Workbench Wednesday – Homemade (Wooden) Holdfast

One of the key features of The Ultimate Portable Workbench is its weight, or more precisely, its lack of weight and its rigid stability.  That is to be expected for a portable bench, designed for on-site furniture restoration projects.  This concept has been unfolding in my brain and shop for three decades.

My estimate for Version 4.0 is a fighting weight of 50-60 pounds, not featherweight but manageable especially since it folds flat-ish.  Even though I no longer have any plans for on-site work (there could always be a project that temps me, but it has been a very long time since I did any on-site work) I am going to finish this version as a gift to my son-in-law, given his nomadic status (military) for another ten years.

One of the critical improvements in this version is the increase of work-holding capacity to the point where the bench could suffice for almost any woodworking venture.  In addition to the two twin-screw Moxon-style vises I figured out a way to incorporate holdfasts into the design and function.  The critical thing was, as I alluded before, thinking beyond the realm of steel/iron holdfasts.  They work perfectly in this or any other application but they add unnecessary weight.  But, what about holdfasts made from lighter material?  At one point I thought about trying to cast some aluminum holdfasts myself, but I have had such success with wooden holdfasts I have decided to pursue that avenue enthusiastically.

Following Mike Siemsen’s perhaps tongue-in-cheek reference in his brilliant video I made a first proof-of-concept model.  Imperfect to be sure, but successful enough to propel my further development.

One of the main faults for the initial prototype was that I had not oriented the grain direction of the clamping arm properly.  So after a short time in service the arm broke exactly where you would expect.  Solving that problem was simple and straightforward, my favorite kind of solution.

First, rather than making the arm from a scrap piece of pine in the kindling box I used one of the dozens of white oak sample blocks I had boxed under one of the benches.  I created these for a corporate presentation many years ago that I would thought was going to lead to a consulting gig, but it never did.  I provided a complete set of samples for each attendee in my presentation so I had a lot of these blocks awaiting a new purpose.

Once I determined the general nature and shape of the holdfast overall I placed the block in the drill press at the inclination I desired and drilled a 3/4″ hole to accommodate the 3/4″ oak vertical post.

I rough-shaped the block with the bandsaw and glued a length of 3/4″ oak dowel into the arm.


Once the glue was set — I used T3 since I have a lot of it on hand at the moment — I finished shaping the head/arm with rasps.

And with that it was done and ready to get to work.  I’d guess my total time of fabrication for the holdfast was about 10-15 minutes.

It works exceedingly well, holding whatever piece might be reasonably worked on The Ultimate Portable Workbench.