Why a 1″ Holdfast Hole?

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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.

History
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.

Appearance
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.

Performance
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