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11634Re: [MedievalSawdust] Re: Are Holdfasts period? (i.e. pre-17th century?)

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  • conradh@efn.org
    Jun 6, 2009
      On Sat, June 6, 2009 10:12 am, avery1415@... wrote:

      > Given the number of things you must use iron or steel for and the amount
      > of iron they could make at a throw, I'm guessing iron holdfasts would
      > have been pretty pricey.

      True enough. Of course, if you want to do a priori arguments like this
      one, you could point out that a family business mindset (the way most
      craftsmen then were brought up) could expect to amortize the investment
      over several hundred years! There's not much to wear out on a holdfast,
      especially if the shank is heavy. :-)
      > Particularly since, if you have a sturdy bench with two holes in it and a
      > stout piece of rope, you can: Thread the rope through the two holes.
      > Tie a the ends of the rope together.
      > Put your work on the bench, under the bit of exposed rope.
      > Stick your foot in the loop and push down with your foot.

      Sure. We have evidence of this method used too--it was traditional in
      both Japan and Europe, and probably elsewhere. However, to use it you're
      going to have to be able to get your foot or a treadle under the benchtop,
      and there'll be pairs of holes that probably wouldn't show up for other
      purposes. The use of it will be distinctive looking too--it should be
      obvious in any picture of a craftsman working if it shows either the
      workpiece or the worker's whole body.

      This trick is actually more useful on horses that workbenches--it goes
      very well with a straddled stance. European file cutters used to use a
      lead-block anvil on a horse, and do your holding trick with a looped
      leather strap. The biggest inconvenience to rope loops is that you end up
      with a different leg position for every size of workpiece, or you have to
      stop and retie the loop each time. Also, if you've ever used one, you run
      into the issue of how far apart to make the holes. Unless they are very
      close to the edges of the workpiece, you lose leverage very quickly, and
      of course if the workpiece is wider than the holes it's hard to use this
      method at all. Unless the sizing is near perfect, it doesn't hold nearly
      as well as an iron holdfast. I strongly suspect that this method, in
      period, was used mostly by workers who worked all day on workpieces that
      were close to the same size--file makers, for instance.

      If we're going to talk cheap and simple, it's hard to beat a goberge
      (which got Anglicized as go-bar). Wedging a slightly springy stick
      between the ceiling and your workpiece could have been used in the
      Paleolithic, if you were careful about dislodging stalactites. Again,
      it's sensitive to the size of workpiece (with thickness being the issue
      this time) but spacer blocks can be used. Difficult under a thatch
      roof--the inside timbers are often left round, and the stuff in between
      won't hold at all. But it does hold the work without blocking access to
      any of the edges, and like the shaving horse and the holdfast it's
      actually quicker to shift than a modern vise.

      "Possibles" aren't proof. They're a good first step sometimes, because
      they can suggest what clues to look for. If you don't have proof
      available, "possible with what they had" is usually how we fill gaps in
      our knowledge during reconstructions or demos. It works most plausibly
      when the record shows great variation in period ways of doing things, like
      operating handles for bellows, or the shapes of hammer heads.

      The issue that concerns Alex, though, is documentation. He wants evidence
      from surviving artifacts, period text or period artwork, not just
      possibilities. The history of technology is full of things that would
      have been perfectly possible, without "tools to make the tools" problem in
      a period, that nonetheless were not thought of or simply not done.
      Traditional craftsmen are often just that, traditional--and in a great
      many cultures "good enough for great-grandpa" is an argument that settles
      everything. Historically, modern American attitudes toward innovation are
      startlingly rare, and change came very slowly even in relatively
      innovative places like Western Europe. Look at bench vises--which took
      hundreds of years to move three hundred miles from German woodworkers to
      French ones, even with German immigrants using them in Paris, according to
      Roubo. For that matter, screw-vises seem to have taken more than a
      century to spread from metalworkers to woodworkers, _within the one city
      of Nuremberg_.

      > I'm not saying I can absolutely document this, or that I can prove that
      > iron holdfasts never existed. But it's a lot cheaper solution to the
      > problem.
      Just as well, because we seem to be finding proof they _did_. At least
      toward the end. The game continues!

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