Traversing boards without a tail vise can be tricky. For the last eight years, I’ve used a setup that requires two holdfasts and a batten between them.
It works fine, but it requires a long batten and two holdfasts to work.
Workbench builder Richard Maguire published a tip on his blog this summer that allows you to use one batten, one holdfast and a planing stop for traversing. It’s a great little video – check it out here.
I’ve been using this method on my French oak Roubo bench, which does not have a tail vise or even a strip of dog holes. It has just a metal planing stop and a half-dozen holdfast holes. The notched batten works as advertised. But it is not foolproof.
You have to have a dang-good holdfast that can cinch down hard and not slip. I have a vintage French holdfast on my bench that is heavy, flexible and exerts a death grip on the benchtop.
There are lots of good holdfasts out there, and lots of crap ones as well. Avoid the cast Jorgensens. I have had good luck with the Gramercy, Lie-Nielsen and blacksmith-made holdfasts. If you have a smith make yours, consider using 1”-diameter holes. The extra weight and bearing surface seems to make a difference. Also, ask the smith to make the shaft just a wee shade less than 1” in diameter. My French one is about 7 thou undersized. It makes a difference.
If your holdfast doesn’t hold well, the notched batten will give way when you reach the end of the board next to the planing stop.
You might consider putting some sticky-back sandpaper on the underside of the batten to improve the grip.
Another detail worth mentioning: The notched batten works best if you have a metal planing stop. The harder you push the handplane, the more the metal stop bites into the end grain of your work.
Give it a go. The notch takes two minutes to saw out in scrap and is a definite improvement.
— Christopher Schwarz
I built my first French workbench in 2005 – no tail vise and only a basic leg vise. Since then I’ve built a lot of workbenches with a lot fancier holding devices. This year, I’ve returned to basics with a pure French design. If you’d like to read about French workbenches, I recommend my 2007 book “Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use” (Popular Woodworking), which is available at ShopWoodworking.com.
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