Fixin' the Mysterious & Puzzling 2101A's Ratchet Mehanism
by George Langford
Revised & Expanded February 22, 2007; Another Fix Added April 4, 2016

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Several Galoots have been stymied by their Bell Systems B, North Bros. Yankee 2100, 2101, or 2101A, or Stanley 2101 braces when the ratchet mechanism has either become damaged or gummed up.  As everything's inside, one can't easily squirt a liitle oil in there; nor can one judiciously pry ...
Start - a 14 inch swing Stanley/Yankee No.2101A-14 IN brace Here's my puzzle. This brace had essentially never been used when I acquired it at Shupps Grove a number of years ago.  One reason will later become apparent.  However, the plunger that changes the direction of ratcheting or locks the mechanism was stiff to operate, and the ratchet sometimes refused to operate at all. Either the spindle would spin freely ... or not at all.

That's my submarine-hull-steel anvil at right.  Faced with a disk about 2-1/2 feet across from which to cut enough material to make a few impact specimens that would fit in your coat pocket, I pursuaded the welder hired for that purpose (with a little extra in cash) to cut along a chalkline around the remains of the disk before chucking the rest.  I then sawed and ground the horn, planed the top & bottom with my Pratt & Whitney metal planer, and heated the whole thing as one would do a chisel - quench the horn & table in water and then let the residual heat temper the hard parts before quenching the rest, which by then will have lost their ability to harden.  Worked like a charm; that was over twenty years ago.
Unscrewing the upper nut The first step in disassembly of the ratchet mechanism is to loosen the rear nut that caps the mechanism.  Here I'm using a pair of large Channellock-style pliers.  There is a piece of leather from an old belt cushioning the nut's delicate knurling.  It should not take much force to break the nut's grip, and there are no forces in normal operation that tend to loosen it.  For some idiotic reason, many of these braces have received severe blows against this cap, probably in vain efforts to start the screw tip of a bit ...
Green Goo up close & personal With the nut successfully unscrewed, the reason for the brace's reluctance to ratchet became apparent.  This green goo was gluing it all together.  Usually, it's only the Bell System braces that are afflicted this way. [I've recently found a non-Bell Systems brace with the Green Goo, so it must actually have been the Stanley wizards after all - GL].  Theory had it that Ma Bell didn't trust her employees to apply the few drops of oil every decade that it takes to keep the brace functioning.  The grease packed into this brace's ratchet box seems to have reacted with the nickel plating to produce the green color of nickel oxide.  Just a theory.
Undoing the lower nut with a leather strap Using a split plastic pipe to protect the knurlsThe second nut unscrews just like the first one; they've both got right-handed threads, by the way.

An alternate method of protecting the chuck shell and the nut's knurling is shown at right. That's a piece of plastic pipe (nominally one inch size - more like an inch and a quarter) that I cut in half.

That pair of wood blocks with the Vee's cut in them works wonders for gripping the chuck without distorting the shell.
Removing the spindle key Once the second nut's been loosened and moved as far as it will go out of the way, you can then drive out the half-moon-shaped key that keeps the spindle in place.  I used a 2-1/2 inch long finishing nail whose point I ground flat.  The nail's not hard enough to damage the key.  The key is a very snug but not really tight fit, so it slides right out with a few taps on the nail.
Spindle out of position With the spindle out, the green goo is really evident. And sticky.

Much later than this example, I recently did this operation on a half-dozen 2101A braces, and I found all of them but one (which someone else had already cleaned) full of Green Goo in various stages, even rock-candy hard.
Key & ratchet pawl out of position With the spindle out of the way, the next step is to remove the two pawls.  In this image the rear pawl is already out, and the front one has been tilted part way out.  These are both fingertip operations; the rear pawl just slides out, but the front one has to be tilted to get it out of its closed pocket.  It helps a lot to move the direction selector pushbutton away from the outboard end of the brace, as though to ratchet backwards.
Both pawls out Here the two (identical) pawls are out, and one can see one end of the delicate spring peeking out of the ratchet box.  Be careful this spring or its fragments (sigh ...) aren't lost.

