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

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  • conradh@efn.org
    ... Other than the iron holdfasts, I recall seeing pix of work wedged between bench dogs. If the dogs were slightly beveled, you could get some holddown force
    Message 1 of 16 , Jun 5, 2009
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      On Fri, June 5, 2009 9:41 am, Alex Haugland wrote:
      > So, I've been attempting to research and document tools and practices of
      > medieval and renaissance woodworking and I've run into a little bit of a
      > question... Does anyone know definitively if holdfasts (i.e. the metal
      > upside-down J-shaped things used with a mallet and holes in the workbench
      > to secure work) were a known technology before the 17th century? Ideally,
      > for this project, I want some solid written or visual evidence, if anyone
      > has seen any. I do have documentation to 1678, from Joseph Moxon's
      > Mechanick Exercises (The Art of Joinery) but I've yet to
      > solidly find anything before that point... Failing that, is there a period
      > method of securing work to a bench to completely immobilize it for working
      > from the top side while mortising, etc, that I'm missing?

      Other than the iron holdfasts, I recall seeing pix of work wedged between
      bench dogs. If the dogs were slightly beveled, you could get some
      holddown force from them, though I expect small pieces would be more prone
      to bounce loose than they are under the iron holdfast. But it's an
      all-wood solution, and rows of dogholes are documentable at least back to
      the Loffelholz bench of 1505. (Of course, with Loffelholz you can
      document face and tail vises too!

      Ulfhedinn
    • Alex Haugland
      Thank you! That actually helps out a lot... I ve looked at pictures of the panel before, notably in Goodman s The History of Woodworking Tools, but I hadn t
      Message 2 of 16 , Jun 5, 2009
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        Thank you!  That actually helps out a lot...  I've looked at pictures of the panel before, notably in Goodman's The History of Woodworking Tools, but I hadn't noticed the holdfast, especially since it isn't in use.  Here's what I can find as far as info on the provenance of the panel: "Carved panel depicting the interior of a woodworking shop, probably England, 1590– 1620. Oak. 14 1/2" x 28 1/2". Based on the clothing the workers are wearing, I'd personally date the panel to the later part of that range (broad falling collars, longer one-piece "skirts" on their doublets, etc.) but there is no question that this predates Moxon's work by about 50 years or so.  The stent panel also shows a row of dogholes down the legs of the joiner's bench but it also shows them with a face hook. I'd also agree with the idea of the holes in the legs in the Cluny carving would likely be for holdfasts especially as without a good way to pin the board to the bench, it would be somewhat trickier to plane the edge of a long board square and true for its entire length.  You could use your hip or thigh, but that would interfere with the planing motion.  I'd still like to see something absolutely identifiable as a holdfast in pre-1600's art, but these definitely help justify the assumption.

        --Alysaundre Weldon d'Ath
        Barony of Adiantum, An Tir

        conradh@... wrote:

        Alex--the Stent panel shows one laying under the planing bench. It's 17th
        century; is it earlier than Moxon? I'm having trouble finding a definite
        date for it. That bench also has a row of holes in the face of each bench
        leg, which as illustrated are too small for the holdfast shank and round
        to boot. If you accept those carved holes as being a quick-and-dirty by
        the artist, just done with an awl to show the idea, then the holdfast
        could have been used a la Roubo, horizontally as well as vertically.

        Considerably earlier, the Misericord relief carving (Cluny Museum, Paris,
        ca. 1500) shows another planing bench, likewise with holes in the front
        legs. FWIW, Peter Follansbee, on his homepage, assumes these are for a
        holdfast. (I'd go with this myself, but since no holdfast is actually
        shown, it could be argued that the holes were just used for pegs to
        support long boards on edge. Given the absence of a face hook, however,
        my money would be on the holdfast.)

        See it at http://worldima    ges. sjsu.edu/ VieO3210? sid=367&x= 88214

        While blacksmiths must have been making these for woodworkers, I've seen
        nothing that old on them from blacksmithing- oriented historical sources.
        Smiths started using holdfasts like these for themselves after pritchel
        and hardy holes became features in anvils, but that was in Moxon's day or
        later, AFAIK.

        Hope this helps, and I'm really interested to see if anyone else turns up
        some evidence that's older or more solid!

