Our Holdfast is Immune to the Internet
Posted on 09 October 2017
When we first announced our ductile iron holdfast, I tried to avoid the woodworking discussion forums. But I couldn’t. The criticism of the photograph I’d posted of the holdfast (and the tool’s specifications) was scathing.
- Holdfasts shouldn’t be cast iron. They should be steel.
- The shaft should taper. Everyone knows that.
- The holdfast’s pad should be smooth to avoid marring the work.
- And why is the shaft 1” when everyone else’s is 3/4”?
Instead of engaging the trolls, we decided to let the tool speak for itself. And for the last 18 months, the tool has spoken to me every time I hit it. It responds with a dead “thunk” as it tenaciously grabs the work. There’s no clanging rattle – the sound when the shaft fails to engage.
With a single tap, our holdfast grips firmly enough that you can pull a 400-pound bench across the room with it. It won’t let go. You can set the holdfast with a wooden mallet or a hammer. (Footnote: We prefer using metal to hit metal – like a blacksmith, a carpenter driving nails or a cabinetmaker adjusting a plane iron. I don’t know why people insist on mangling their wooden mallets on metal holdfasts.)
When I hit my personal holdfasts, a number of things flash through my head.
- Ductile iron is an ideal material for holdfasts. It’s equally springy to all other ferrous materials. Period.
- The non-tapering shaft ensures it will grip every time – no matter how high the work is off my bench. Oh, most old-school holdfasts weren’t tapered.
- The sharply angled pad digs in with gusto (into the scrap wood piece protecting my work). Many old holdfasts use this sharp angle.
- A 1” shaft grips so much better.
Since we started selling it, we’ve had a number of Internetians complain about the price – $135 (it's $5 worth of metal!). To that I roll my eyes. It probably should be $30 more expensive. The holdfasts are cast at a family-owned jobbing foundry across the river in Cincinnati. It took us months to perfect the pattern and risering to ensure the holdfast would cool to the proper size.
Even with all that careful prep work, there’s a fair amount of waste when they pour the holdfasts. Some come out too thick and are recycled. Those that make the cut have to be ground and then blasted with shot to get the right texture. All of this is gruesome and dirty handwork. There is no automation. The only computer at the foundry is an old Windows 486 machine that monitors the temperature of the metal.
As a result, every holdfast is different. Some have small voids. Other have small and visible seams from the sand flask. But all of them work brilliantly and age beautifully. I could easily swap out my beat-up set for new ones, but they wouldn’t look nearly as bad ass.
So if you’re interested in some sort of aerospace, ISO 9001 perfection, this isn’t the holdfast you’re looking for. Ours are made by old guys who have been around hot metal their whole lives. They smoke cigarettes on the foundry floor. And after a day of pouring, they’re all the same color – a smudgy black.
But that roughness – of the tool and the people who made it – is what makes it work. So the Internet can sod off.
— Christopher Schwarz