The Holdfast in Your Backyard
We have iron planes and wooden planes. Iron vises and wooden ones. Iron clamps and wooden ones.
So it shouldn’t come as a shock that you can have a wooden holdfast. But it does.
Carpenter and researcher Jeff Burks passed me this clipping from a 1930 edition of Popular Mechanics, which discusses the “barilette,” which is a wooden holdfast. Check out the text here:
“The ‘barilette,’ which is little known on the modern workbench, is an exceedingly helpful tool, and a valuable aid for holding boards flat on the bench while working them. In its simplest form it is a fork of wood or iron, one leg of which is dropped through a hole in the bench top, as shown in the detail, while the other leg rests on the work. A sharp tap on the head of the fork wedges the barilette and holds the work firmly. Iron barilettes are sometimes fitted with a refinement in the form of a screw-tightening arrangement, which, while adding to the cost, does not greatly increase the usefulness of the tool. This form is that known to wood carvers as a ‘hold-down.’ The writer prefers a wooden one, made from the tough fork of a tree, to any form of iron tool, as it is lighter to handle and lower in cost. The longer limb should be about 1-3/8 in. in diameter, and the holes in the bench made with a 1-1/2 in. bit. The larger drawing shows an unusual application of the barilette, in which it is used as a substitute for a screw in the bench vise. A tap on the end of the barilette tightens it, while an upward tap below the outer end loosens it. This contrivance provides an instant grip, which many quite expensive vises fail to do in practice simply because their parts cannot work freely enough.’
— S.E. MacNair, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Popular Mechanics, November 1930, page 858
If it weren’t dark right now, I’d head out to the backyard with a pruning saw to hunt me up a barilette. Our neighbors have a gnarly locust tree that could be a target-rich environment for barilettes.
If there are readers out there who have experience with these contrivances, speak up. We’d all like to hear about your wooden holdfasts.
— Christopher Schwarz
For more on this subject, check out “The Mystery of Holdfasts” digital download by Robert Lang.