Shop made wooden holdfast

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Established Member
17 Mar 2020
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I just want to share some observations in regards of shop made holdfasts, in case they prove useful to someone.

A while ago I experimented making a wooden holdfast for my workbench. I used Jarrah for the head and a beech dowel (30cm x 2.5cm) and glued them together with epoxy.

Despite being stupid enough to coat not only the head, but the stem as well with BLO the holfast worked quite well on most of the holes until eventually the stem snapped right next to the head.

Jarrah is almost indestructible so I drilled out the stem leftover planing to make a new one out of a different wood.

Yesterday I needed to hold some boards flat on the bench for planing and I had a Hmmmm!? moment.

I took the holdfast head and the remaining length of the old stem and used them to hold down the does foot.

To my surprise even with a shorter stem not even glued to the head it worked ok on my 9.5cm thick bench top.

It’s not the prettiest and the stem might get in the way possibly on some occasions, but compared to my other huge and heavy iron holdfast it’s easier to use for holding down a does foot or other thin boards and moving it from hole to hole.

The next step is to make a new stem (without BLO this time) and see if the grip is better. If it works it will be a great alternative to the big and heavy iron one for when the longer shaft is not needed and the fact that the stem is not glued to the head will make it a breeze to replace it when it snaps.


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I guess with wooden holdfasts the odd failure now and then is to be expected but the idea of the reusable head is good. Perhaps a wood with more spring for the next shaft. Ash, hickory, or mulberry. Anything that is rated as a good wood for tool handles would do.
Many thanks for the alternative timber suggestion.

I will try Ash at some point. but unfortunately Hickory and Mullbery are not easy to get.

For the time being I will try with another beech dowel that I already have at hand.

I made the holdfast at first since the 1 inch Simon James ones are not available any more, and the offer from Crucible tools is way out of my budget, but I came to like the lightness of it for smaller jobs.

If works more reliably with a new shaft unglued it will prove to be a good idea despite the fact that it will snap again at some point.
Quite a few years ago (10 to be exact), we 'discovered" on the Ubeaut forum (it starts at post #44 on page 3 - it's a longish thread!). A member saw a drawing in a very old publication, of a holdfast fashioned from a crook formed by a tree branch and did some experimenting to see how it worked. That provoked a flurry of experimenting amongst a group of us & we came up with a roughly 'standard' design and an 'optimum' angle for the shaft. I christened mine "bench ducks": :)
Bench duck 1.jpg

I've used a couple quite often since then and find them very satisfactory & able to generate plenty of holding power:
Bench duck 2.jpg

We're spoilt for choice when it comes to tough woods down in the nether regions of the world, so I've gotten away with 19mm shafts on mine. It's a a tough eucalypt species often used for hammer handles etc. & they've been bashed down pretty cruelly on occasion but have tolerated the abuse. I reckon if you used a wood like Ash it would stand up to sensible use, but if you went to a 25mm shaft just about any hardwood should do the job. Mine usually generate enough holding power for my purposes with a few light taps of a mallet, I've really only bashed them down hard to demonstrate to others what they will cop.

I would advise against glueing the shaft into the head, unless you use a very flexible glue. The shaft jams itself in the head the same as in the bench hole when it's tightened down, so you only need something to stop it falling out when you pick it up or pull it out of the bench. I pinned mine with a wooden dowel & that has worked satisfactorily. I expected to have to replace them every few years due to shaft wear or breakage but I've been using the same pair for 10 years now and they are holding up very well - I think they'll outlast me!

There are two big advantages of these wooden holdfasts, imo, they cost nothing or next to nothing, and the broad area of contact is far less likely to mar your work. (And they won't damage edge tools should inadvertent contact occur :D )

Very happy our member made his 'discovery'!
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Thanks for that post!

Won't work as well in my bench - the under-bench storage comes right up to the underside of the top - but I'm saving this anyway, in case I suddenly find myself with a different bench.
Bill, I mostly use the holdfasts at the back of the bench, for steadying wide boards/table tops held between the bench dogs. I have a similar problem that there are cupboards directly undeneath, so what I did was drill a series of holes in a thick board & screwed that to the back of the bench. Very handy when holding anything like a shelf while I plane a sliding dovetail on the end, or my sandpaper stretcher:

Sandpaper holder.jpg
This covers 90% of the situations where I might use holdfasts...
@IWW, Many thanks for your posts.

I figured out that the shaft doesnt have to be glued in the head (initially I used epoxy) and with the new shaft I made it works better (the shaft is not oiled).

Now I have to try making another one with a more acute angle between the head and the shaft like yours, I think it will work even better.

On both of my holdfast heads I have glued thick (3mm) pieces of leather to avoid dents on my workpieces and it works fine.
I guess with wooden holdfasts the odd failure now and then is to be expected but the idea of the reusable head is good. Perhaps a wood with more spring for the next shaft. Ash, hickory, or mulberry. Anything that is rated as a good wood for tool handles would do.
I have often thought of making them from a grown crook of ash or oak.
My dad had a hybrid version for his holdfast. The head was wood (Maple) like yours but he used a piece of 3/4" pipe (like the stuff used for pipe clamps) with a cap on the end. The edge of the cap sat on the wood head and he would tap or belt it as needed with a hammer. A light tap behind the head released it. He used it for many years working until he retired. I don't know what happened to it after.


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