        Ulfhedinn

        On Fri, June 5, 2009 9:41 am, Alex Haugland wrote:
        > So, I've been attempting to research and document tools and practices of
        > medieval and renaissance woodworking and I've run into a little bit of a
        > question... Does anyone know definitively if holdfasts (i.e. the metal
        > upside-down J-shaped things used with a mallet and holes in the workbench
        > to secure work) were a known technology before the 17th century? Ideally,
        > for this project, I want some solid written or visual evidence, if anyone
        > has seen any. I do have documentation to 1678, from Joseph Moxon's
        > Mechanick Exercises (The Art of Joinery) but I've yet to
        > solidly find anything before that point... Failing that, is there a period
        > method of securing work to a bench to completely immobilize it for working
        > from the top side while mortising, etc, that I'm missing?
        >
        > --Alysaundre Weldon d'Ath
        > Barony of Adiantum, An Tir
        >
        >


      • conradh@efn.org
        ... Here s another data point--Peter Follansbee s blog of 3/28/09 quotes an inventory of tools made in 1598 that includes a holdfast . I ve attached a
        Message 3 of 16 , Jun 6, 2009
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        On Fri, June 5, 2009 1:37 pm, Alex Haugland wrote:
        > Thank you! That actually helps out a lot... I've looked at pictures of
        > the panel before, notably in Goodman's The History of Woodworking Tools,
        > but I hadn't noticed the holdfast, especially since it isn't in use.
        > Here's what I can find as far as info on the provenance of the panel:
        > "Carved panel depicting the interior of a woodworking shop, probably
        > England, 1590-- 1620. Oak. 14 1/2" x 28 1/2". Based on the clothing the
        > workers are wearing, I'd personally date the panel to the later part of
        > that range (broad falling collars, longer one-piece "skirts" on their
        > doublets, etc.) but there is no question that this predates Moxon's work
        > by about 50 years or so.

        Here's another data point--Peter Follansbee's blog of 3/28/09 quotes an
        inventory of tools made in 1598 that includes a "holdfast". I've attached
        a snapshot of the page.

        Ulfhedinn
      • avery1415@sbcglobal.net
        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
        Message 4 of 16 , Jun 6, 2009
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          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.

          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.

          (Check out the bottom of this page: http://www.woodcarvingillustrated.com/articles/shop-made-holding-device.php)

          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.

          Avery
        • barondevin@comcast.net
          ... The practice that I m aware of that supposedly dates back to Roman times is to place the piece between two pegs or bench dogs and then drive a wedge
          Message 5 of 16 , Jun 6, 2009
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            >Yes, I can work without too much in the way of work holding, but as all
            >the mortising in planemaking is at angles, that doesn't work as well as
            >the work piece continually slides along the bench.


            The practice that I'm aware of that supposedly dates back to Roman times is to place the piece between two pegs or bench dogs and then drive a wedge between one of the pegs and the piece.

            This page http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/ has several engravings from 1600 or before near the bottom of the page that would seem to suggest suggest that they were not period.

            Devin

            Did you know that in 1970, the Procrastinators' Club of America demanded a refund for the Liberty Bell from England's White Chapel Foundry because it had cracked in 1835?
            White Chapel responded with an offer of a full refund - provided that the item could be returned in its original packaging.
          • conradh@efn.org
            ... 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
            Message 6 of 16 , Jun 6, 2009
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              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!

              Ulfhedinn
            • AlbionWood
              ... Yes, apparently. For carving, I hold the work with bench dogs and wedges. This is fast, easy, and works very well if the angle of the wedges is just
              Message 7 of 16 , Jun 6, 2009
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                >
                > is there a
                > period method of securing work to a bench to completely immobilize it
                > for working from the top side while mortising, etc, that I'm missing?
                >

                Yes, apparently. For carving, I hold the work with bench dogs and
                wedges. This is fast, easy, and works very well if the angle of the
                wedges is just right. My bench has round holes, and I use dogs with
                square heads, so they rotate to match the angle of the wedges. Spacer
                strips accommodate different widths of material. Nothing projecting
                above the surface of the work to get in the way, either. Try it, you'll
                like it!

                As for holdfasts - I'll look through some photos and see if there's any
                indication of them before the end of the 16th c. There are some good
                archaeological finds of woodworking tools; if holdfasts were in common
                use, they should appear in those collections.

                Gary Halstead should be consulted - he's done a great deal of research
                on medieval/renaissance woodworking tools, and wrote the CA pamphlet on
                the subject (which see.)

