A Genius Workholding System

Fisher’s only surviving cabinetmaker’s bench has a system of 5/8" peg holes that I have found effective for planing stock. This method of face planing is illustrated in a 1425 portrait of a Nuremberg joiner. The system has two parts: two stops at the end and the rows of holes 2" apart spaced every 6" down the length of the bench. The board can be held in place with four pegs installed, locking it in from two directions. The two pegs supporting the back of the board prevent lateral movement and the two at the end prevent it from moving forward. The result is stability in both directions for whatever kind of planing is necessary. This workholding system might be one of the most significant discoveries in the course of this research. Simple and effective, it is surprising we don’t see its widespread use today. For those who are familiar with the “doe’s foot” batten that prevents lateral movement while planing, the advantage of this system should be apparent; it has more support and is much easier to set up.

I bored this hole pattern in one of my workbench tops and, after experimenting with it a bit, I quite like it. The two pegs at the end are friction-fit and are adjusted much like a regular planing stop (by tapping with a mallet) but the third and fourth pegs have an intentional taper, swelling thicker at the very end to prevent them from dropping through. The pegs are trimmed low enough to remain shy of most stock thicknesses but are still easy to pull up with your fingers. This way, I can quickly lift the peg out of the hole and adjust it in a heartbeat, no mallet required. My pegs are made of soft pine to minimize the chance of denting the stock.

One of the trickier workholding needs woodworkers encounter is for planing across the grain (sometimes called “traversing”). Usually a batten or a doe’s foot is used with holdfasts to secure the board against moving across the bench. The “Nuremberg” system makes this situation a breeze: Drop two pegs into the far holes and you can plane all day long. Genius. 

–Joshua A. Klein, excerpt from “Hand in Hand with Jonathan Fisher: Interacting with the Legacy of a Rural Artisan,” in Issue Five


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