Hold Fast!

cartoon 2014 I hate it when that happens_NEW

So you’ve sandwiched the bowl between extended bench dogs and you’re making the final paring cuts when an unfortunate series of events occurs, all within a split second.  The end on which you are working goes down suddenly, the gouge makes a nasty divot, and the other end of the bowl shoots up at an arc into your face.  Yeah, I hate it when that happens.

You need holdfasts.  Not in the early stages, but rather near the end when doing any final gouge work.  In the beginning, I don’t use any holding devices at all, other than the hand that is not holding the axe or adze.  I usually use the bowl horse for refining the shape of the outside.  But for final gouge work on the interior, under handles, and more, holdfasts live up to their name.

I’ve shown some typical arrangements in the photos below, but a little creativity can lead to many other solutions as well.  The bowl in the photos is a relatively small one we’ve been using in the house, but the same principles will work with bowls of different sizes and shapes.


Here are the holdfasts I use.  Others work well too.  The inner ones are by Gramercy at Tools for Working Wood.  The outer ones, I made using a campfire, a double-action hand pump as a bellows, and some 5/8″ steel bar.  They look like crap, but they work well.  The angle is about 85 degrees.  The holes in my bench are 3/4″ diameter, and the bench top is three inches thick.  They work well for me in benches of 2 and 4 inch thickness too, so use whatever slab of wood you’ve got and bore some holes in it.

The other key component is some material to add friction between the bench and bowl  and the holdfasts and bowl.  You could try leather, old rubber floor mats, inner tube, etc.  I like this rubber belting material I found at Tractor Supply.  It is sold in various lengths and widths, can be cut, is very tough, and has great grip.  Great for lining vice jaws too, but it can sometimes leave some black smudges on lighter woods.

Old sailors referred to a well secured line as being “held fast”.  So now you too have a reason to get “HOLD FAST” tattooed to your fingers, just like a sailor.  You can show folks the bowl scar on your forehead as you tell them of your woodworking adventures.

Unseen is the rubber mat under the bowl.

Unseen is the rubber mat under the bowl.


Softwood wedges keep the bowl from tipping.

Softwood wedges keep the bowl from tipping.

The upright of the holdfast itself can keep the bowl from sliding.

The upright of the holdfast itself can keep the bowl from sliding.

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15 Responses to Hold Fast!

  1. sartorius2015 says:

    Now you are a cartoonist as well. Nicely done. Made me want to investigate the ³rubber belting material² at Tractor Supply. I know you do very little sanding but I¹m always looking for hunks of fairly hard rubberish material to make custom sandpaper backing for my sometimes complicated hand sanding. thx N

    From: “David Fisher, Carving Explorations” Reply-To: “David Fisher, Carving Explorations” Date: Saturday, January 3, 2015 at 9:53 AM To: “Norman E. Sartorius” Subject: [New post] Hold Fast!

    WordPress.com dfishercarver posted: ” So you’ve sandwiched the bowl between extended bench dogs and you’re making the final paring cuts when an unfortunate series of events occurs, all within a split second. The end on which you are working goes down suddenly, the gouge makes a nasty div”


    • Thanks, Norm. I had fun giving the cartoon thing a try.

      The belting material has a fine texture imprinted into the rubber surface to increase grip, and with a mesh interior, it is very strong. I cut it with a utility knife.


  2. ctregan says:

    Would a propane torch work too, or do you need the coals of a wood fire?


    • I’m no blacksmith, but I think a propane torch would not be hot enough. Maybe mapp gas. You might even be able to do the bend cold with a vise and a length of pipe for leverage. But you would need some heat to hammer the clamp end flattish.


  3. rcd6875 says:

    Thanks for sharing David. As one who is starting to make my own bowls this is great advice and certainly appreciate a proven technique. My forehead is banged up enough by hitting it with my hand…. I don’t need a bowl to join the fray!!


  4. pfollansbee says:

    so they’re opposing wedges, yes? You must keep an array of them around, depending on bowl size. I still am amazed at your work in cherry. do you have a favorite wood for your bowls?


    • Yep, opposing wedges. I keep a few around, but I’m usually just scrounging around in the scrap pile for something that will work at the moment; sometimes just a few big chips laying around from the axe work wedged in there.
      I do like cherry, easy to work when green, but is is a bit hard after drying — but still better than working kiln-dried stuff. You’ve made some beauties from birch, Peter. Light wood like that shows the shadows of your decorative carving nicely, but there’s not much paper birch growing around here. Lots of cherry, though.


  5. Geoff Chapman says:

    Exactly that happened to me a month ago, working on the final cuts on a cherry bowl (cherry everywhere here in western Pa)! I was so surprised at how fast it all happened. The bowl smacked me right in the nose!! So I liked your cartoon… and the helpful guidance. I had been using holdfasts, but not anything to provide friction, and the whole setup slipped with the downward force of my carving. We have a Tractor Supply close by… Thanks. And glad to see the detailed photos of how you hold the bowls.


  6. Hanan Hourvitz says:

    Hey Dave,
    In terms of the 3/4″ holes pattern / density…have you reached some optimal pattern that will not leave the table drilled all over, yet, provide a good coverage?


    • Well, I suppose it is somewhat dependent upon how large one’s holdfasts are, but the holes in my regular bench are about twelve inches apart horizontally and seven inches from front to back. On my low bench they are only about five inches apart because I wanted more options when it comes to using the holes for a peg-and-wedge system for work holding (including chair legs, etc.) I’ll admit it seemed crazy at first to drill holes through my workbench, but I have seen no downside. You really don’t need many, and you can add more if you find you need them later.


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  8. rene. says:

    two years later…
    Your comic above made me laughing 🙂
    Thanks for that!
    Unfortunately my oak scoop yesterday did the same to me, lucky me that the hollow little boy is only above 10 cm long, so it couldn’t reach my head; catched the back of my hand instead.


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