Over ten years ago I treated myself by purchasing a wonderful nine-foot Sjoberg’s Workbench from Woodcraft. I ordered plenty of square bench dogs and four boxes of drawers for the base. I love my bench – it’s heavy, flat, has relatively good vises, and tons of storage. I didn’t order the holdfasts when I bought the bench, because I thought I’d never use them. I was always able to clamp work to my benchtop, and I thought that was just fine.
As I prepared for the Hand Tool Olympics at Woodworking in America, I realized that clamping pieces was clumsy, slow, and frustrating. Not to mention all the times I stuck myself with the tail end of a bar clamp. I started to look around for holdfasts made for my Sjoberg’s bench, but didn’t really have any luck. There’s also only one pre-drilled (and steel lined) hole in my bench and having just one place for the hold down is pretty limiting. So after reading great reviews about the Grammercy Holdfasts and talking to other woodworkers, I added a pair to my WIA wish list.
On the Expo Floor at Woodworking in America I was able to work with holdfasts for the first time. I don’t know how I ever worked without these, and I was excited to order a pair. Unfortunately you couldn’t order them at the show, so I ordered them from my hotel room on the Tools for Working Wood website that night. A pair was about $30, which is about the cost of a good clamp.
Round Peg, Square Hole
My Sjoberg’s bench has square bench dog holes pre-drilled at regular intervals. These are awesome, but won’t work for holdfasts, so I needed to (gasp) drill more holes in my benchtop. I chose a position about five inches from the front of the bench, a little to the right of the face vise where I’d be sawing dovetails, and marked a spot. The challenge now would be to bore a 3/4” hole through the four inch benchtop cleanly and squarely. Luckily, I have a great set of Jennings bits handed down from my family, and a nice (and now clean and lubricated) Stanley bit brace I picked up from The Superior Tools Works on the show floor at WIA. The trick now is to bore the hole squarely. The series of pictures below describes my process.
Roughing up the Stems
First, the holdfasts need cleaning and roughing up. I wiped the holdfasts with mineral spirits to remove grease and grime, and then roughed them up as recommended so they’d hold better in the bench. Sand around the stem with some sandpaper, not up and down, I want to create rings on the stem.
Boring Straight Holes By Hand With a Drill Block
To ensure the hole I bored was plumb, I first used my drill press and a 3/4” forstner bit to drill a hole in a thick block of scrap fir. This block would guide my Jennings bit.
I placed the bit through the hole in the guide block, and set the point of the bit on the “X Marks the Spot” on the bench. I clamped the guide block down to the bench, and I clamped it down good. I’d be doing the twist through a lot of wood and will want that guide block to stay put.
When I bottomed out on the guide block I removed it. The hole I’d bored so far will guide the bit the rest of the way.
Hole Complete and Holdfast Tested
And now I have a shiny new hole in my bench that fits my new Grammercy Holdfast perfectly. You can see the giant holdfast hole that came with this bench to the left.
The test is snug and the bored is secured very well. But there’s one more thing I forgot.
All the Cool Holdfasts are Wearing Leather
To reduce the amount of damage the holdfast will do to my pieces, I glued a piece of suede on the face of each. Here’s how I did that.
First, I gathered my supplies. Scrap suede and some Gorilla Glue clear. This isn’t the PVA wood glue they were exchanging at WIA, this is their clear glue that says it bonds metal, wood, and other materials.
I roughed up the face of the holdfast and applied the glue. I wetted the suede and applied it to the face, and then using a spring clamp and a scrap block I clamped these for about an hour. In the picture below, you can see the Gorilla Glue foaming out around the face of the holdfast.
After the glue was dry and I removed the clamp, I trimmed the excess suede and hardened glue foam away from the face with an X-Acto knife.
Holdfasts Are A Welcome Addition, Economical Addition to the Shop
I’ve only had these holdfasts installed for a week. I am really happy with how easy they are to install, how quickly I’ve adapted to them, and how well they work. Because they don’t get in the way like clamps, and are so fast to use with just a whack of a mallet, I find myself holding my work more. This decreases my frustration and increases my precision. I don’t know how I worked without holdfasts before, and why I didn’t buy these sooner. At $31.95 for a pair, these are cheaper and easier to use than other holdfasts, and much cheaper than the Veritas holdfast which is currently priced at $78.50. For more information on holdfasts, you might find this article at Popular Woodworking interesting.