The pawls may show some wear.   If there's a bur along the thinner part, it's OK to file that bur flush with the edge.  It takes only a few strokes with a file, and it keeps the bur from catching the ridges on the spindle on the backwards stroke, which can render the ratchet useless.   An easy fix.
Ratchet spring as it should look This is that very delicate phosphor bronze spring, which comes staked to a tiny little pin which fits an equally tiny hole in the selector plunger.  This is why you don't hammer on that plunger when it gets stuck ... You might find it necessary to straighten your spring to approximately this contour.  On another of my braces, I had to use a hammer to flatten it against the anvil seen in the picture at the start of this page and to straighten a tendency to curve in the wrong plane. In the worst case you might have to make a replacement; Galoot Randy Moore wrote to me recently with such a request for advice, so I tried to describe in words how to go about making the replacement without using fancy tools.
Ratchet parts displayed OK - twenty-five minutes later, here are the nice clean parts.  Fortunately, I had no rust to remove.  Just the caked-on Green Goo, which can be seen coloring the solvent.

I now recommend just scraping the Green Goo out of the important places and leaving an identifiable residue where it won't do any harm, so future historians can still learn from the brace after you've used it for another lifetime.
Inside view of ratchet box
Here's what the ratchet box looks like inside. 

They're all non-magnetic and  apparently made as brass castings.
Spring back in place with tweezers And now the spring's pin is back in the cross-drilled hole in the selector plunger.  It helps to have a pair of tweezers to do this without too much fumbling; the sharp corners of the flat spring catch on just about every corner inside the ratchet box ...
Grooves in pawls have different functions Although I made this picture before cleaning the pawls, I need to show you here that the pawls have two different grooves - one on each side. The square-bottomed groove is the one into which the flat spring fits; and the round-bottomed groove is clearance for the spindle.  As long as you put the flat-bottomed groove facing outwards, towards the flat spring, there's no wrong way to assemble the two identical pawls.  Trust me.
Front pawl goes in first Put the front pawl in first.  That's the one that's closer to the chuck.  You'll need to play with the selector plunger to get the pawl to stay put with the flat spring seated in the flat groove in the pawl, and the pawl has to be tilted to go into its closed pocket, seen below.
Rear view of front pawl in place Here's a rear view of the front pawl in place, with the other end of the flat spring waving in the breeze at the center of the image.  The pawl will stay put like this only when the selector plunger is pushed in as shown.
Pawl pockets are different Here's what the head looks like, all nice and clean.  The rear pawl slides right into the pocket on the left, but the front pawl has to be wormed into the closed pocket at the right.  Beware - when later on you're  sliding the spindle back in, it's easy to push the rear pawl out of place, and then the spring ends up on the wrong side of the pawl.  I find that putting the rear cap back on temporarily helps guard against this error.
Hold the rear pawl in place with your fingertips Now I'm holding the rear pawl in place with my fingertip as I prepare to slide the spindle back into the head of the brace. The front pawl is already in its pocket here.  Be sure that both ends of the flat spring are underneath their respective pawls and not poking up between the ends of the pawls.  The front pawl has sprung upwards a little, and I had to push it back down as I placed the spindle inside the ratchet box.  My fingertip also holds the front pawl (at the rear of this picture) in place so it doesn't get pushed out.
Spring seats in square grooves in the pawls Now the spindle is back in, and the two ends of the flat spring can be seen correctly seated in the flat-bottomed grooves in the two pawls.  At least, _I_ could see that, even though the camera didn't ... Note that the rear pawl at right has an open-ended pocket, but the front pawl's seat is closed.  That's why the front one has to be tilted to get it in there.
Spindle key part way back in We're gettin' near the end now.  The key has been pushed part way into the slot at the front of the ratchet box. Be sure that the spindle is all the way in here; you must screw the front nut as far on as it will go without actually getting in the way of the key in order to be sure that the spindle is all the way in, or the key will interfere with the groove in the spindle and possibly damage it when you tap it into the keyway.
Tapping the key home with a nail Here I'm getting set to tap the key the rest of the way in.
Put the key back in the same way as it came out Now the key is securely locking the spindle into the ratchet box.  If your key has evidence of wear, I used to advise to turn it the opposite way that it came out in order to equalize that wear on both sides of the key.  However, then the spindle may not turn freely - that's been my experience - look at the key as you remove it and then replace it exactly as it came out.
Use non-detergent motor oil in the mechanism Now that the front nut is back in place, place some medium weight, non-detergent lubricating oil inside the ratchet mechanism.  I used several drops, and none has yet to leak out.
Nuts both back in place Now you can tighten both nuts. Done.
Stanley 2101A-14 IN brace reassembled This is the 14-inch size.
Sticky wrist Great ... except for that one sticky problem.  It's the crank handle, which is too tight, so it will only turn if I grip it tightly while operating the brace, even with oil.  If one of you has seen a broken handle and can describe to me whether it's got a pocket inside or just has a straight-through hole, I'd appreciate hearing from you.  Wunna these days I'll figure out a way of loosening that handle, I hope.

