Chris Schwarz's Blog

Where to Put Holes for Holdfasts – One Man’s Opinion

ROUBO_plate11

Let me say this first: You are welcome to put a holdfast hole anywhere you please. No one will think less of you. In fact, if you are questioned by your friends as to why you put a certain hole in a certain position, you can tell them it’s a panini press.

That said, I think there’s a method to positioning your holdfast holes. First, take a look at Andre Roubo’s famous plate 11 above, which shows an 18th-century French workshop. The plates from his book, “L’Art Du Menuisier,” are important because Roubo drew them (he is listed as the illustrator on each one) and Roubo was a highly skilled woodworker.

Each bench has small differences, but I see two rows of holes on the benches. One row is near the back and a second (but more irregular) row is slightly closer to the front.

This is the arrangement I followed when I built my first French workbench in 2005.

The row near the woodworker is for joinery. You can see in the plate the woodworkers are using this row to hold their work for mortising, sawing tenon cheeks and sawing tenon shoulders.

holdfast_bench_hook_IMG_4773

For me, the most important hole is up by the face vise and planing stop. This is the hole that works in concert with my bench hook. It allows the pad of the holdfast to press on my work in the bench hook. Though Roubo doesn’t show a bench hook, it’s the same idea: Hold the work so you can conveniently saw it.

The second row of holes isn’t shown in use in Plate 11. But if you bore these holes you’ll decode the reason they are there. They are used (among other things) to secure battens – thin strips of wood. The battens allow you to restrain your work for planing – especially traversing. Plus they are great for holding down sticking boards for making mouldings and shooting boards for truing up long edges of boards.
holdfasts_back_row_IMG_4769

On my 8’-long bench I have four holes in a row along the back edge of the bench. They are 3-1/2” from the rear edge of the benchtop. The first hole is in line with my face vise. The remainder are positioned based on the reach of my holdfasts. If you have holdfasts with an 8” reach, you can position the holes on 16” to 18” centers and provide lots of coverage.

I also have a holdfast hole at the back  of my bench that holds my swing-arm lamp. And some holes in the legs – which support long boards for edge planing and press them to the front of the bench.

So that’s my reasoning. If you have a different philosophy, feel free to add it in the comments below to help your fellow woodworkers decide if their bench should be holier than thous.

— Christopher Schwarz

Other resources:

• Who would have thought that there is much to write about workbenches? I didn’t. Then I started writing about them and have yet to stop. This blog contains hundreds of posts on benches. Click here to start.

• Oh and I’ve written two books and hosted two DVDs on benches that are available in ShopWoodworking.

26 thoughts on “Where to Put Holes for Holdfasts – One Man’s Opinion

  1. Earlpat

    Mr. Schwarz,

    I have recently completed a Roubo workbench based on your “Build an 18th-Century Workbench”. The bench works great and love the design. I have one problem though. After putting in three coat of the finish you described in the book ( equal parts boils linseed oil, varnish, and paint thinner) my hold fasts will not hold at all. I’ve tried sanding the holes and the hold fast iron and still will not hold. I used the hold fast during the construction phase and prior to the finish being applied and they held good. Do you know how I can overcome this problem?

    Thanks,
    John – Tennessee

  2. derek.eder

    I have an Auriou holdfast with an 18mm diameter (0.7″ or 23/32″, a millimeter shy of 3/4″) post. How much oversize do you usually drill the hole?

    Thanks,

    – Idiot servant

  3. rkamarowski

    For those looking for holdfasts contact Scott Stager at Someday Forge (bksmithsps@gmail.com) He’s just starting out, so the price is to be determined, but I’m very happy with them.

    bob k.

  4. mickmtb

    hi
    I brought your book and built a roubo bench its great just as you described in the book.
    The reason I’m leaving this is I’m moving to france at some point and while looking at property I saw this very old carpenters bench in what is described as a carpenters shed, it has a leg vice and holdfast the end apears to be shaped ! if you want the picture of it let me know

    cheers
    mick

  5. kpinvt

    I’m sorry I haven’t read everything you’ve written or filmed on the subject of workbenches. Could you please tell me what the brass thingies hiding in the dog holes are? I’m thinking they’re some kind of stop. Or bottle opener.

    1. pvanderlugt

      Why do I not rate a reply? Because I am asking about the products of two vendors? Have I offended the blogger? For some reason I fail to get responses to questions on both this site and LAP. Despite being a fairly good customer of both companies.

      If I’ve offended or asked inappropriate questions, at least let me know so that amends can be made.

      Pete

      1. Megan Fitzpatrick

        Sorry Pete,
        We don’t always see the comments from posts that are more than a couple days old. We’re always happy to answer questions – so with older posts, I recommend you email one of us directly.

        As to your question – those are hand-forged holdfasts from Peter Ross (the LN ones are shaped the same, but I can see Peter’s maker’s stamp atop the pad in the picture). I don’t yet have any LN holdfasts, so I can’t comment as to how they compare to the Gramercy (which I do have, and which work as well as my hand-forged ones; they aren’t as attractive, but that doesn’t matter as to their efficacy). I’ll ask Chris to respond re the LN ones when he’s back in town.

  6. David

    Any suggestions on how best to drill holdfast holes a 4″ thick maple bench top? I have a plunge router and a 3/4″ diameter upcut spiral bit, but it doesn’t come close a 4″ depth.

    I’ve been looking for articles on how to do this with no luck.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Megan Fitzpatrick

      David,
      Start the dog holes with your plunge router and bit – that will help guide you straight for the remainder of the depth, for which you can use a brace and 3/4 bit. (Or if you’re comfortable using a brace, you can, of course just drill each hole in its entirety by hand.)

