How To - Four Clamping Devices

When I first started woodworking, one of the most frustrating problems was how to secure the work piece. In the beginning I only had a set of C-clamps bought from a local hardware store and these required the work piece to be brought to the edge of the table and secured. Often it was impossible to get an entire side free for routing profiles, sawing or cutting grooves and so on. I tried a lot of things; even bought a pair of fairly expensive toggle clamps from the US. But setting up and securing work soon became too tedious.

I wish I had got some good advice then; things would have been so much simpler. Today, I find that only four devices are enough for virtually all clamping needs. These are: the vice, bench stops, F-clamps and holdfasts.

I bought a fairly inexpensive wood vice which I secured to one end of plywood planks (see my previous post on a work bench alternative) and drilled a series of three quarter inch holes along the length of the plank. The vice jaw can hold pieces about 6 inches wide while longer pieces need to be wedged against a bench stop or dog along the length of the table.

The Versatile Vice
The three quarter inch holes in the table are for holdfasts and home-made bench stops (which serve the same function as Bench Dogs). The latter are made of pieces of stainless steel curtain rods set inside a three quarter inch hole drilled into a small piece of hardwood and fixed with some epoxy (Araldite).

Home-made Bench Stop not Dog
I have three F-clamps: two are big ones are 18 and 13 inches long with five inch throats while the small one is 9 inches long with a 4 inch throat. I bought these locally but they were expensive, ranging between `1,200 to ` 2,200. They are all imported; I find them heavy, well-crafted and have enormous clamping power. Once clamped down with these, no work piece will move a hair even if struck hard with a hammer.

Holdfasts have been around for centuries and were used by traditional woodworkers in Europe but seem to have gone out of fashion. A holdfast is a J-shaped piece of steel, something like a shepherd’s stick (as Wikipedia explains), which is inserted in a dog hole and banged down on the work piece. To loosen it, a hit on the side is enough. It is fast, tough and extremely convenient. I use a block of wood to secure and loosen it.

A Pair of Holdfasts
Sadly, I have not come across any made in India and got two from the United States (for about ` 2,800 each including shipping and customs duty). I do not regret paying so much for them because they do the bulk of the work for me. These made by Gramercy Tools are manufactured from thick steel wire which is ductile and strong. Cast iron holdfasts are cheaper but are said to break easily if hit too hard. 

With these four devices around, I rarely reach out to any other of my clamps (of which I have quite a few!). I worked out the cost of other clamping solutions such as those offered by Festool and other makers and found them prohibitive as compared to these devices, all of which are guaranteed to last a lifetime and get the job done quickly and simply.

Indranil Banerjie
26 December 2013


  1. Hi, indranil.

    my name is mak, same problem here, to clamp small length wood pieces to work bench. i want to know how you place or shipping things from US? i mean any online site for this kind of purpose? i know amazon,but they don't have cash on delivery option, and i don't have any kind of cash card to make payment,
    many thanks

  2. Fadhel: Most inline sites outside the country require credit card payment. Try a company called Goodwill Enterprises based in Bangalore; they might provide clamps on COD basis. Good luck.


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