A few days ago I applied these techniques to six braces (with re-runs on two of them) in about three hours.
Wrist collar's screw adjustment

Here's what's going on inside at least one (destroyed) Yankee brace's wrist handle.  The collar screws onto threads that allow you to adjust the end play of the wrist handle.  Note that, contrarily to the original patent for this brace, there is no metal sleeve inside the wrist handle.

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Here's my addition: Taking apart the chuck & replacing the balls.

Unscrewing the base of the chuck
A few Stanley/North Bros. 2100-series Yankee braces have sticky or rough-turning chucks due to a variety of reasons.  If you cannot get the nose of the chuck to spin freely, even after oiling it, then here are the drastic measures that will be needed to correct the situation. 

Two 2100-series  braces had broken 3/32nd inch balls, and a third 2101A brace had one too many 1/8th inch balls.  I fixed that one by putting back all but one of the original balls, and it works fine now, just like the first two, in which I replaced all the balls as shown here so they'd be as close as possible to the same diameter.  Very, very bad to mix balls of different diameters.
Tiny hole I needed to get the snap ring out
Once the base of the chuck has been unscrewed from the shell, you will find that there is a snap ring very securely fitted inside the shell.  This snap ring was thoughtlessly left with no bevels on the ends, so it's next to impossible to pry it out of the groove.  I therefore took the drastic step (for keep-it-original freaks) of drilling a hole in the shell to push that ring out of its groove from the outside.  The drill size can be 1/16th to 3/32nd inch, and it has to pass through the middle of the snap ring's groove.  That puts the hole about 1.26 inch from the threaded end of the chuck shell.  Don't take my word for that dimension, though.  In the picture at left, the shiny thing inside the hole is the snap ring.  With one of these braces, the drill itself conveniently pushed the snap ring out far enough that I could pry it out the rest of the way with a small screwdriver.

The tool of choice for pushing the snap ring out of its groove is a two-inch nail with about 3/16th inch of the end ground, turned, or filed to a diameter that will fit through the hole.  File a chisel edge on the end of this nail so that the tip of the nail will push the snap ring towards the threaded (open) end of the shell when you push against the head of the nail.  The angle only need be about 45 degrees, but it has to be one-sided.
Snap ring partly out of its groove
It's not easy to see, but the hole drilled through the shell into the snap ring groove is about 3/8th inch from the free end of the snap ring.  Don't try to miss the snap ring when you drill the hole, as it's not going to be easy to rotate the snap ring so that the nail will actually hit it.  The drill won't harm the snap ring, by the way. 

Don't place the hole in the middle of the snap ring either ...

By the way ... many Yankee braces' chucks are very difficult to unscrew all the way off the spindle, as no one else has ever tried to do so, and the front end of the spindle may have gotten slightly sprung.  Apply a wrench like that shown above (it'll be easier to use an adjustable wrench than getting a 5/8th-size Whitworth wrench...) and it'll eventually come off.  Lots of elbow grease, but no excessive forces or hammering are needed.
All the parts, Ma'am
This is a second chuck from which I did not have to magically make the rust disappear ...
Package of 3/32nd inch balls from MSC
Start with 100 balls.
[image linked to seller's website]
What's left from 100 after the first chuck
Put some in a chuck.
These are the 60 left.
What's left from above after the second chuck
Put some more in a second chuck, leaving the 20 at left.

That makes 40 balls per chuck. Both repaired chucks run freely.
What came out of the second chuck
Here are the 39 (?) balls that came out of the 2nd chuck. The 1st was a mess.

