No other ratcheting brace is more highly sought after than those made under the “Yankee” name. The liberal use of ball bearings, the concealed ratchet, and rugged construction all leave a most favorable impression on the user. Use one that is in good condition, and you will be spoiled for life.
Originally made and sold by The North Bros., these braces feature the mechanical elegance and simplicity for which the firm was justly renowned. When Stanley acquired the company in 1946, they continued to make the brace with only minor changes. This brace is one of those made by Stanley.
Like so many other “Yankee” braces, this one was made expressly for Bell Systems, who valued their rugged, sealed construction. Earlier models are substantially similar. If there is one weak point in these tools, it is that the grease in the sealed ratchets dries out and hardens after a few decades. In many, the grease will be so stiff as to completely freeze the ratchet mechanism. Fortunately, the time and effort needed to clean and regrease the ratchet and pad is not great.
Although the 2101 and 2101A models are far more common than the 2100 and 2100A, there is little difference between the models. To the best of my knowledge, the difference lies in the plating: the 2100’s are chrome plated, while the 2101’s are nickel plated. In 1958, that chrome plating commanded a 20% premium (page 66 of the 1958 Stanley catalog).
A word of warning before starting: while much of the construction remained essentially unchanged over the years, there are some differences. On older braces, I believe that the cladding and bearings on the end handles were peined into place. Disassembly of this requires modification of the brace which may or may not be worth pursuing. If you run into this, or other differences from what I have shown, consider taking pictures of the disassembly process. It takes time to do this, but makes it much easier to put everything back in its proper place.
Without further ado…
Let’s start with the head. Begin by removing the two or three screws on the underside. The plastic or composition handle is threaded, so after these screws are removed, it will not simply pull off, but will need to be turned counterclockwise (looking at it from the above, as if you were holding it to use). Occasionally, these threads will be a little sticky. If this is the case with yours, hold the collar of the metal cladding in a wooden handscrew or vise (pad the jaws of your vise to prevent damage to the plating).
Once the head is removed, you will see a C-clip that holds the cladding and bearings in place. (ab)Use a screwdriver to remove this clip, then lift off the cladding. This is best done with the brace in the upright position so that the now exposed ball bearings don’t make a dash for freedom (hard to blame the little buggers, though – who wouldn’t want to explore the world after toiling away for decades in a confined space?). The bearing cup, races, and bearings can now be removed from the handle and cleaned.
Reassembly of the pad is simple, so long as it is done in the correct order. The bearing cup goes on first, followed by a bearing race (flat washer). Next, install the grease and bearings. If you give the race and cup a good coating of grease (I use axle grease), the bearings will stay where you stick them. If you managed to lose some of the bearings along the way (there should be 16), take a deep breath and visit a good hardware store and ask for 1/8″ bearings there. If you can’t find them locally, you can order them online. The other bearing race goes on top of the bearings, followed by the cladding and the C-clip to hold everything together. Finally, screw the pad on and reinstall the two or three small screws from below.
With the pad done, it is time to tear into the shell (the assembly that houses the jaws) and ratchet. Begin by unthreading the shell completely. No tricks here; just turn until it falls off.
Hold the shell in a handscrew or padded vise jaws and use a wrench or handscrew to remove the end cap. This usually requires little effort. The threads are a standard right hand form.
With the cap removed, look down into the shell, where there is an internal spring clip. This clip needs to come out so the cone shaped race and ball bearings can be removed. I use a machinist’s scribe and pick to remove this clip. Patience and persistence are your friends in this step. With the clip removed, the cone race can be removed. Remove carefully, as the ball bearings (there are 31 of them in there) beneath it are no less eager to taste freedom than were those in the head. Remove the bearings and the thrust washer below them.
Clean, grease, and reassemble.
Now that you are warmed up, it’s on to the ratchet. This is the most challenging work, but very doable. Pay close attention to how things fit together, and take pictures to help you remember the proper order and orientation.
Begin by removing jaws, then the cap on the end of the ratchet housing. Once again, use wood handscrews or padded jaws to do this. The cap has right hand threads, and usually comes off easily. Use a pick to remove the exposed pawl.
Now turn the brace over to work on the other end of the ratchet housing. Remove the knurled collar using – yes, you guessed it – either a wood handscrew or paded jaws. With this collar unscrewed, use a pick to remove the clip that is now exposed, then lift out the entire shaft and collar.
Now push the ratchet selector down (towards the head) and remove the second pawl. With both pawls removed, the flat spring will slide out.
Finally, remove the ratchet selector by pushing it in one direction or the other. Once this is out, the spring and pin are free to fall out.
Reassemble after cleaning and greasing everything. Again, I use axle grease here. Reassembly of the pawls and springs is a little tricky. Not complicated, but you will often wish for a third and fourth hand to hold everything in its proper place. Take your time and don’t force anything.
And here is the completed brace.