Where to Locate Your Holdfast Holes

Posted on 21 September 2016

No matter where you place your holdfast holes on your benchtop, we recommend you have a reason for each one – not just a vague feeling about its location.

The pattern we recommend is based on historical examples, including the writing of A.J. Roubo and the dozens of vintage benches I’ve examined during the last 10 years. Each hole has a purpose.

Here’s the map.

The hole at the top left of the drawing allows you to secure a thin batten to the bench that is braced by your planing stop – creating a wide planing stop for smoothing wide panels. (See the photo above.)

The two rows of holes along the benchtop are for battens and a “doe’s foot” appliance. These rows of holes allow you to work without an end vise. The back row of holes is used with a doe’s foot to secure long boards for traversing (working across the grain) or with-the grain planing.

The front row of holes can be used with a doe’s foot as well. I also use this row of holes to secure battens to the benchtop to create a “sticking board” for cutting mouldings.

That front row of holes is also frequently used for securing work to the bench for mortising and sawing. I also recommend you build a bench hook that is just wide enough so you can use a holdfast to secure the work to the bench hook – a handy feature when cutting tenon shoulders.

Oh, and don’t forget to drill a few holdfast holes in the bench’s legs so you can support panels and wide boards from below.

— Christopher Schwarz

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  • Derrick Russ: September 28, 2016

    Regarding the pattern, it looks like your pattern is based on a 20-24 inch wide bench. If someone was working with a narrower bench top such as the slab in a Moravian workbench, would you recommend the same/different set of holes?

    In other words, since my slab is only about 14 inches a set 4 inches from the back and 12 inches from the front are just 1 inch different. So in that case, should I just to a set of hold fast holes 8 inches on center 4/5 inches from the back of the slab?

    I am going to assume I can’t put hole in the tool tray but I have wondered about another slab to possibly replace the tray.

  • Michael Bednar: September 25, 2016

    Great ideas as always. Would you mind elaborating on how this differs from your Lost Art “I’m an 8-hole” holdfast layout? I notice that the back row of dogholes are spaced an extra inch apart. The holes for the bench hook, mortising, and shooting board have been replaced with a middle line of dogholes. I assume this gives you more versatility in mortising and holding away from the leg vise.

  • Ray Schwanenberger : September 22, 2016

    I too have a pair of holdfast. One pair made by Jake the Russian and a pair from TFWW. I use these holdfast primarily to hold seat blanks for my Windsor Chairs. I used Jake’s holdfast for a few years and it seemed that I was constantly fighting to get them to hold. I then purchased the TFWW holdfast in hopes of a better performance. While they did work better there was still the occasion that they would let loose.
    After seeing the Crucible Holdfast in action at WIA I purchased a pair. I feel confident this is going to be the last holdfast I will need to buy. I look forward to putting them to work, after adapting the holes in my bench to accommodate the larger shaft.

  • david savage: September 22, 2016

    Holding any job whilst it is being worked is a major issue. I have held off holdfasts because none of the brands we have in the U K seemed to always hold. I let my students buy and watch what happens!

    I am encouraged by these big guys to seriously consider buying. But I will probably suggest the idea to a student and watch what happens.

    david savage

  • Tom Ellis: September 21, 2016

    Don’t blow off the TFWW holdfast right away. I have holdfasts from Don Weber, and Dan Koontz in Alaska (I think made by Jake the Russian), and while each has its points, I think the TFWW is best overall of the 3/4" ones. This might be nothing but mildly interesting except for the unbeatable price, and my experience is that you’re going to need at least two holdfasts anyway. That raises the issue of two different size holes (unless you go ahead and buy two of the Crucibles, which gets a bit expensive). But you are, I think, going to want two holdfasts one way or another.

  • Dan Haggerty: September 21, 2016

    That makes a lot of sense, especially with the diagram. I’m glad that I held off on buying a holdfast from Tools for Working Wood, this beast of yours looks really heavy-duty! I shall be getting one in the next few weeks. The dividers look really sweet too. All the best with Crucible.

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