                Cheers,
                Tim



                Alex Haugland wrote:
                > So, I've been attempting to research and document tools and practices of
                > medieval and renaissance woodworking and I've run into a little bit of a
                > question... Does anyone know definitively if holdfasts (i.e. the metal
                > upside-down J-shaped things used with a mallet and holes in the
                > workbench to secure work) were a known technology before the 17th
                > century? Ideally, for this project, I want some solid written or visual
                > evidence, if anyone has seen any. I do have documentation to 1678, from
                > Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises (The Art of Joinery) but I've yet to
                > solidly find anything before that point... Failing that, is there a
                > period method of securing work to a bench to completely immobilize it
                > for working from the top side while mortising, etc, that I'm missing?
                >
                > --Alysaundre Weldon d'Ath
                > Barony of Adiantum, An Tir
                >
                >
                >
                >
              • paul
                I just posted a picture to the file section taken from the book Hommes et Metires dans L art: Du XII au XVII siecle en Europe centrale by Vaclav Husa published
                Message 8 of 16 , Jun 7, 2009
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                  I just posted a picture to the file section taken from the book Hommes
                  et Metires dans L'art: Du XII au XVII siecle en Europe centrale by
                  Vaclav Husa published in 1967 by GRUND. showing two carpenters working
                  on a board being led with holdfasts. The book identifies the image as
                  "Charpentiers sur un chantier. Biblia Wenceslai Regis. 1389-1400.
                  Bibliotheque national, Vienne (350x236mm). Bibl. 1, No 83; 21; 58, pp
                  78-80; 109; 124; 137. Photo M. Veverka."

                  I found the book a couple of years ago in Montreal, it is in French and
                  I don't speak or read French but I had to get the book as it is all
                  about images of working people in all kinds of tasks. with large
                  sections devoted to agriculture and animal husbandry, weaving, metal
                  work, woodworking , the building trades, book production, mining and
                  coin making.


                  Iain Qwhewyl
                  Castlemere, Trimaris
                • Alex Haugland
                  That is an interesting image and thank you very much for sharing it! I d agree that there is some ambiguity in the image and Conal does bring up a good
                  Message 9 of 16 , Jun 7, 2009
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                    That is an interesting image and thank you very much for sharing it!
                    I'd agree that there is some ambiguity in the image and Conal does bring
                    up a good alternative interpretation. I suspect also that he may be
                    right as there is no clear extension of the holdfast below the surface
                    of the sawhorse. It does add another tool to my list of medieval tools
                    however, so I still thank you for that!

                    --Alex

                    paul wrote:
                    >
                    >
                    > I just posted a picture to the file section taken from the book Hommes
                    > et Metires dans L'art: Du XII au XVII siecle en Europe centrale by
                    > Vaclav Husa published in 1967 by GRUND. showing two carpenters working
                    > on a board being led with holdfasts. The book identifies the image as
                    > "Charpentiers sur un chantier. Biblia Wenceslai Regis. 1389-1400.
                    > Bibliotheque national, Vienne (350x236mm). Bibl. 1, No 83; 21; 58, pp
                    > 78-80; 109; 124; 137. Photo M. Veverka."
                    >
                    > I found the book a couple of years ago in Montreal, it is in French and
                    > I don't speak or read French but I had to get the book as it is all
                    > about images of working people in all kinds of tasks. with large
                    > sections devoted to agriculture and animal husbandry, weaving, metal
                    > work, woodworking , the building trades, book production, mining and
                    > coin making.
                    >
                    > Iain Qwhewyl
                    > Castlemere, Trimaris
                    >
                    >
                  • Brian Wagner
                    Great discussion! I don t have the book at hand right now, as I am at work, but Ulrich s 2007 book Roman Woodworking cites a holdfast from Chichester
                    Message 10 of 16 , Jun 8, 2009
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                      Great discussion!  

                      I don't have the book at hand right now, as I am at work, but Ulrich's 2007 book "Roman Woodworking" cites a holdfast from Chichester reported in Cunliffe and Rudkin 1996 "Chichester Excavations IX: Excavations at Fishbourne 1969 - 88."  I'll have to look back at Ulrich tonight - I don't have a copy of Cunliffe and Rudkin.

                      Hrothgar
                      Barony of Small Gray Bear, Gleann Abhann


                    • Brian Wagner
                      I followed up on this, and found I remembered incorrectly. What was found was a staple-shaped iron dog, not a holdfast. Sorry about the mistake. Hrothgar
                      Message 11 of 16 , Jun 8, 2009
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                        I followed up on this, and found I remembered incorrectly.  What was found was a staple-shaped iron dog, not a holdfast.  Sorry about the mistake.

                        Hrothgar

                        On Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 12:14 PM, Brian Wagner <hrothgar950@...> wrote:
                        Great discussion!  

                        I don't have the book at hand right now, as I am at work, but Ulrich's 2007 book "Roman Woodworking" cites a holdfast from Chichester reported in Cunliffe and Rudkin 1996 "Chichester Excavations IX: Excavations at Fishbourne 1969 - 88."  I'll have to look back at Ulrich tonight - I don't have a copy of Cunliffe and Rudkin.

                        Hrothgar
                        Barony of Small Gray Bear, Gleann Abhann



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