What the #$%& is the Deal With Your Holdfasts?

On the Crucible Holdfast from Christopher Schwarz on Vimeo.

There is a contingent of people who think we are nuts for making our Crucible holdfast the way we do: cast, with a 1”-diameter shaft that’s as rough as a cob.

Yesterday I made a short video that explains our thinking on this tool. You can watch it above if you’d like to learn more about this tool.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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30 Responses to What the #$%& is the Deal With Your Holdfasts?

  1. I bought one at your “launch party.” Very nice. Of course, due to my own stupidity (or maybe it was the free beer at the event), I didn’t consider the fact that the holdfast’s extra length would be too much for my bench, which has a built-in tool chest. (There is a space between the top of the chest and the bottom of the bench top, but it isn’t enough to accommodate the shaft of the holdfast.) Of course, the obvious solution is to cut the holdfast’s shaft off to a shorter length. But I just can’t bring myself to do that. It would be tantamount to trimming a painting to fit a store-bought frame.

    I may do a giveaway at some point and find it a home among our subscribers. Anyway, I only mention it because I know a lot of people have the Sjobergs workbenches. If their bench has the tool chest option, that is something to consider. You may have to cut your holdfast if you plan on working with stock thinner that 6-inches 🙂 ….

  2. stevevoigt says:

    “We make tools for ourselves.” That’s a good line. That is the way to do it, make the tool that you really want to use, not something designed by a focus group. I hope you guys can hang in there for a while on these holdfasts, because it is going to take a while to move the needle of woodworker’s opinion on this. I hope it works out.

    • Steve,

      Like Lost Art Press, Crucible is structured so that the only way to put us out of business is to kill us. So we’ll be around, like it or no.

      • “The only way to put us out of business is to kill us.” That would make a killer sticker!

        • It sounds like we’re mafia….

          • A sound mix of heavy hopped mafia/freedom fighters/anarchists/wood nuts and general passionists – take away the criminal element – et voila!

            The size of the holdfast fits very well in your considerations that storage should not be beneath the work top, or at least be limited to shelf space at the bottom… Too bad to have invested in the top of the line Elite 2500 Sjöberg’s with all the bells and whistles in that instance.

            On a second note, a pair of those sturdy holdfasts might also fit a couple of heavy duty saw horses very well.

  3. Excellent explanation video. As someone planning a workbench and considering under-table storage, I thought StumpyNubs comment re: length of holdfasts and space under bench was very helpful also.

  4. The metallurgical explanation of the iron is kinda funny to this expert. But the gist is accurate enough and well-explained. I really wish I could show you the sand castings we make for high-pressure steam turbine shells–hundreds of thousands of pounds, >9 inches thick, complex gates/risers/chills, they take many many days to cool, and so on. Just super awesome, modern technology with a decidedly old-world flavor.

    • Yeah, well I think it’s funny when people explain journalism to me.

      I was trying to keep it as simple as possible.

    • karlfife says:

      >>high-pressure steam turbine shells–hundreds of thousands of pounds, >9 inches thick, complex gates/risers/chills, they take many many days to cool, and so on.

      Talk dirty to me. Sounds awesome. Literally.

      • Modern wind turbines rely on the same old school technique. Of course everything is hush hush in the race towards the next Mw. But several tonnes cast in sand – yes.

  5. charlescconnors says:

    I just finished my modified Roubo bench and am getting ready to drill the holdfast holes. When I started I assumed I would use 3/4″ holdfasts because that’s all there were. So I went ahead and bought some 3/4″ Veritas gadgets. But now I really want the Crucible holdfast and am trying to justify it. Two options seem feasible:
    1. Have two rows of dogholes, one 3/4″ and one 1″, for using the different appliances. This is certainly feasible, though figuring the right hole placements would be tough and I don’t want the bench-top looking like swiss cheese.
    2. Fabricate some sort of drop-in sleeve that would reduce a 1″ diameter hole to 3/4″ so one hole could accommodate both. The material would have to be tough enough for the Veritas appliances to work, even if it probably would not be tough enough for a 3/4″ holdfast — some sort of high-density plastic might work. (I think some commenters mentioned the possibility back around the time of the Crucible launch but don’t know if anyone has tried it.)

    • I’ve seen folks with more spaced out holes nearer the back of the bench and designate those as “holdfast holes”, perhaps that’s an option? Two closely spaced rows for 3/4 dogs in the front foot or so and a row of 8-10″ spaced holdfast holes? Does end up a little Swiss cheesy but I feel like you want it to be as useful as possible right?
      Good thing to consider though going forward.

