Before steel vises, before iron clamps, and before the industrial revolution, before even the fall of Rome, there were holdfasts; innocuous bent iron bars with the potential to hold a workpiece firmly in place while a craftsperson goes to town on it. The holdfast holds a few advantages over modern work-holding tools. It drops into a hole in the top of a bench, giving it an extended reach across the bench top and a 360 degree range of direction. Application is a simple drop and a tap with a mallet, giving it an instant grip. No manual tightening. Release is a simple strike in the back. And a holdfast keeps a low profile; some will lay nearly flat across a workpiece and won't interfere with planing or routing.
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