Chris Schwarz's Blog

I Have a Dog in this Fight

In the debate of round bench dogs vs. square bench dogs, I have tried to remain neutral.

But after years of working on both, I have decided to cast my lot in with the round dog camp. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Round dogs are easier to retrofit to a workbench than square ones. If you have a brace and bit, you can Swiss cheese up your bench at anytime. Adding a square dog hole after your bench is assembled is a pain. A proper square dog hole is a stepped and angled mortise.

2. Round dog holes play nicer with holdfasts. I’ve seen people use their holdfasts in square dog holes, but it’s not always successful and it’s not always pretty. Holdfasts work best in round holes, and I like using my holdfasts in the row of dog holes that runs along the front edge of my bench.

3. Round dog holes have more accessories. The manufacturers who make workbench accessories , especially Veritas/Lee Valley , make a crazy array of workholding accessories that work in a 3/4″-diameter round hole. And if you buy holdfasts that work with a 3/4″ hole, your life (in the shop, at least) will be simpler.

4. You can quickly make your own round dogs. All metal dogs (round or square, brass or steel) are overkill in my book. And they have a tendency to nip at your tools. No matter what shape of dog you use, I recommend you try some shop-made wooden dogs with leather gripping faces.

My round wooden dogs are made from 3/4″-diameter hickory dowels (you can order these from several places. I get mine from Midwest Dowel). Saw off the length you need , I recommend it be 1″ longer than your bench is thick. Make a dog for each hole if you like. That is some luxury.

Then saw a flat gripping surface on the top of the dog. My gripping surface is about 1-1/2″ long and 5/8″-wide. Then glue some suede (or whatever) to the gripping surface using some yellow glue, hide glue or whatever else you have.

The final touch is to add a spring-loaded bullet catch to the shaft of the dog. The bullet catch allows the dog to be positioned at any height and keeps it from falling out of its hole.

If you break one, you are using too much clamping pressure with your tail vise. But if that happens, the fix is simple , make a new dog.

I will admit that square dogs have some advantages when clamping tall boards on edge and some assemblies , that’s because their clamping surface can be raised high above the workbench and it is proud of its square shaft. I have a quick modification in mind for my round dogs that will grant them this superpower. I’ll share that idea once I test it out a little more.

– Christopher Schwarz

22 thoughts on “I Have a Dog in this Fight

  1. Bob Jones

    How do you fit the 3/4in dowel in the 3/4in hole?
    I just drilled a ton of holes on a workbench under construction. Naturally, I did a test fit after I was done drilling and surprise! No fit. Oops.

  2. Paul

    Chris,

    I am all for the round holes. I chamfer the holes.
    Then use small rubber bands,(o-rings work also)!
    I do not really care about being histerically or politically
    correct.

  3. Chris Adkins

    I must say that although I do like the look of the square dogs, I myself use round. The biggest reason is flexiblity. If I need a new hole I just drill one and there are lots of accessories for round dog holes.

  4. Kirk Brinker

    Hi Chris,

    I’m knocking in round holes in my Roubo-Schwarz workbench. I like the hickory stick for the material and the ball catch like Eric noted above.

    Thanks!

    Kirk

  5. Steve

    I can see that one would have to decide on the shape of the hole for the shaft part of a dog (round, square, triangular, oval, etc.), but I fail to see how that dictates the shape or size of the "head" portion. Or that it has to be made of the same material. Or why it has to stay in the bench when not in use? Why impose limitations (or accept them) that don’t need to be there?

  6. Chris F

    AAAndrew, one problem with sandpaper is that the grit can come off and embed in your workpiece. The next time you hit the workpiece with a plane you can end up nicking your iron on the embedded grit.

  7. AAAndrew

    I use the round dogs with the bullet catches and they work great. I’ve only ever broken one, and it’s easy as pie to change.

    Most of my dogs are made from cheap Asian poplar-like material as that’s what I had for 3/4" dowel stock when I first tried this out. What I’ve found is that the stock deforms to a flat surface the first heavy-duty use, and works quite well even when round. I use my wagon vise and do a lot of flattening of boards, so I do traversing with planes on the board, and it still never slips.

    If you do cut a square face to your round dog, I would imagine some sandpaper would work just as good, and a whole lot cheaper, than Swedes or leather of any kind.

    AAAndrew

  8. Eric R

    Round dogs work for me.
    I don’t have the added bullet catches yet, but they are a good idea and are coming.
    Thanks Chris.

  9. Gye Greene

    #5 – Andy’s comment (above): "Just about any shape can be held between two round dogs and a wonder dog." So, if you do a lot of non-perpendicular work (round tabletops? "natural edge" slabs?), round dogs would seem to be superior.

    Re: the bullet catches — how about just a small hole drilled perpendicularly, with a finishing nail inserted as a cross beam to prevent the dog from falling thru the hole? You could drill two or three holes, to suit the intended depth.

    –GG

  10. Gary Roberts

    BTW, the inimitable Felibien featured an engraving of a workbench with BOTH round holes for holdfasts and a square hole for a bench dog equipped with a metal toothed gadget.

    Gary

  11. Andy

    Reason #3 (lots of accessories) is described in detail in U.S. Patent 5,284,331. The Background of the Invention section makes for very interesting reading.

    It begins in the Egyptian tomb of Nebanon, circa 1450 B.C. It discusses square vs. round dogs, holdfasts, including various patent holdfasts, vises, and panel clamps.

    The invention describes the Lee Valley/Veritas system of work holding circa 1992 (no surface vise or surface clamp), but plenty of fromage suisse.

