When in New York I visited Tools for Working Wood in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. After a chat with the proprietor, Joel, I purchased two holdfasts as pictured at top in the above picture. These fine tools hold work fast against the surface of the bench so it can be worked. In the above a small elm seat for a child’s chair is being held for working up with a travisher that I acquired at Wild About Wood this year. Joel tells me that holdfasts fell into disuse in the middle of the 19th century when vices took their place. I suppose shaving horses ought to have disappeared at the same time, but as we know they are such a right tool for the right job that the shave horse never died out. I think there’s a case to be made for the holdfast, simple to use, relatively cheap ($31.95 for a pair from Joel’s), looks the part, and like an Apple, just works. Nothing to go wrong. Just drill 3/4″ holes in your bench wherever required, put a softener between the holdfast and the work (above the holdfasts are seated on what will be a waste section of the wood) and knock it on the head with a mallet. To loosen, knock it with the mallet at the back of the head. A pair make for a more secure fixing than one alone. Certainly made the shaping of this seat easier. By the way the travisher is a Bristol Designs one with the handles modified so you don’t catch your knuckles on the work, not a brilliant tool (e.g. I found the tangs were welded onto the blade and the holes in the handle far too big for them) but, at the price I paid, a bargain.
In the old workshop AKA the garage, I have a Record holdfast which incorporates a screw to tighten the foot against the work. The original hold fast seems better to me on these counts: the Record is a pain to tighten as the foot slips over the work as you tighten the screw down; the Record needs a cast iron collar set in the bench to work so you would need to buy extra ones if you wanted to reposition the holdfast; original is more elegant; the clamping area is bigger on Joel’s version; I like whacking things with a mallet; the original is quicker to set and reset.