Why a 1” Holdfast Hole?

Posted on 21 September 2016

The No. 1 question we hear about our holdfasts is this: Why did you choose to make a holdfast that needs a 1” hole? Why not 3/4”, which is the standard?

The quick answer: history, appearance and performance.

The ubiquitous 3/4” holdfast is a relatively modern creation. If I had to guess, I’d say that it came about after Lee Valley Tools started making 3/4” bench dogs and a 3/4”-diameter hold-down.

Most vintage holdfasts I’ve encountered in my research are 1” or larger in diameter. Early French holdfasts were even more massive – the holdfast shown in A.J. Roubo’s “l’Art du menuisier” is almost 1-1/2” in diameter.

I’ve been using larger holdfasts for almost a decade now and have come to prefer them. And I don’t think it’s just an aesthetic choice. Wrought iron has always been expensive, so if a 3/4” (or 1/2”) holdfast worked just as well as a 1” holdfast, my guess is that the 3/4” would have been the historical standard.

While I am most concerned about how my tools work, I do like them to look the part. We designed our holdfast to look like vintage early 20th century examples we had encountered. The holdfast just looks “right” on an historical workbench.

This is admittedly a point of personal preference. But I got into making furniture (and tools) because I wanted the things around me to be both useful and beautiful.

When we set out to design this holdfast, the No. 1 goal was to create a tool that cinched down every time we hit it – no matter how thick (or thin) the benchtop was or how high off the bench the tool’s pad was. Every other consideration was secondary.

The 1” holdfast has a lot of mass (ours weighs 5 lbs.), which helps the holdfast cinch down. I can usually set it by slamming it down by hand, no mallet is necessary. The 1” shaft seems to deform the hole a lot less than smaller holdfasts, but that’s not a scientific fact. It’s just an observation from the last decade of work at the bench.

I knew that making a 1” holdfast was going to be an uphill battle against public opinion. But this is the holdfast I wanted for my workbench. It’s what I use every day. It never fails me.

So even if we don’t sell a single one, I’ll be happy because I have what I need for my work.

— Christopher Schwarz

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  • Chuck Steger: June 26, 2017

    I have a Sjobergs bench that uses 1" holes. I have been searching for a 1" traditional holdfast and could not find one – until now! Sjobergs makes their own holdfast that screws down on the material. It works but is slower than a traditional holdfast (IMO). Glad I found this web site!

  • Richard Decker: October 04, 2016

    So…if I wanted to convert to a 1" holdfast ( I do see the logic in your “performance / appearance” statement, how large should I make the hole?

  • Madhav Mehra: September 23, 2016

    Will, did you mean “inversely” related?

  • Willard Anderson: September 22, 2016

    Chris: I would suspect that the deformation that the holdfast would impose on the hole it rests in is directly related to the square of the diameter. That is, a similar amount of lateral force once the holdfast is tapped down is spread over a greater circumference. A 1" diameter holdfast has just about twice the circumference of a 0.75" diameter tool.

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