  12. Andy

    If you just want a single row of dog holes near the front edge of the bench top to clamp a board, I don’t see any advantage to round dogs.

    Where round dogs really become useful to me is when the bench top has a grid of holes (aka Swiss Cheese). A batten spanning any two dogs becomes a planing stop (and it doesn’t always have to be perpendicular to the front edge of the bench). Just about any shape can be held between two round dogs and a wonder dog.

    FYI, Roubo’s German bench shows square dog holes, but no step, so the dogs can’t be pushed below the surface, but the dog hole is somewhat easier to chop in an existing top.

  13. Steven D

    Could use of square in the past be partially attributed to the blacksmith? What is easier to forge, square or round. Same question for wood. Was it not easier to craft a wood stop or dog with a wood lever/spring. Look at Chris’s design. Modern round dowl and a bullet catch make it easier to build than it is to chop a square step mortise. In the past it was easier to chop the mortise than it was to smith a round bar or craft a round wood dog with mechanical catch.

  14. Gary Roberts

    Oooh Oooh I can join in the debate!

    A. I have round dogs on one bench, square dogs on another bench, and two cats.
    B. Using early prints as reference can be bad news. Unless we know for certain who the engraver was, we can’t assess the accuracy of the depiction. Engravers were and are known for using apprentices and other underlings to "fill in the blanks". Early engravers were also known to take literary license in their depiction of objects not well known to them. Then there is the problem of perspective to further distort the images.

    C. Why square over round? A round piece of wood will break sooner than will a squared off piece of wood, given that both are made with even grain and the grain runs at right angles to the direction of force. On the round dowel, the direction of force is applied to one very small area and there is much less mass to sustain the integrity of the dowel. Plus, the small contact area is more likely to dent the stuff being worked. Not so with a square dog, which spreads the force over a larger area and possesses additional mass/fibers to maintain integrity.

    D. Modern bench dogs are more easily produced from round stock and cost less to produce as there is less material in the object, hence a lower manufacturing cost and higher profits.

    E. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it.

    F. I can’t think of anything else to say.

    Gary

  15. John Walkowiak

    Chris,

    Thanks for the reference. I will amend my statement that I have never seen one in print. It’s been a while since I read the book, and just forgot about it. I should know enough to never say never.
    The round dogs in the 1400 print indicate (to me) that they were widely know and used at that early date, and that they were abandoned for more efficient ways of holding the work as these ways were discovered. I have not studied the exact chronological order of wood holding on the benchtop, but quickly thinking brings to mind the round wood dogs circa 1400, the square wooden bench stop, then the iron tooth in the wood bench stop, the iron holdfast, then wood and or iron benchdogs. The industrial revolution allowed the iron tooth in the wood bench stop to re-appear as a patented cast iron pop up toothed stop. I find it telling that even though each advancement was more complicated and would be more expensive and time consuming to incorporate into the bench they were adopted anyway. A pictorial chart of work holding over the centuries would be interesting!
    We are fortunate at this time in that we have centuries of information at our hands and we can pick and choose what we prefer or what fits our work requirements.

  16. Christopher Schwarz

    John,

    I won’t disagree that most historical bench dogs are square. But it’s not all. Check out the bench in "Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen," circa 1400. Round.

    You can see a plate in Scott Landis’s book on page 8.

    Chris

  17. Luke Townsley

    I don’t have any dog holes in the top of my bench except for a row of holes on the back for a holdfast, so no dog in this fight. It is nice though to be able to put a holdfast into any orifice on your bench top and slide a dog into any of the same holes.

    I agree with Swanz. Square dogs are cool. They are also a bit better at work holding for planing.

    Luke

  18. John Walkowiak

    Chris,
    I like to look back in history to validate woodworking tools and techniques. That’s one of the interesting faucets of collecting antique tools. I don’t believe that today’s woodworkers (including myself) know more than those of the past.
    On your point #2, if you have square dogs that are working properly, (sharp teeth) you don’t need holdfasts. I can accept your point #3 about more accessories being available today for round holes. #4, Just as a tree can’t jump out and hit you while riding your bike, a square iron dog doesn’t nip at your tools. If it is adjusted properly, the plane won’t know it’s there. It is much more out of the way than one or 2 iron holdfasts sticking up on the benchtop! Or stored in the front of the bench leg, waiting to take your kneecap off.
    That said, woodworkers and workbench users have known about round holes probably longer that workbenches have been being built. They knew that drilling a round hole was easier than chopping a square, angled, stepped hole. And they surly could make a round bench dog with less effort and cost than it took to make the usual square iron dog.
    Yet, they did not go with round dogs. At least in the 20+ years I have been pouring over old bench’s in person and in books I have never seen one old bench with round holes. So, one has to ask why.
    I choose to believe the woodworkers of the past, who had to make their living on their bench, knew from their older peers and their own experience which methods of work and techniques worked the best, and that is what they used. Over the centuries they adopted new or improved tools as they became available as it made their work faster or easier, but the benchdogs stayed square, and most of the time made of iron.
    More interesting than Roy Underhill’s presentation of the Debate of the Carpenter Tools would be you and Frank Klauz on the stage debating round and square bench dogs!

    P.S. To add another dog in the workbench fight, and to stick up for the one’s that came before us, they also evolved and adopted the tail vice.

  19. Mike Siemsen

    Chris,
    Here in Minnesota Swedes are a protected subspecies of human and therefore their hides cannot be used for leather. A substitute of Norwegian can be used in a pinch. German hides are considered too thick to be of much good, and the French too thin.
    I find the discussion of dog holes moot as I use a Nicholson type bench with out an end vise. Of course round holes make sense for holdfasts.
    Mike

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