Ingenious Concept in construction

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Review by David Craig posted 11-26-2012 05:38 AM 5522 views 5 times favorited 29 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Ingenious Concept in construction No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

When I made the move to replace my junk bench with an actual woodworking bench, one of the first things I wanted, accessory wise, was a pair of holdfasts. For the uninitiated, holdfasts are an ancient method for holding a work piece to a bench. The construction is simple, a metal bar with a hook on it that uses compression to hold a work piece to the bench. You tap the bar in a dog hole, the bar will flex in the dog hole like a compression spring and the piece is secure. The picture tells the tale.

Note – picture is from the vendor website

What makes the Gramercy ones so special?

Holdfasts were/are typically made by blacksmiths who forge the metal. The reason for this is because of the compression I just described. The metal has to have give or flex a little, otherwise the workpiece will not be secure. If you do not have this flex, then you might as well set a barbell on whatever you are working on. It may not look pretty, but it would at least be held down. Forging doesn’t work well for mass production. As an alternative, some companies have created die cast versions of these. The problem is that cast metals are not designed to flex. If the force is sufficient to make them try, they will break. If they do not break, they do not flex, and the compression is absent so the holdfast does nothing more than sit on the piece.

The folks at Gramercy tools came up with a brilliant idea. They made the holdfasts out of wire. When I say wire, think of very thick wire (or maybe cable) that would hold a suspension bridge. The piece can be formed, will not bend from normal human strength, but will flex with the proper pound of a mallet to get that proper resistance which keeps your project very secure.

I use these a great deal. When planing, I use them to secure boards as planing blocks so my boards don’t go flying off the bench. If I need to chop a mortise or route an edge, they hold the piece securely. I am not sure about the cost for forged holdfasts, but I am sure the 50 bucks I paid for a pair (including shipping) is far more reasonable a cost.

I really have to give these folks credit. I watch many tool companies rehash an unsound manufacturing practice because they do not understand the physical nature of the tool itself. I cannot praise the manufacturer enough for understanding the nature of this tool and utilizing a whole different concept of material to make this a mass production possibility.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

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David Craig

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29 comments so far

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4268 days

#1 posted 11-26-2012 08:52 AM

thanks for the rewiew David :-)

in the good old days when there was a blacksmith in every town
when a carpenter ordred a holdfast they worked together
until the carpenter was satisfired with the springaction he found
to be the right for his kind of working


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Tim Dahn

1626 posts in 4718 days

#2 posted 11-26-2012 02:12 PM

I agree with you David, these hold fasts are well worth the money. I had some trouble with them holding when they were new but after roughing up the shaft with some 220 grit they have worked great. Interesting about the type of metal used for these. Thanks for the review.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View JustJoe's profile


1554 posts in 3191 days

#3 posted 11-26-2012 03:27 PM

Agreed! If you need an affordable holdfast that’s going to last then this is the one to buy.
I’ve had a pair for a while – they do hold very solidly once you scuff up the sides a bit, I think the depth/width of the hole also plays a part. And you mentioned the best part – these things will not break.

-- This Ad Space For Sale! Your Ad Here! Reach a targeted audience! Affordable Rates, easy financing! Contact an ad represenative today at JustJoe's Advertising Consortium.

View GlennsGrandson's profile


443 posts in 3462 days

#4 posted 11-26-2012 06:26 PM

I just put a little bug in my in-laws ears that I want these for Christmas!

-- Grant - N Dakota

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David Craig

2137 posts in 4262 days

#5 posted 11-26-2012 08:23 PM

I hope Santa is kind to you Grant :)

You paint a pleasant picture Dennis. In my area, blacksmiths are difficult to find. I may hunt one up some day because it would be cool to have a custom set. But as others here noted, these are an awesome alternative.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts folks.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4268 days

#6 posted 11-26-2012 09:02 PM

if and when you do David …. then you better bring your bench with you to him/her
together with the set you have now ….. since I gess its the same over there as here
the blacksmith do not make tools anymore or atleast goes years between they get the option to do it
so its quite possiple the smith you find don´t know what a holdfast is at alll

let us know if you get a costum set :-)


View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 3993 days

#7 posted 11-26-2012 09:44 PM

Great review.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 4076 days

#8 posted 11-26-2012 11:33 PM

Thanks for the review and explanations. Lends me to believe I might have to add to my Santa list.
Have a great day.

-- Life is good.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4826 days

#9 posted 11-27-2012 02:15 AM

Thanks for the review, David.

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 4124 days

#10 posted 11-27-2012 02:53 AM

Thanks for the review and I absolutely have never heard anything but praise for the Gramercy holdfasts.

I will, since I come from a foundry background of 40 years, have to dissagree a little bit with some of your comments; just from a technical point of view.

1. ”Forging doesn’t work well for mass production.” Don’t tell that to the folks who make hammers, wrenches, pliers, axes, crankshafts, cam shafts, connecting rods, and a gazillion other products that are forged every day.

2. ”some companies have created die cast versions of these.” Well the cheap cast holdfasts are actually cast in sand molds, not die cast in metal molds. Die casting is almost always used for aluminum and zinc alloys. It’s possible to die cast iron and steel in water cooled copper molds, but it’s very, very expensive and nothing is gained by the process.

3. ”The problem is that cast metals are not designed to flex” They could be designed to flex, but it’s more a matter of the metal alloy choice and the subsequent heat treatment required.

Bottom line, the best material for a holdfast is steel and the cheapest way to produce a limited production run of steel shapes is to forge them. To cast a holdfast in steel, the pattern for the mold might cost a few thousand dollars. Then the steel casting process wastes 1/2 the metal melted so the energy costs are high.

We really do need a blacksmith in many towns. It’s a shame we don’t have them, but people would rather pay dirt cheap prices for mass produced cheap throwaway products. The cast iron holdfast is a good example of a “looks like” a product, but actually has no chance in hell of actually working.

Sorry, David, I didn’t mean to hijack your post. I’ll get off my rant now.

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4801 days

#11 posted 11-27-2012 03:06 AM

+1 on the great product, and +1 to crank49 comment. this is indeed one of those products that I just don’t get the cast iron version, not to mention they are not really that much cheaper than the ‘real thing’ like the gramecy holdfasts are.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 4262 days

#12 posted 11-27-2012 04:48 AM

You are fine Michael and thanks for sharing youir experience. My comments were not based on anything more than a very small amount of knowledge of metallurgy. Your insights were very helpful.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View oldnovice's profile


7709 posts in 4521 days

#13 posted 11-27-2012 05:22 AM

I need to get some of these too … however my Christmas budget is at zero, 0 spent too much already!

-- "It's fine in practise but it will never work in theory"

View Arminius's profile


304 posts in 4956 days

#14 posted 11-27-2012 02:19 PM

The Gramercy ones are nice, but I think you would be surprised how much you can get them for from a local blacksmith. By the time you have paid for shipping, the local forge might come out both cheaper and more of a pleasure to own.

Pair was $60, in hand. Not as cheap as the Gramercy ones, granted. But to my mind, well worth any difference.

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 3300 days

#15 posted 11-27-2012 06:47 PM

I’ve had my eyes on these for awhile. I’m a bit concerned about them not working in my bench though, since my bench is only 1 1/2” thick. Thanks for the review, David!


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