, making Benjamin the most likely contender.
The brace and head both appear more modern than the chuck, but it is a good fit and slimmer than the later brass buttoned ones. The head is also held on by what looks like a (very rusty) coach bolt, rather than the more conventional tapered shaft.
David also drew attention to further evidence of Benjamin Freeth being the manufacturer of both cast iron and brass chucks. This can be found on page 112 of Christopher Proudfoot and Phillip, Walker's book "Woodworking Tools" where he is identified as one of the earliest manufacturers of brace chucks during the period 1770-1824.
This appears to be conclusive evidence that Benjamin was the manufacturer.