Sunday, March 22, 2015

French Heavy Metal

When I got home today, there was a package sitting on my front door step.  Yes, I fell off the wagon again and bought another old tool off of eBay.

Sometimes buying a tool on an online auction is a crapshoot, because in my experience sellers have no idea if a tool is really in good shape or not, nor what it is worth.

"Heck!  If it would look good screwed to the wall at AppleBee's, then it should be worth it's weight in gold!"

I digress.

This time, it was French eBay.  It turns out there are lots of neat old tools there that you really can't get in Germany, England, or the U.S., where I usually troll for old tools.  I couldn't resist a traditional French holdfast.

Here it is.  I knew it would be big, but jeez!
I won this auction for about 15 Euros, plus shipping.  The great part about a holdfast on an internet auction, is that there aren't too many moving parts, and nothing has to be sharp.  It is, after all, a simple thing designed to be whacked with a hammer.  How could I lose?
For a little perspective, here it is next to a Gramercy holdfast.
If you choose to troll French eBay for one of these, the term is, "valet d'établi," and as of this writing there were a couple still up for auction for less than what I paid.
Detail of the complex working mechanism.
I like the way this holdfast looks.  There are just enough details in it to give it a bit of elegance.
If I decide to remove some of the surface rust, it will only be on this spot.  It isn't needed anywhere else.
Besides being comically bigger than the Gramercy holdfast, there is a little bit of a difference in the angle of the pad in relation to the stem.  I have no idea how it will work, but I imagine it is at this angle for a reason.
Angles on the pads are different.  I wonder how it will work?
I like my Gramercy holdfasts, but with my 5 1/2" thick oak top of my Roubo bench, I find I really have to whack them hard to get them to stick properly.  I am hoping this one will hold with just a light tap.  I feel like this holdfast was designed more for a French style bench with a thick top.

The only issue I have so far, is I must drill new holes in my bench to try it out.  This enormous hunk of French metal will take a big hole.  My Gramercy holdfasts have 3/4" holes on my bench, but it looks like this beheamouth will need a hole at least 1 1/8" in diameter.
Gramercy holdfast - .719" thick, according to this.
I tried this holdfast out in one of my 1" dog holes, and it wouldn't even go in.  Does anyone know if a 1 1/8" hole will be big enough for this holdfast in my bench?  Perhaps I need to go a bit bigger?  How about the best way with hand tools to enlarge an existing hole?  I know I can't do it with my standard brace bits.  I think it would be easier to just drill new holes and keep the 3/4" ones for the Gramercy holdfasts.  There are only two holes in it now, anyway.
French monster - 1.097" thick.  This will need a big hole.
I look forward to getting to know this holdfast.  If you want a giant French holdfast, but are reluctant to spend the money for a custom one from a blacksmith, a French internet auction might be the answer.  Be careful bidding, especially if you don't understand French.  Some sellers won't ship out of the country, and some of them will only take a check (I'm guessing not one from Minot, North Dakota).  But, if you can navigate your way through the language barrier, you might get a bargain!

And thank you to Aymeric for the help.


  1. Good score! I would keep the 3/4 holes and make bigger ones for your new holdfast. How many and where? That would depend a lot on how you work.
    Next you need a metal planing stop to sink into a big wooden planing stop to complete your ensemble :-)
    Bob, slowly emerging from the snowbanks

    1. Thanks, Robert! That's good advice. I already have a wooden planing stop, it is a length of beech about 2" x 2" that is morticed in the top just past the front leg. I use that thing all the time. I haven't sank a metal planing stop in it yet, though. Perhaps another trip to eBay is in order!

  2. That's one heckufa holdfast!

    I would also keep the two existing holes, and drill some new ones for this one.
    If you find you don't like it, you could always ship it to Denmark :-)

    For some unknown reason, I drilled 1.25" holes in my workbench for the dogs. So such a heavy holdfast would fit nicely in those.


    1. Lucky you!

      I thought my 1" dogholes would work for this one, but it is definitely too big for those. I think I'll have to take a look at my big brace bits to determine how big of a hole I need.

  3. Very nice piece of hardware!
    I have drilled a few additional holes in my workbench since it is in use, but only on real demand. In addition to the 3/4 I have drilled a few 20mm holes for metric stuff.

    1. Hi Wolfram,

      No metric holes for me!

      Or, maybe I should, being from France, there is every possibility this is intended to be metric.

  4. A nice piece of hardware indeed! My recommendation is for you to find a piece of wood the thickness of your bench, and about 3 to 4 inches wide. Drill a 1"1/8 hole and use your bench vise to hold that piece of wood, and then try your monster holdfast to see if it's the correct size.

    1. Good idea! I hadn't thought of that because boring a 1 1/8" hole in 14cm of oak isn't something I like to do for practice, but it is better than drilling the hole in your bench for nothing!

      I just happen to have a little bit of offcut from the bench left.

  5. Measure and drill metric. Unless that holdfast is more than 215 years old, it is metric. And remember to curse it in French every time you have to lug it around. That way, it will feel at home with you.

    1. Cool. Now I only need to find my 27.8638mm drill bit. :o)

      I'm afraid I know no French curse words, but I'm willing to learn for the sake of this tool!


  6. The holdfast holds because the rod is askew in the hole. (Pipe clamps work on a similar principle where the pipe is askew in the lamellaes). If I remember well, Chris Schwarz made some experiment (the mistery of holdfast 1 september 2005) and the best angle would be around 7°.
    So if your holdfast has a diameter d and your bench has a tickness T, the hole should have a diameter D=d+x where x/T= tan 7° or x=0.123 T.

    1. Your mathematical approach is very interesting Sylvain, I will keep it in mind... what about a tapered hole? It's what master Schwarz uses for his roubo monster holdfast made by Peter Ross...

    2. Hi Sylvain! Thanks for the comment. My math isn't nearly up to yours. Thanks for that formula. If I am figuring this out right, I should be drilling a hole around 1 3/4"! I never would have thought that. My plan was to start with something around the neighbourhood of 1 1/4".

      Perhaps this is why many people recommend to drill an oversize hole from the underside of the bench on holdfast holes in thick benches? This effectively reduces the thickness of the bench in use by the holdfast allowing a smaller diameter hole. That's what I did for my Gramercy holdfasts.

  7. Richard Maguire, "the English woodworker" has an interesting video about "texturing" the Gramercy holdfast.
    Search on his blog "holdfast" and look "holdfast - get a grip! Video".
    ( sorry with a tablet copy and paste is a pita)
    It works in is thick bench without doing a larger hole.
    I have also read on a forum that wacking the gramercy holdfast on the oblique part instead of on the top works better.
    So there is room for experiment.

    1. That video is great! Right before I first watched it, I used a circular pipe cutter with a steel blade to roughen up my Gramercys. It leaves a sharp little edge, and I put them about 1/4" apart all up and down. It seems to work.