  6. weyrichwood says:

    I started off with a blacksmith-made holdfast with a rough “stem”. The first time I used one of the cheap wire-formed versions I didn’t understand why it wasn’t working. Now I know why. There’s no comparison. I haven’t tried a Crucible holdfast yet, but I have no doubt it’s terrific. Keep up the good work.

  7. Josh says:

    Great video, Chris. Appreciated both the explanations of the design and process and the mental image of you whacking balls with a mallet in a ball pit at the local Chuck E. Cheeze.

  8. abtuser says:

    My Crucible holdfast works great on my English knockdown workbench. I use it primarily on the vertical face as I wanted a beefy holdfast to hold up beefy wood. That face is roughly 2 1/4 inches thick, and I’ve actually locked the holdfast in a little too tight on occasion (whoops). If you need one, don’t hesitate would be my advice.

  9. I am very interested in how the Crucible hold fast compares to Lie-Nielsen, Gramercy and anything else out there that people use and love. I’m not trying to instigate – Promise. What I’d really like is a side by side comparison of LN to Crucible for starters. I know that Chris has a solid relationship with LN and would likely hesitate to make a list of how his is better … but at some point it seems inevitable that someone needs to review these items to provide unbiased clear differences. I use gramercy and already know that the shaft length is shorter and therefore can not hold a very tall item. That restriction aside they are perfect for my needs. Can someone provide me a link to a 3rd party review.

    • David,

      If you are happy with what you have, why change?

      I’m sure someone will do some comparisons. It won’t be us. We’re glad that everyone else has their products in the marketplace and hope there is room for all of us.

      • Lost Art Press,
        Good point … and concise to boot. I’m happy with what I have and it works for me. I honestly learn so much from this blog and those that you refer to that I guess I just wanted to learn more about a subject I am a little clueless about. Stay healthy and in business for a long time.

    • woodgods says:

      You can bet the forum #%”kers will be all over that but it’s not Veritas so Derek won’t get one .

  10. gyegreene says:

    Sorry — I’m not sure if my previous comment went through.

    Great video — as always.

    To further improve the clarity of your voice, you may want to consider reducing the reverberation on the audio (your voice).

    Your front room is very acoustically reflective: six flat, hard, parallel surfaces. Laying out some acoustically absorbent material (carpet? rugs? quilts?) on the floor would be a good temporary way to cut down on the reverberation.

    For a more permanent solution, you could install more bookcases, with different depths of books (which will diffuse the sound), and also add some wall hangings (quilts?), and/or a few fabric-covered sofas.

    The above solutions will also make group get-togethers in that room less loud. Unless you **like** them to be loud (e.g. to create a vibe of excitement).


  11. You say in the video that ductile/nodular iron was invented in the 1940s, and that holdfasts before that were made of wrought iron. Holdfasts of 1″ diameter seem to be the standard, and if 3/4″ were just as good, they would have been made that size because of wrought iron’s expense.

    What I’m not seeing is an explanation of why a holdfast made of very different metal needs to be made to a 1″ diameter. Wrought iron, yes, for whatever reason. It would be good to know the reason, actually, as that reason might apply to a ductile iron holdfast as well.

    My guess is the 1/3 greater circumference (surface area) of a 1″ diameter vs 3/4″ yields a lot more friction in the hole.

    But I am an idiot. And an English and art major.

    (And what about a spring steel holdfast? Hmmmm)

    • Given my dearth of math knowledge, I unsurprisingly screwed up my calculation, but surprisingly, my mistake benefited my conclusion. After rechecking, the 1/3 greater circumference yields 1.77x the surface area. Not 1/3 more, but approaching twice more.

    • Also, if you mention Wilton machinist vises are cast of ductile iron you will see resistance to your metal choice melt like so many iron ingots into the dark, dark night.

  12. I was pumped when I saw you guys were making holdfasts. I made my first roubo back in 2009 and it’s been the greatest woodworking tool I have ever owned. then The 1″ deal and I’m out, maybe next lifetime. 😢

    • hgordon4 says:

      Forgive me if I’m missing the point — it seems you’re implying that the 1″ holdfast won’t fit the holes on your bench? On the Crucible site Chris has a blog post about how to increase existing 3/4″ holes to 1″ holes.

  13. Drew Lawson says:

    Dear Mr. Schwarz,
    I tested your claims regarding ductile iron. The balls did indeed move around. However management has stated that I am never to return to Chuck E Cheese.

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