Chris Schwarz's Blog

Ask, and You Shall Beat the Snot out of Something

OK, I have two very good pieces of news on the topic of holdfasts. In our March 2005 issue we sang the praises of Alaskan blacksmith Phil Koontz. His holdfasts were the only ones that truly lived up to the name “holdfasts.” All the cast, manufactured ones should be re-labeled “kinda-hold-slows.” Not as zippy a marketing term, I’m afraid, but completely fair.

To help meet demand for the holdfasts, Phil has turned over a good deal of production to another Alaskan blacksmith: Jake the Russian. I haven’t met Jake personally, and I cannot say if he traveled to Alaska via the now-vanished Aleutian land bridge, but I can say that I know his holdfasts. Phil sent me a pair made by Jake to try out on the Roubo-style workbench. I am impressed.

They work just as well as those made for me earlier in 2005 by Phil, and the fit and finish is a bit better, too. These had more pronounced chamfering on the leaf-shaped pad. And these even worked occasionally in my 5″-thick legs in a 3/4″ hole, which Phil’s will not do. So if you’re in the market for blacksmith-made holdfasts, the ones from Jake and Phil both get equally high marks.

And here’s some more news: Tools for Working Wood has developed (and applied for a patent) on an inexpensive holdfast that is remarkably effective. The holdfast, sold under the Gramercy Tools nameplate, has more of a techno look than the beautiful blacksmith-made ones, but it works as well. Yes, you read that right: It works just as well. And for less than one-third the price of many blacksmith-made examples (though some blacksmiths can make them quite inexpensively, to be fair). These new holdfasts cost $30 a pair and will be available in October. Tools for Working Wood is now taking advance orders on its website.

We’ve been working with the pre-production Gramercy prototypes for a month now, day-in and day-out. We’re terribly impressed. They hold like Phil’s (though they still won’t cinch down in a 5″ leg in a 3/4″ hole. The only device that works there consistently is the Veritas hold-down, a different animal).

All of the sudden we went from a society that had virtually no functioning holdfasts to having a society that has three excellent and effective models to choose from. Lucky us.

Christopher Schwarz

4 thoughts on “Ask, and You Shall Beat the Snot out of Something

  1. Dan B

    I’m also using these holdfasts on a Sjobergs thin-top bench and they work splendidly after a little scuffing with sandpaper. Even though Joel recommends against using these on a thin bench, they’re great. I even sent Joel a thank you note for making my work easier!

  2. Ken Bryant

    After reading the "Roubo" article I scrapped earlier workbench plans and started planning a 12′ long, 6" thick Roubo-style workbench. One question: Are any of these holdfasts going to work properly in a benchtop that thick? (At this stage, I can make the holes can any diameter).

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