Holdfasts are an essential piece of workbench equipment. And when you use a good one, it’s like a mind-opening experience. A proper old school holdfast (occasionally called a bench hook) presses your work to the bench when you rap the top of the holdfast. It then releases the work when you rap on the back.
For our Roubo workbench I’ve done quite a bit of research on holdfasts and then asked Phil Koontz, a blacksmith in Galena, Alaska, (http://www.galenavillageblacksmith.com/ ) to make me a pair of traditional ones for the bench. They showed up in the mail today and so I eagerly unwrapped them and took them to my old workbench to give them a try with Senior Editor Bob Lang in tow.
With a wooden-faced mallet I wacked each holdfast to secure a scrap of MDF to the benchtop. The holdfasts ring pleasantly like a bell when you strike them.
“Go ahead,” I told Bob, “try to move the MDF.”
Bob grabbed the scrap and gave it a shove. Then another. Then a third and mighty heave. My bench (a big chunk of Southern Yellow Pine) scooted across the floor a bit, but the MDF stayed put.
I wrapped the back of the holdfasts and they quickly released their mighty grip. Then I grabbed a Taiwanese-made one that I have messed around with for a few years. I dropped it in the hole and picked up the wooden mallet.
“Now let’s see how this economy version holds,” I said. One tap and the holdfast broke cleanly in two. After recovering from our peals of laughter we took a close look at the broken holdfast. It looked like coarsely cast grey iron. We’re now investigating metals (wrought iron, mild steel, malleable) to see what works best in a holdfast. But here’s our first tip: not cast grey iron.
I wonder if I still have the receipt for that Taiwanese holdfast?
– Christopher Schwarz