The Stick With A Notch Cut In It.

by | May 18, 2015 | 17 comments

The first time we took our benches to see the public I was a bag of nerves. We took along a huge fancy Roubo type thing, but it was the other, simple bench we took that was my favourite. I hoped to focus on the idea that a good bench could be simple so the tail vice was absent, I never use tail vices.
Along with the benches I took a rough old stick with a notch cut in it, and a holdfast. I tried to demonstrate an old, clearly forgotten woodworking technique so that even a beginner could work well without a tail vice. A handful of people seemed intrigued, but for the most part this bench fell well in to the shadow of its bigger brother with its fancy spinning vices.
Simplicity was no match for the bling and commerce.

My first attempts at filming project videos a few years back were horrific. I couldn’t speak, not a word. After truly months of banging my head against the wall Helen came up with a new tactic; don’t woodwork, just do a quick tip to break the ice. Out came the batten again, and many takes later we finally had a video.

Work holding ideas for woodworking

I’d hoped a couple of people would benefit, but the response to the video on the Holdfast and The Batten was considerably more. The internet, it would seem, is a fantastic place for simple ideas. Perhaps it’s because it finds us in the confines of our own space where the otherwise dull and mundane can be heard without the pull of more shiny surroundings.

The extreme stress of making that video has led to one of the most gratifying feelings of writing this blog. I started to see an idea which had previously been shrugged off being implemented in to numerous workshops. To me the batten had been a training aid, and I haven’t seen one on my bench since the filming. But by sharing, that simple stupid stick has found a use at many benches. It has been redesigned, reshaped and re-purposed, and I love it.

I’ve always found the human aspect of work methods fascinating. The way that ideas evolve in a kind of Chinese whispers effect as they get implemented to meet the specific needs of an individual. Making this video has allowed me to see this happen first hand to this, the most simple of ideas.
I’ve followed it’s journey through many applications and seen in turn the rediscovery of ‘The Doe’s Foot’. To me though it’ll always be the notched batten.

So the point of this post. If you have an idea, share it.
People will benefit. And if you think it’s so good you’d rather keep it locked up tightly in your own box of secrets, swallow your ego I tell you, because it’s far more gratifying watching it flourish.

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Mark Armstrong

    Hi Richard and Helen,
    I would love to use the stick with the notch and hold fasts.
    It is a very handy bit of kit.
    Alas I cannot use as most of my planes are directly underneath bench top. The hold fasts would hit the planes and I can’t have that.
    Another strange thing is my vice position it’s on the right hand side. I am a righty
    Has more todo with my shed layout. As it would be difficult to work at the left hand side of bench because of space.
    I have got use to it and works well as over hang to the right. I find it great for ripping and doing my shoulder cuts. I’m left eye dominant.
    Maybe one day I’ll get enough space to have a bench the right way round.
    Sorry went off on a tangent.

    • Michael

      Hi Mark, You do not need to have a holdfast – depending on the shape of your bench dogs, simply screw a dog into the underside at the location a holdfast would be,then place the attached bench dog in the appropriate hole.

  2. Chris Buckingham

    As always, simple is best, less things to go wrong.
    You could call your video “camel’s toe” you would get millions of viewers then !

  3. Joe Laviolette

    That video is the reason I ended up building a nicholson style bench with no vises at all. I actually find it quicker and easier to work without any vises. I still have a bench with a leg and tail vise – right behind it. It is now and assembly table for the most part. And by assembly table, I mean an assembly of things that have a better place.

  4. Chris Joerg (Germany)

    When I first saw your youtube video about that stick, I was amazed and I still am. Unfortunately I have a very small Sjobergs bench with a german design front (shoulder) and tail vice and no holes for the holdfasts.
    When we will finally have moved to our house, I’ll use the Sjobergs for small things and build an english bench like Paul Sellers does (whom I absolutely admire).
    I will install the stick and will be able to plane free as a bird!
    Thank you so much for your inspiring videos!

  5. Swanz

    That was one of the coolest tips I’ve seen.

  6. Glen Farmer

    Richard, I love the “simple is best” aspect of your writing and this tip is one of the best. You mention that you dont use this batten anymore so I was wondering what you use now to hold you wood in place. You show round dogs in the video and I haven’t had the best of luck with just those. A toothed plane stop perhaps?

  7. Jimmy Brown

    Hello Richard! I saw your batten and hold fast video two months ago. I am new to this woodworking game but I love the sense of accomplishment each time I do something I never could before. I have been using your idea ever since, and I use it often. I have been kicking around the idea of making more in different lengths. I have shown the batten to a couple of people and they are amazed at how well it holds a work piece. I love your approach to the ideas you impart. Simple, straight forward ways of doing sometimes complicated things. Your a great help and inspiration to me and many others I am sure. Keep up the good work and God bless you!

  8. Henry Fiacco

    Along with the others who’ve already posted I’m also a convert to the notched stick. I saw your video last year and it was the solution I had been looking for. The beauty of simplicity.

  9. Jerry Dye

    Richard, I not only have a notched stick but three. Each of different thickness. I cannot thank you enough.

  10. Ian M. Stewart

    Hi Richard.
    For the last 25 years I’ve had a batten of beech held down with three screws as a planing stop at the left end of my bench. A couple of weeks ago, I bought one of the Marples type screw operated holdfasts, just to try it out. Last week, I removed the screws from my planing stop, fitted a toothed screw down stop instead and cut a notch in the end of the old batten. My work has never been held so well, I’m converted.
    When I build my new bench (after building the workshop to put it in), it will have holes for the holdfasts, and proper dogs as stops.

  11. Ant11Sam


    I like reading your blog . I got fan the old videos (the vest, music, etc) and this “new series” after your “re-born” it’s simply great!

    But I’m afraid you got some big competition from a new company (probably you’ve already heard about it “NoViseAtAll” from Mike Siemsen, that naked fellow (what a shame)…. lolol

    Hang on in there and
    Carry on!
    All the best!

  12. Scott Smith

    Hi Richard, It is important to show us novice woodworkers that you don’t need all the fancy tools and gadgets to be a good wood worker. Please keep the videos coming. Learn to relax in front of the camera and show us what you know. We all appreciate it.

  13. Tom Benim

    Who knew you ever had stage fright? I think your blog and videos are absolutely super. Something to learn from each time.

  14. Mark

    Hi I have been wanting to build a new bench for some time now and had been holding off, last year you mentioned you were going to have a video on building benches to be released this year. Is this still in the works? I’m looking forward to it and now also the new book with Lost Art Press. All the best.

  15. Randy


    Keep up the great work. Nice to see and read from someone without all the spit and polish just practical knowledge we can put to work.

    Just be who you are in front of the camera. Sign in my friends house: Be nice or go home.

  16. Mario Fusaro

    I’ve been using holdfasts and battens for years. You can’t beat them for holding powew. Toay, I had to make a dado stopped at both ends and thanks to a holdfast, a batten and a hand made bench dog, the job went very quickly.


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