  7. Redbat

    I haven’t put any holes in my workbench top yet, as I am worried about the top being to thick to work well with a hold fast. It is 5.25-inches thick, as that is what the carpenter shop made for me. It was a cold winter, and their shop was very slow, so they told me if they could use it as a fill in job, they would hand select and glue up the bench top 24-inches wide and 8 feet long, as that was as big as their thickness planer would handle. I am very happy with the bench, and don’t know how heavy it is. Found used old pine timbers to recycle for the legs that were 8-inches square, and reduced them to 6-inches square for my legs. Bought the DVD from Chris Schwarz to use as a guide for making the legs and front leg vise. Any way, to much information, but I would like opinions on holdfasts in this thick of a bench top if any one has any experience. If I don’t get a reply, I will make up a test top, and drill a couple of holes and see how my antique Marples holdfasts work in it.

    1. Brett

      You might want to countersink the undersides of your holdfast holes. If you countersink (or undercut) the holes by an inch or two, the holdfasts will think your benchtop is an inch or two thinner than it actually is.

      I read an article in an old magazine that describes an easy way to do this. Take a spade bit that is wider than your existing hole and grind the edges at an angle so the bottom part of the bit (nearest the point) fits slightly into the hole. If you leave the edges sharp when you grind them, the modified spade bit will function like a chamfer bit and ream out the underside of the hole. Be sure to remove the same amount of material from both sides of the bit, if possible.

    2. Brandon Ryder

      Just have a huge Roubo style holdlfast made. It will certainly work in a top that thick. Search for a blog entry about that holdfast in Chris’s blog.
      The hole is much larger in diameter, but you only need a few. 4 or 6 at most, to cover the area of your bench top.

    3. jasonvonkruse

      With such a nice top, I would just buy some from Lee Valley. They don’t look like the traditional ones, but they work just like them and they work in ANY thickness of top. Cheers

    4. Wagner99

      You’ve got a nice bench. I bought a pair of Peter Ross’ hand-forged holddowns and I love them. They are about 13″ tall with a span of 8″ for a 3/4 hole. Very rugged. The undercut comment was a vg one. Ross’ are not cheap, about $150/pair. Email Peter at Rosspm@msn.com and ask him if 5.25″work. I would guess a slight angle change in his forging could fit any depth. I got his “pennyfoot” holddowns. Way cool.

  8. GTBurbank

    When I built my first bench in 1988, I was using a record-type holdfast, and so I had to inlet two collars into the benchtop. Decisions, decisions… I placed one so that the pad (not the shaft) landed inline with the shoulder vice screw for holding down tailboards while transferring my pin layout. The other I placed so that the pad fell near the front leg so that when chopping the force would be directly over the leg. Worked out well, but now I have Grammercy holdfasts, so I can drop a hole willy-nilly wherever I need it.

  9. davegutz

    And there is no point trying to cover every last little spot on the bench because a piece of scrap placed on the workpiece before applying the holdfast will extend the reach a bit of the holdfast.

  10. switzforge

    I’m always a bit leary of drilling a bunch of holes in my bench. Starting with a plan like this should make for better placement. Would hate to have a Swiss cheese bench :)

  11. Brandon Ryder

    I put a row of dog holes on my bench spaced about 2 inches in. I did this thinking that I would use a wonder dog like a tail vice, and perhaps one day put on a proper tail vice. In reality I really needed a planing stop instead of those holes. I didn’t see that row of holes so close to the edge in the roubo plate. Roubo seems to place them in such a way that the holdfasts would reach the edge of the bench at their limit. And some are placed even further back to hold things down in the middle of the bench. So I really didn’t need “dog holes.” I tried using them as a planing stop but they kinda suck for that purpose without a tail vice. The more I learn, the more I wish I didn’t put them there.
    I’ve been working on my bench for close to a year now , and I still haven’t added all my holdfast holes. I only recently placed two more that are deeper into the bench. These are placed more like where roubo puts them, where the farthest reach of the holdfast is on the edge of the bench. These are more useful. One is situated so that the pad of one holdfast can be placed over the front leg where my leg vice is installed. I imaging this may be useful if I continue to cut joinery with that vice. I plan to build the twin screw vice soon for joinery.

    So that’s what i’ve learned. Hope that helps someone.

  12. TJH

    Instead of plain holes for holdfasts, has anyone added threaded holes for wooden screws?

    I’ve been contemplating adding these in lieu of or in addition to holdfasts. I’m envisioning an arm through which the screw passes like the chop of a vice and using it and the screw to clamp the work to the bench top.

    Placement would be similar to what you describe for holdfast holes.

    1. Mark Hochstein

      If you’re going to go that, make the holes such that the inside diameter of the threads is 3/4″ and you’ll be able to use them for both. A 1″ tap with 1/8″ deep threads would yield a screw hole with a 3/4″ diameter.

    2. Joel Jacobson

      > Instead of plain holes for holdfasts, has anyone added threaded holes for wooden screws?

      Wooden screws would cancel the main advantages of a holdfast: speed and convenience. The beauty of a holdfast is that you can apply and remove it quickly, and even clear the workbench surface, if need be, with very little time or effort.

    3. tnoll

      I’m thinking of doing something similar for a new bench, only I’m going to embed in the underside of the bench top some threaded pipe flanges, not for holdfasts but to use for glue-ups. Take the heads off my existing Jorgensen #56 pipe clamps, screw them into the flanges and slide the screw end down to use for glue-ups. Thinking about it anyway … my deep reach clamps and cauls have never been ideal. Could load a stout board with some existing Jorgensen veneer press screws and screw that into similar holes …

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