Farewell Phil Koontz, Holdfast Pioneer

Blacksmith Phil Koontz has decided to get out of the business of making holdfasts.

In my book, it’s a sad decision. Phil was one of the very few people who made holdfasts for anyone anywhere on the globe and was 100-percent reliable all of the time.

While unnamed ironmongers were making “holdfasts” that didn’t cinch down or broke under mild hammer pressure, Phil made holdfasts that bit your work like a ticked-off cobra. They were the first holdfasts I owned that really worked.

Why is he leaving the business? I’ll let Phil speak:

“I have decided to stop selling (holdfasts). I wanted you to be one of the first to know. Last winter I had a big rush on orders around Christmas, partly as a result of your very kind video evaluation of Megan Fitzpatrick’s holdfasts. Christmas seems to be the busy season for holdfasts anyway, and I have just decided that I’m not up to a lot of blacksmithing this winter.

“It’s a bit awkward that I really stocked up on steel last summer during barge season, so I don’t know quite what I’m going to do with 500 feet of 11/16″ bar stock, but I’m sure something will turn up.”

If you are one of the hundreds of people who dealt with Phil during the last decade, I know you will wish him well in his future Alaskan endeavors. And if you are one of those people who put off buying a pair of his fantastic holdfasts, sorry about your luck.

— Christopher Schwarz

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16 Responses to Farewell Phil Koontz, Holdfast Pioneer

  1. Alex Moseley says:

    From your headline, I was afraid he’d died. Sorry to hear of our collective loss, but relieved he’s still taming the Yukon.

  2. wpc says:

    Yeh, that was an unfortunate title for the blog post. Thought Phil had headed down that final ice floe! But in any case, I’m glad I’ve got one of his pieces on my bench!

  3. Mark Singleton says:

    Perhaps someone will step up and take over the work. Perhaps not. It is doubtless a LOT of work to make them correctly. Guess I will make do with my Gramercy holdfasts, which coincidentally I
    recieved as a gift at Christmas two years ago.

  4. Marhk says:

    Maybe you can talk Jake (The Russian) Pogrebinsky, who lives somewhere near Phil, into making them again? He used to make a nearly identical holdfast. Same gold colored foot but with a different brand-mark. Sort of a snake vs. Phil’s raccoon face. Works just as well!

  5. Sad to hear Phil is not making his holdfast anymore, glad to hear he is still with us! I am one of the fortunate people to own a pair of his fantastic holdfasts. I was blown away when he sent them to me, to ensure I liked them, before requesting any money. Who does that anymore? Good luck Phil in all your endeavors.

  6. Patrick says:

    I have to second what Ray said, It was an absoulte pleasure to do business with Phil; and, Phil, if your reading this, I hope all is well and best wishes to you and your family. – Patrick McCarthy

  7. Phil Koontz says:

    Thanks to everyone, especially Chris. He and I have never met, probably never will, but I think I’m correct to say that we learned about holdfasts together. Chris has been a good influence on the WW community in a lot of ways, but I guess his introduction of HFs in a magazine article was one of the first.

    I’m still fine, BTW, with a cold glass of homebrewed beer at hand as I type, and grandkids playing in the yard. It doesn’t get much better than that. I have a more or less white collar job coming up soon, working on several alternative energy projects for our little town, including one fairly big one that will provide heat for the local school from wood chips.

    Since Marhk mentioned Jake, I will tell you that he’s OK took but planning to move back to his hermit camp at Dainty Island (close to Devil’s Creek, the origin of his devil’s tail tough mark). In the first years we did holdfasts together, I would deliver the steel to him by boat or by snowgo (it’s about 30 miles up the Yukon), and trade him a few bucks for each pair of holdfasts he made since the last visit. We both used coal at the time, and I think I’m correct that it was from the famous Pocahontas mine in W. Virginia. We bought it by mail, and I delivered it to him in the sled behind my snowgo. We both basically equipped our smithies with money from selling holdfasts.

    As many of you may know, we sold our tools by what I still think of as Standard Old Tools terms. You order, I send you the tools, and if you want to keep them, you send me a check. Neither Jake or I ever kept track of the payments, but I really don’t think we ever got stiffed on a sale. Take a bow, woodworkers everywhere, because I think that says a lot about our little community. The Oldtools forum uses that method pretty routinely, and it started with Patrick Leach.

    I just wanta say I’m grateful for the experience, and for the acquaintances I’ve made with wood workers. Life is pretty good.

  8. David Gendron says:

    I have a paire, and they are the very best! Thank you to put in contact with him a few years back!
    All the best to a great black smith!
    Cheers
    David

  9. allencrane says:

    I am fortunate to have a pair of Phil’s holdfasts, which is a real testament of mentioning him in the back of your books. I received a pair of grammercy holdfasts when I ordered the bench crafted twin vise set, but you can guess whose HFs I proudly display on my bench! Not only is Phil a fine an honest craftsman to work with, he is a hoot to chat over email, even when discussing a mere order. Thanks Phil, and Chris for the introduction!

  10. billlattpa says:

    Sad to hear that an honest craftsman is leaving the biz. But good for him if he’s enjoying his time off.

  11. Martin S. says:

    Enjoy your semi-retirement, Phil. I am glad to say I have a pair of your holdfasts. If you decide to change your mind next year, let us all know, I am sure you could sell 100 more sets.

  12. Morgan says:

    Ok, as a Fairbanksan I have to ask why you were bringing in coal from WV! Was it just not possible to get it from Usibelli? The old line “bringing coal to newcastle” couldn’t be more true about Alaska. Best guess is that 1/2 of the US coal reserves are in Alaska, and possibly 1/8 of the WORLD’S total coal is in Alaska.

    But more on topic, thanks for all you have done, hope the bush is treating you well.

  13. Derek MacInnis says:

    Wow am I glad I was lucky enough to get a set of Phil’s HF’s last summer! Thanks very much, Phil for your GREAT contributions to the craft and your very refreshing outlook on life! Sounds like you’re going to be pretty busy, so best of luck to you!
    Cheers & V/r
    Derek

  14. KenOfCary says:

    Count me as another satisfied customer who really appreciated doing business on a virtual handshake basis. I’m completely happy with the way the HF’s work compared to Gramercy in my 4-1/2″ thick bench. I wish Phil all the luck and fortune that he seems to already be enjoying. And thanks to Chris for hooking me up with such a fine and honest craftsman.

  15. Christopher Hawkins says:

    Phil: Have you trained a successor or know of anyone who will be attempting to make similar holdfasts?

  16. Rob says:

    I read the review some time ago and never forgot it, yesterday while chasing a board with a hand plane I remembered and tonight I went in search of. Missed the boat I did and still searching…any reccomendations on a close second? A waiting list just in case…

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