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.

  1. Holdfasts shouldn’t be cast iron. They should be steel.
  2. The shaft should taper. Everyone knows that.
  3. The holdfast’s pad should be smooth to avoid marring the work.
  4. 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.

  1. Ductile iron is an ideal material for holdfasts. It’s equally springy to all other ferrous materials. Period.
  2. 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.
  3. The sharply angled pad digs in with gusto (into the scrap wood piece protecting my work). Many old holdfasts use this sharp angle.
  4. 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

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21 comments

  • Joe: October 12, 2017

    Hey Chris, quick question on these that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere (if it has been, someone please point me to it). I love my Gramercy hodlfasts. However I notice they do tend to “oblong” the holes in my bench (even at 3" thick) in the frequently used locations. And I use them A LOT. I don’t drive them in whack-a-mole style either. Just a solid hammer blow. I’m assuming it’s because steel is so unforgiving.
    Does the cast iron (or extra shaft diameter) eliminate or minimize this at all?

  • Andrew: October 11, 2017

    So no doubt they are good holdfasts. You chose cast iron and 1" and that combination works very well. My question is: Are the Crucible Tools holdfasts in some way superior to 3/4" steel holdfasts? While they perform their task well, do they perform that task in some way better than the near-universal modern 3/4" holdfast?

    When so many accessories (think Lee Valley) for workbenches are 3/4" – what is the compelling reason to bore out my holdfast holes to accept a 1" holdfast (and then be used for nothing else) where none of my Grammercy or Lee Valley 3/4" holdfasts have ever slipped?

  • José Santiago : October 10, 2017

    That’s the nicest rant I’ve read this year. As my 96 year old patient says “Good meat at cheap and cheap meat ain’t good.”

  • Harry: October 10, 2017

    This tool has one major flaw: I’ts not available in Europe….

  • Don Langford : October 10, 2017

    YES!!

  • Richard Mertens: October 10, 2017

    I have no doubt that thicker holdfasts hold better. Interestingly, many of the French holdfasts seem thicker than 1" (25mm), some of them by quite a bit.

  • kwo: October 10, 2017

    @Aaandrew
    Schwarz posted a how-to for enlarging 3/4" holes: https://crucibletool.com/blogs/news/enlarge-3-4-holdfast-holes-to-1

  • wakedad: October 10, 2017

    As rants go, that might be too tame to call it a rant. Raney is better so lessons are in order. Keep making whatever the heck you want and charging whatever the heck you think you should. Screw everyone and anything they say because they aren’t you. Conformity kills.

  • Joon Orione-Kim: October 10, 2017

    Trolls everywhere excel at one thing only…giving expert opinion where they have zero practical experience. I’ve learned they are like Mogwai, don’t feed them after midnight and don’t get them wet.

    I’ve had my Crucible holdfasts for a year now and will never go back to another holdfast as my primary. I still use my TFWW holdfasts as a vertical fast on the legs of my bench but that is it. The Crucibles live in the top of my bench.

    Keep up the great work, LAP.

  • Rick: October 10, 2017

    So, I didn’t read each and every other comment. I didn’t see the need. It seems quite simple. These holdfasts work great. I get that. Just the fact they are 1" in diameter alone makes sense (more surface area contacting the hole).
    So, as I started to say, if you don’t like them, don’t buy them. Period.

  • James Hamilton: October 10, 2017

    People love to live in the world of theory. In theory it should be tapered. In theory it should be steel. Etc. We get so caught up with debating the theory, we forget that what matters is the reality. And in reality, it works.

  • david savage: October 10, 2017

    Power to your elbow. You are a natural contrarian, we saw this when Lost Arts Press was born. This is simply another expression of this creative intent. The Trolls may not love it, but sod the Trolls.

  • Aaandrew: October 10, 2017

    I believe you. Practical question. If I already have 3/4” holes in my 4” thick, hard-maple Roubo bench top, and only hand tools, how do I widen them to accept 1” holdfasts?

  • Gary Schultz: October 10, 2017

    Chris, it was good to see you and other Lost Art Press staff at Handworks 2017 ( my first woodworking show). In 2019 I will be better prepaired -$$$. If I could get an autographed letter of authenticity with purchase on a holdfast then I could tell my wife that it is an investment in my greatgrandchilds collage tuition when my grandson shows it on Antique Roadshow. This is assuming your hard work is appreciated and acknowledged when you and I are just sawdust in a box. So goes the legacy of artisans. Truely, this would be one souvenir that would not set idle on my bookshelf.

  • Mark White: October 10, 2017

    “Instead of engaging the trolls” are people that disagree with you trolls Chris, i haven’t read the comments they made and frankly I find it difficult to get worked up in any sense about a holdfast, but describing people who hold opinions on holdfasts as trolls does seem a bit over the top, unless they threatened to hit you with it.

  • Wolfram: October 10, 2017

    Ductile Iron is Not always the same – cheap ductile iron holdfasts from india and China, manufactured at factories not knowing what purpose these pieces have, ruined the Image. I think this is the Problem.
    And the the blacksmith pieces came in, they worked better than the Crap from Asia- bang!
    Now there is education needed for the buyers ?

  • Jeremy Monge: October 10, 2017

    This post and this attitude is why I love you, your books, and the tools you make. Thank you for being Christopher Schwarz the Anarchist.

  • Eric Campbell: October 09, 2017

    I like the rant.i like anyone who says FU to the trolls. I’m not buying any holdfasts because they are too expensive. Yes they cost that much to produce (and add in your well earned profit), but they don’t give me, and I imagine a lot of other woodworkers, $135 of value. (And I already have 2 from gram mercy that work well. )

    I like to look for the sweet spot in the cost/value curve. If you are way to the left, a small increase in cost gives a large increase in value. Go to the right until the cost increase gives an equal value increase. If you go further, the additional cost yields smaller and smaller value increases. For me, this is where Crucible Tool lives.

    But everyone has different needs and budgets. I hope there are enough people out there for you that feel they get their money ‘s worth. Good luck and rant on.

  • Travis Shephard: October 09, 2017

    I build my bench and purchase this holdfast about one year ago. After a year of use I love it, it it grips every time and always works quite well. I’m debating getting a second. keep up the good Work

  • Ernie Stephenson: October 09, 2017

    Looked over the ‘complaints’ and came up with my own observation….People have been working with wood (and hold fasts) for millennia. That means a lot of knowledgeable crafts people have come before us. Of all the hold fasts they have ever used, there should be only one question of each and every one of them individually….. Does the damn thing work?

    Illegitimi non carborundum

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