Someone is bound to ask me how many balls are in there.  Ha.  Several balls were broken in the first chuck so all I could do was count how many balls were left in the original bag of one hundred after I did the first chuck, then count how many balls were left after doing this chuck, and then count how many balls came out of the second chuck.

Forty (you count 'em) balls in place
Side view of balls in raceHere are the forty (? - you count 'em) 3/32nd inch balls in place around the race of the chuck. 

It is essential that you use some grease or oil to keep the balls in the race while you continue with the assembly of the chuck.  Put the grease on the race first, before the balls.

I used Molygrease.
Nose of chuck sitting on pedestal
Shell back on over the pedestal

The pedestal shown at left raises the nose of the chuck high enough that you can drop the shell down from above without having to juggle the balls.

Be sure that you put the race ring back onto the chuck nose (on top of the balls) before upending the chuck shell over the balls.  There will be a small wear pattern on one side of that ring.  That side goes against the balls.  The chuck nose is hard enough to resist the balls and doesn't need protection. The tweezers in the background in the next image are an essential tool; even they tend to launch balls onto the floor.

This is the second chuck.
Replacing the snap ring
Here's the snap ring on its way back into the groove.  This is the easy part.  Very satisfying to hear it click.  Unless you find a loose part afterwards ...

The base of the chuck goes back on next.  Use one of the softer grades of Lok-Tite if you want the chuck shell to stay screwed onto the base.  Or just reverse the very first step above.

Not shown: In order to get the jaw spring out of the spindle, make a small hook in the end of a straightened-out paper clip.  That hook has to fit through the center hole in the spindle in order to snag the retaining ring but not the jaw spring.  Now pull the ring up through the spring slot, taking care that the ring is mostly parallel to the slot.  It will slide through with a little tugging; pliers help in gripping the paper clip.  The original patent says that it was not the intention of the inventor that the spring and its retaining ring ever get out of the spindle.  Ha ! A couple of mine fell out.  That's how I knew I could get 'em out with a little ingenuity.

A Rare & Puzzling Defect
An old but very nice Yankee Brace, of the North Bros variety, arrived at my doorstep with a serious problem: in spite of being utterly free of any Green Goo and in spite of being throughly oiled, it would not ratchet in the Undo direction. Even after replacing the original ratchet pawls and the original spindle with parts from a suitable donor brace, it was still NoGoBack. Forward and Lock worked great; even Undo worked when the brace was assembled in the Undo configuration, but as soon as I selected Lock, going back to the Undo position of the pushbutton selector left the brace locked. All these parts worked OK in the donor brace, so it had to be something amiss with this NoGoBack brace. There was zero user damage to this brace; it was made this way, but it wasn't marked, Second.

After a night's rest and before setting out to mangle any of its parts in frustration, I discovered that if I nudged the rear ratchet pawl forwards with my thumb, the brace would magically work in Either direction. That brought to mind the ultimate fix: a shim to do the nudging for me, permanently out of sight and without making an iota of change to the NoGoBack brace. All that's needed is an eyeball, ball pein hammer, small anvil, chain nose pliers, and a file.
Ratchet pawl shim in place
The cellphone picture is terrible (I'll make another one soon and take a proper picture of it) but the shim started out its life as a two inch finishing nail which I cold forged (i.e.,hammered) flat until it was slightly thinner than the gap between the end of the ratchet pawl and the shoulder of the ratchet housing and rounded off with a file to fit inside the rear cap. Getting it to stay in place meant bending over little tabs at each end and then doing a little more cold forging against the side of a cold chisel to adust the distance between the tabs so they would keep the shim in place while I screwed the cap back on. Now it's a GoEitherWay brace for perhaps the first time in its long career.
Alternative shim After looking at another brace from the same era, it's clear now that there is about a 0.025 inch gap between the end of the ratchet pawl and the top of the ratchet housing in this brace. The correctly manufactured brace's ratchet pawl (with the same dimensions as the pawl of this Second brace) stands a little proud of that end surface. The second generation shim at left is sized to cover the end of the ratchet housing underneath the end cap with the projection (seen at left facing up) hanging over the edge of the notch on the ratchet housing so it presses on the end of the ratchet pawl.