Workbench Holdfasts

by | Oct 12, 2015 | 13 comments

For a simple woodworker when it comes to a problem in life the best bet is to hit hard with a hammer. It’s an effective if not delicate approach and once you get in to the mind set there’s little that can’t be solved.

workbench holdfast
If you find you’re spending a lot of time at your workbench stood head scratching because your work won’t stay still, even though you’ve built a dozen contraptions, then you need to take on this simpler approach and grab a hammer.

A good workbench has everything you need to hold most work, and that’s before you add the vices. When demonstrating how to use the fillister plane I simply knocked in some pinch dogs to hold the board; it’s unorthodox but it’s also fast, effective and fully adjustable.

Traditional holdfasts are a more common solution, and you can’t beat the satisfaction of giving them a good whack on the top to lock them in place. A whack on the back releases them again, it’s all just a bit of flex and twist. You need holes in your bench top to use them but there’s no need to litter it like swiss cheese, a couple of keys areas should be sufficient to start. And if the thought of hitting on to your delicate work pieces curls your toes then don’t worry because you can always use the holdfasts to secure scraps of wood and cradle your work instead, or maybe they’re the answer to holding one of those work holding contraptions that you’ve already built. On second thoughts lets not make it too complicated, after all you can recreate the job of a tail vice with only one holdfast a wooden batten.

Fortunately there are many suppliers now offering good quality holdfasts and we’d like to introduce one more.

Simon James SJJR holdfasts
We’ve received a very small quantity of holdfasts from Simon James. Simon is an engineer and cabinet maker by trade and it would seem has a very keen eye for detail. His holdfasts are finished to an impeccable quality and more importantly they grip effortlessly. (all sold now).

how to build a workbench video

It’s been an amazing project to do and I’ve learned a lot. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for you and Helen making these amazing videos I would probably of ended up with some YouTube screwed together thing! – Steven

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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. Ken Haygarth

    I have been using these for a while now, great holdfasts. Hold well and really strong and well made. 😉

    • Ian M. Stewart

      Hi Richard, Can you tell us what diameter these holdfasts are please? Looking around at what is available, there seems to be a variety from 5/8″ up to 1″ in random fractional inch and mm varieties. I currently have a couple of 3/4″ holes for my screw type holdfast, similar to the Marples one.

      • Richard Maguire

        Hi Ian,
        Excellent question and I’m sorry this wasn’t included in the post. These holdfasts are for use in 3/4″ or 19mm diameter holes.

  2. Micheal Kingsley

    I went out a bought a few of these at my local Woodcraft right after seeing your video on the batton. I drilled four 3/4″ holes in my workbench and I use them pretty much every day now, for one thing or another. Thank you Richard, for enlightening so many of us!

  3. Pete Maddock

    Hi Richard,

    Hope all is going well. And as far as these steel hold downs are concerned I have two of them and they do work well…very well. As I have no vice on my current bench and I depend on my hold downs almost all of the time I’m working at the bench.

    So if anyone is reading this and wondering if they are worth buying, then please, take it from me, yes they REALLY ARE worth buying, go and buy some you will not be disappointed .

    Regards, Pete.

  4. Rob

    Hi Richard,

    Discovered your website and blog only recently and have become a regular visitor – it is a great resource for me, thanks very much!
    My question is, do you think these holdfasts would work in a 3.5 inch bench top made of Radiata Pine (all that I could find easily and affordably for my first hand tool project here in NZ). I don’t really want to drill holes in my new bench and find that the wood is too soft for the holdfasts to work!

    Cheers, Rob

    • Ken Haygarth

      My top is just about the same thickness, made from pine from the DIY centre, and I use the very same hold fasts. I drilled 19mm holes, then reamed them out to 19.5mm and they work great, they really get a bite straight out the box.
      I hope this helps buddy 😉

      • Rob

        Thanks Ken, that’s good to know. I’ll give it a go then. Cheers!

  5. john l howard

    Here in the US, Tools for Working Wood, has the Gramercy Holdfasts. They work well and are reasonable.

    • Ian M. Stewart

      Hi John, I’ve recently bought two of these myself, and agree they are very good. Strangely, to get them at a reasonable price here in the UK, we have to buy them from a fine tool retailer in Germany, and wait for the postal service. With shipping, mine came to 49.80Euro, and the exchange rate/costs will vary from day to day and credit card brand.

  6. Justin

    So…Do you actually hit your holdfasts with a metal hammer a la the cover photo? I’ve always used a big wooden mallet to avoid deforming them.

  7. William R Stewart

    Justin- you’ve not read about Lumpy? Give prior posts a search to learn about workshop violence!

  8. Martyn

    I’m in the process of looking for a new house, and while everything is in flux I’m having to use a workmate instead of a bench. Can anyone suggest a holdfast that will function with the workmate’s 3/4-inch plywood top? Most of them seem to require deeper dog holes than that.


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